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TDSB paid inflated prices for minor jobs: report

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) paid inflated prices for a handful of jobs, most of them minor, the Toronto Star reports.

The newspaper found schools had paid workers $143 to screw a pencil sharpener to a bookshelf; $3,000 to install an electrical outlet in a library; $19,000 to put up a sign in front of a building; and $250,000 to build a small prep kitchen to make breakfast for students.

In response, the board has “reorganized,” centralized payments, and will be part of a ministry review in the fall, TDSB education director Chris Spence said.

“We treat this very seriously and we want to make sure that we are spending our taxpayer dollars in a responsible way,” he told CityNews.

“When you have over 200,000 work orders, things are gonna happen. The question is: what are you gonna do? My role is to ensure that we create a system response to make sure that our processes are in place and tight to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

The TDSB has an exclusive contract with Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council (MCSTC) — a company made up of almost 900 electricians, plumbers, carpenters and maintenance workers paid as TDSB employees.

According to the deal, even projects worth more than $1.5 million or which require special skills must be done by members of affiliated unions.

As part of its investigation, the Star spoke to union boss Jimmy Hazel, who oversees the MCSTC.

He attributed the high prices to a clerical error and — after a couple of principals complained — his company returned some of the money.

But a Star source said in the case of the electrical outlet, although the installation took two people only two hours, the council billed Scarborough’s Albert Campbell Collegiate Institute for 76 hours to pay for other workers who had no jobs that week.

Calls to the MCSTC were not immediately returned.

The TDSB said “fire suppression systems” drove up the cost of the breakfast kitchen.

Last week, school board trustees voted to shut down as many as 32 school cafeterias, reduce professional development and cut continuing education and English as a second language programs. They say the cuts will erase a $109-million shortfall in the 2012-13 budget.