Skip to main content

Former Toronto mayor Barbara Hall is chairing a panel tasked with examining the Toronto District School Board.

Colin Perkel/THE CANADIAN PRESS

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?'"

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

"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.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies