Skip to main content

Chris Bolton, Chairman of TDSB attends a board meeting in Toronto on Wednesday May 14, 2014. The Ontario government has investigated the chair of Canada's largest school board over management fees his charity collected from donations to a school while he was principal.Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

The former chair of the Toronto District School Board claimed about $6,500 in travel expenses on a four-week trip to China in 2011, documents show.

Chris Bolton made several trips to China during his 10 years as a trustee, according to former TDSB employees. However, expense records obtained by The Globe and Mail through an access to information request are heavily redacted and incomplete.

The Globe requested all of Mr. Bolton's expense claims during his 3.5 years as chair, including travel to and from China. The response from the TDSB includes copies of cheque requisitions and receipts for just one trip to China – from Oct. 14 to Nov. 11, 2011.

Mr. Bolton's travel to China has become highly controversial because he was the driving force behind a school-board initiative to offer elementary students Mandarin and other cultural programs through a Confucius Institute subsidized and controlled by China's Ministry of Education. He resigned as chair in June, leaving trustees to deal with the fallout from the TDSB's agreement to open the institute in the current academic year.

Trustees voted overwhelmingly in June to delay launching the institute after they were deluged with e-mails and telephone calls from worried parents. The agreement generated concerns because instructors are trained to self-censor topics that are politically taboo in China.

Trustees will table a motion on Wednesday to terminate the accord.

The expense records for Mr. Bolton show that he was reimbursed for hotels, meals and taxis during his trip to China in the fall of 2011. He also billed the school board $497.50 for a tour in Beijing and $695 in long-distance telephone charges.

There are no expense claims for air fare between Canada and China. The name of the individual who conducted the tour in Beijing is blacked out on the receipt, as is the date on a taxi receipt.

Mr. Bolton also led a school-board delegation that flew to Beijing in March, 2011, to recruit students from China, The Globe has reported. At some point during the eight-day trip, he was joined by Spiros Papathanasakis, an individual with close ties to Mr. Bolton but no official role at the TDSB.

Mr. Bolton did not respond to e-mailed questions from The Globe. Donna Quan, the director of education who was part of that delegation, has also not explained how Mr. Papathanasakis came to be there beyond issuing a one-sentence statement, saying he "did not serve the TDSB in any capacity."

The records for the March, 2011, trip include only two receipts: one for a taxi and one that is not in English.

A former senior employee of the TDSB said the school board's freedom of information officer should not have redacted any records for expenses for which Mr. Bolton was reimbursed.

Marie Mavroyannis, the TDSB executive who handled The Globe's request, said she would review the file. "We release whatever we get from staff and whatever they find," she said in an interview on Tuesday.

Trustee Howard Goodman, who did not seek re-election this week, said he is aware that Mr. Bolton often travelled to China. But he said he assumed it was for personal reasons because Mr. Bolton never discussed his travel at board meetings. "At no point did I have any inclination that this was on board business and at board expense," Mr. Goodman said.

Mr. Bolton went to China in the fall of 2011 with Chris Spence, Ms. Quan's predecessor, the records show. Mr. Spence stepped down as head of the TDSB last year amid allegations of plagiarism.

The TDSB introduced new expense rules in May, tightening its procedures for approval. The chair's expense claims must now be approved by the associate director of finance prior to submission for payment.

In the past, the chair's expenses were approved by the education director and the chief financial officer. No advance approval was required.