Breaking up the Toronto District School Board would be a drastic change, but it is just one of several radical ideas on the table for a panel examining the board.
When Education Minister Liz Sandals announced the seven-person panel last month, she said it would look at whether the TDSB is too big. However, the members are also researching how a couple of dozen other boards operate, said their chair, former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall.
"We asked for examples of other large boards in Ontario, across Canada and in North America," said Ms. Hall. "We said, 'What about Chicago, what about New York?'"
Chicago and New York are among several U.S. cities that abolished elected boards in the past two decades and put the school system under the control of mayoral appointees.
Closer to home, some Ontario school boards also do things differently, with their trustees elected at large instead of ward by ward, Ms. Hall said.
Establishing the panel, which includes former trustees and a corporate management expert, is the latest step in the province's months-long crackdown on the board. A scathing report by consultant Margaret Wilson released in January concluded by advising the province to seek recommendations on new "governance and electoral representation options" for Toronto schools.
In the late 1960s, 13 Toronto-area municipalities and their school boards were merged into six. In the 1998 amalgamation, six became one. Now, the Toronto District School Board is the biggest in Canada, with a quarter-million students and a budget of $3-billion.
While Ms. Sandals focused on splitting the TDSB into smaller boards in March – an idea Premier Kathleen Wynne also raised in 2008, when she was education minister – the panel is expected to look at the need for structural changes in general, ministry spokeswoman Nilani Logeswaran said.
Panel members are brainstorming, Ms. Hall said, and they know some systems might not work in Toronto. Most major U.S. cities have more independence than Canadian cities, including more control over taxation.
The system of mayoral control is "very much related to a different kind of culture, different kinds of powers of cities," she said.
The panel is holding public consultations until the end of May, starting last Monday at the North Toronto Memorial Community Centre. A handful of parents and many current or former school trustees attended. Still, Ms. Hall said members of the public have approached her since the panel was announced.
"Yesterday, on my way to the meeting, somebody stopped me on the subway and said [the board] should be divided in two parts," she said. "But they hadn't decided whether the line should be north-south or east-west."
Several people have floated the idea of four divisions in line with the four community councils, she said.
Long-time Toronto school board trustee and former chair Fiona Nelson attended Monday's meeting. She later said realigning the TDSB with the community councils would be her top choice.
Ms. Nelson said she thinks the TDSB's problems stem from too many rounds of centralization, especially the quick amalgamation in 1998. "There has just been too much change," she said.
After years of controversy at the TDSB, Ms. Wilson's report detailed what she called the board's "culture of fear," including trustees overstepping the bounds of their jobs and employees' fears of surveillance.
Shelley Laskin, one of five current trustees who attended Monday's meeting, said she thinks major structural reform is not the solution. After Ms. Wilson had finished most of her research, about half the trustees were voted out, Ms. Laskin said.
"I would argue that we have had a governance review," she said. "It was called the municipal election, less than four months ago."
She said shifting boundaries would not change problematic behaviour.
"I believe that completely understanding roles, responsibilities and relationships is the only thing that can improve the governance issues," she said.
Many at Monday's meeting also blamed some of the problems on growing pains from changes that took away many of the board's powers over fundraising and finances.
Ms. Hall said the province has not directed the panel on what reforms to consider or what is off-limits. However, it does not plan to change the funding system.
"I don't see that as part of governance," Ms. Hall said. "I see how it's funded as a separate issue."
In March, Ms. Sandals said she can appoint a supervisor to take control of the board, but that would strip trustees of their powers while leaving the structure intact.