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Report into troubled TDSB reveals 'culture of fear'

Toronto District School Board building. (CITYNEWS/FILE)

Changes must be made at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) within one month or the province can take legal action.

Education Minister Liz Sandals is directing the board to accept all 10 recommendations contained in a damning 34-page report released Thursday.

The review by independent education consultant Margaret Wilson revealed a culture of fear at the board so widespread that many staff, including principals and teachers, said they are too afraid to use board email addresses for fear of being monitored.

Wilson called the revelations of her investigation “deeply disturbing.”

The report highlights other concerns within the board, including trustees improperly being involved in the promotion and hiring process, vetoing candidates and stalling careers based on their personal opinions.

In some cases, principals described being harassed by trustees by insisting on entering classrooms to observe teachers, or trustees intervening in the suspension of students.

“It became clear that we had no choice but to act,” Sandals said, adding the government felt action had to be taken before student achievement and well-being were affected.

TDSB education director Donna Quan said students were achieving at a high level, but said changes would follow the report.

“We take the audit and the review seriously and we will move forward with the directives,” she said.

Newly elected TDBS chair, Shaun Chen, said the board was looking forward.

“We as a board, with the 11 new trustees and the 11 returning trustees, comprise a new board that wants to put the past behind,” he said. “We know that the public deserves better. We must continue to improve and build trust within our system…and rebuild the trust between our board and the public…”

Top recommendations

Some of the recommendations included in the report include removing trustees from decision-making in promotions, develop a policy clearly outlining the role of trustees and bring trustee privileges in line with other large boards.

The report highlighted problems in the procurement process, stating some trustees have a direct say in procurement for their schools, “right down to the colour of the pencils.”

Quan purposely delayed her performance review and the handing over her contract relating to her contentious $289,000 salary, the report also found.

Quan finally handed over her contract to Chen in December. This, was after his predecessor, Mari Rutka, had failed, despite repeated efforts.

Sandals defended the dead line, saying the problems needed to be dealt with quickly because the work environment had become “intolerable” in parts of the board.

“Nobody’s going to fix anything in a month … but if the directions are not carried out, the board will not get where it needs to be,” Sandals said.

The TDSB was the subject of two external audits which uncovered problems with capital and structural deficits and with trustee expenses, but it was the public disputes between staff and trustees that drew the government’s attention.

The TDSB has 246,000 students in nearly 600 schools.

Read Sandals’ instructions to the TDSB below, or click here for a mobile-friendly version.

Liz Sandal’s instructions to the TDSB

Read Margaret Wilson’s entire report below, or click here for a mobile-friendly version.

Margaret Wilson review of TDSB

With files from The Canadian Press