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Toronto trustees regain control of scandal-rocked Catholic school board

Parents play with their children and staff at Trinity Spadina Ontario Early Years Centre on Shaw St., Toronto. The centre was forced to relocate to two temporary facilities after the Toronto Catholic District School Board sold its home at St. David School on the outskirts of Little Italy.

Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

More than two years and seven months of provincial supervision ended Friday when the trustees of the Toronto Catholic District School Board regained control of what is arguably the most scandal-plagued school board in Ontario.

"The trustees elected in October 2010 will now have full authority as the board," Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said in a statement. "We have worked hard in the past two years to make important changes, successfully working with the board to manage its finances and get back on track."

A supervisor took control of the board in June of 2008, after it failed to balance its budget and an independent report found that trustees had used tax dollars to pay for ineligible expenses, including lingerie, alcohol and internet gambling.

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The TCDSB has the dubious distinction of being under provincial supervision longer than any other school board in Ontario.

"I've got a long list of things to bring forward," said trustee John Del Grande. "The community was really locked out with just one person making all the decisions."

The province has been hinting for several months that supervision was nearing an end. The trustees will have full voting powers at a full board meeting Thursday.

"It's very important that we are back in the driver's seat," said board chair Ann Andrachuk.

Control of the board's nearly $1-billion dollar budget was taken out of the hands of trustees and handed over to two supervisors, Norbert Hartmann and Norm Forma, who resigned in August 2009 and were replaced by Richard Alway, president of the University of Toronto's Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies and chairman of the C.D. Howe Memorial Foundation.

The trouble began when a former trustee, Christine Nunziata, was removed from the board in February 2008 after she missed four consecutive board meetings and some unauthorized expenses came to light. That spring a provincial review found that the trustees had used tax dollars to pay for personal expenses and voted themselves the richest package of benefits of any board in the province.

In February 2009, Oliver Carroll, another former TCDSB chair, was ousted and ordered to pay nearly $50,000 in costs when a judge found him guilty of 10 conflict-of-interest offences. Mr. Carroll, whose daughter worked as a teacher for the board, participated in discussions and voted on budget decisions related to teacher layoffs on May 14, 2008.

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Conflict of interest allegations were then brought against trustees Angela Kennedy and Barbara Poplawski relating to the same May 14, 2008, meeting that was Mr. Carroll's downfall. Ms. Kennedy was removed from her seat by a judge but won it back in October's elections. The case against Ms. Poplawski was dismissed, and she also won re-election.

Former trustee Catherine LeBlanc-Miller, who helped bring the spending scandals to light, lost her seat in October.

The vote was a disappointment to several parent groups and Catholic leaders who had called for change.

"Not everybody was happy with the results of the election, but the public spoke," said Michael Baillargeon, a Catholic ratepayer and organizer of a group that advocated for change in the lead-up to the election. "I have every confidence that they [the trustees]won't be going back to their old ways, that's an old chapter."

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About the Author
Education reporter

Kate Hammer started her journalism career in New York, chasing crime and breaking news for The New York Times. She came to the Globe and Mail in 2008 to do much of the same and ended up investigating allegations of animal cruelty and mismanagement at the Toronto Humane Society. More

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