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     Will Queen's Park Eliminate The "Culture Of Fear" 

            At The Toronto District School Board?


 

By Randall White

Practically speaking, education consultant Margaret Wilson’s report on the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) has already been superseded by Education Minister Liz Sandals' list of 13 changes to be implemented by February 13th.  

Still, Ms. Wilson’s report, released last week, is illuminating.

Some of the current problems of the TDSB can be traced back Mike Harris' municipal reforms in the late 1990s.

As the Wilson report notes, today’s Board “was formed in 1998 by amalgamating the seven English-language public boards of what was then known as Metropolitan Toronto.”

Many have never adjusted, says Ms. Wilson.   

Even in 2015, the amalgamated public board still “does not have a strong sense of identity as a unified board."  Trustees and senior staff still reminisce about the good old days of the ‘legacy boards.'

Ms. Wilson's report is just the latest in a growing list of investigations into the “culture of fear” at the Toronto District School Board.

This "culture of fear" is far from new and may be not be "fixable" with the TDSB in its current form, Ms. Wilson tells us.

It has festered to the point where it is “bringing the dysfunction too close to the classroom for comfort.”

There appear to be three big messages for taxpayers in the Wilson report.

(1) The Toronto District School Board has a larger supply of capital assets — especially school buildings — than it needs or can afford to maintain.

Yet the Board continues to operate them when the costs cannot be justified and the Board has no plan to solve the problem.

(2) The longstanding "culture of fear" is preventing the Board from tackling its crucial problems of capital asset management.

Too many of the 22 elected TDSB trustees still haven’t adjusted to the quite dramatic 1998 changes made by the Harris government, she says, to both the funding of public education in Ontario, and the roles of elected school board trustees.

Ms. Wilson says trustees are too involved in the day-to-day management of the schools, and need to disentangle themselves from such a role.

(3) In the concluding pages of her report Margaret Wilson seems to be saying that drastic solutions to what currently ails the TDSB may be required. 

“It remains questionable whether the trustees and senior administration can pull together as a whole ... An honest conversation with the public about other ways of governing the province’s largest school board would be productive at this point in the Board’s history” she says.  

So far Minister Sandals appears to be taking all messages from her education consultant very seriously.

She moved quickly to warn the TDSB may be broken up into smaller boards if its trustees can't turn things around quickly, saying the TDSB in its current incarnation has “spectacularly failed."

By Valentine's Day - February 14 - we should know Ms. Sandals' plans for the TDSB.

Clearly, the status quo is unacceptable to the Minister. 

About Randall White

Randall White is a former senior policy advisor with the Ontario Ministry of Finance, and a former economist with the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. He is the author of Ontario 1610-1985: A Political and Economic History and Ontario Since 1985. He writes frequently about Ontario politics.
Posted date : January 20, 2015

View all of Randall White's columns
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