TORONTO - Here are some significant facts and figures to consider when evaluating the Trustworthiness of one of the largest and most significant organizations in the country from a public policy, citizen engagement, public service and lyong-term-outcome perspective.
Yes, this is about the Toronto Catholic School Board. It operates 200 schools for 90,000 children and some 10,000 staff – educational and support.
For this privileged task it receives, from the Province, $204.7 million annually to build and/or keep in good repair these 200 sites. A further $915.5 million per annum to educate your children and mine in a “Catholic values” environment.
They are impressive numbers. If you have been counting, that is $1.12 Billion dollars a year. There’s more, but what is important to know for now is that all this money is entrusted to the hands of a Director of Education (nearly always a teacher who earned “his/her stripes” via a classroom experience) and a Board of Trustees.
They have duties for which they can be held liable, legally and politically. The Director is usually very well paid. In this case, Mr. Rory McGuckin, earns c. $300,000 + benefits, although the Sunshine List will not reflect his full salary until next year. Trustees receive an honorarium of about $5,000 a year, plus some expenses. Different duties.
Sometimes, through “human error” they can make minor miscalculations like reporting a balanced budget before the 2014 election (October) only to discover in March of 2015 they had, in fact, a $ 41.5 million deficit. School boards are legally bound to run balanced budgets. It is all taxpayer money.
That same year, with Trustee Michael Del Grande as Chair, the Board bought 3.15 acres of land - and a convent - from the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, next to their High School (Dante Alighieri) for $18 million. They managed to find another estimated $ 22 million to purchase the Columbus Centre and 3.47 acres.
As part of the Purchase and sale Agreement, TCDSB also signed a Development Agreement with Villa Charities that, according to posted Public Notices, Application submissions to Community Council and City Planning Departments and to the Ontario Municipal Board, would see the Demolition of the Columbus Centre.
Subsequent [planned] 3,000 condo units that would spring up in the area, thanks to the partnership, would net the TCDSB approximately $4.5 million in educational Development fees. And, if you are still counting, the similarity in the total of the last three dollar values is purely co-incidental.
No matter, the Provincial government had set aside $32.8 million for the construction of the school component of the joint-venture, on condition that the Minister give written authorization prior to TCDSB going to tender with the project. The Minister required, among other issues, that a proper public consultation take place beforehand. Of course, we cnnot know for sure because the Board will not release the Redevelopment Agreement, neither will VCI. Not to the public, and by all appearances, not to all Trustees. Yet the “Board” has, as of January 25th, voted twice to extend this Agreement.
The claim, according to Trustee Maria Rizzo, is that VCI has threatened legal action if the TCDSB pulls out. In a November 16, 2017 public meeting, TCDSB staff lawyer, P. Matthews, suggested that there was no merit to that possibility. Director McGuckin repeated that position twice.
Current Chair, Trustee Barbara Poplawski, who is not a lawyer but a friend and ally of Trustee Rizzo, disagreed with the legal opinion of the staff lawyer. Why keep him on retainer, one is tempted to ask.
Re-enter Trustee Del Grande, who at the Jan 25th meeting moved that the Board obtain external legal opinion “on indemnifying Members of the Board and Management … for legal advice/support on civil and defamation actions …and…reimbursing legal expenses for Trustees incurred in their capacity as members of the Board”.
This is called “lawyering up”. Except that Mr. Del Grande wants the taxpayer to cover the legal bills. Mr. del Grande has been threatening legal action against a citizen who wrote the Solicitor General, Minister Naqvi, asking him to investigate the legalities of the TCDSB’s dealings. He made similar utterances to the Corriere Canadese’s reporter covering the story.
The timing is curious because maximum City was supposed to submit its Report on the advisability of moving forward with a publicly discredited Agreement. More significantly, it appears not all Trustees were/are familiar with its details, but all are asked to go along with a Board decision to continue with the proposed Redevelopment Agreement.
Trustee Rizzo continues to advance the claim that the Board is liable for any breach of the Agreement. She has probably seen the details. Another former Chair, Trustee Kennedy must also have knowledge of the contents of the Agreement. She managed the first TCDSB extension of the “due diligence” period in September of 2017. No other Trustees have acknowledged having seen the contents of that Agreement.
After the Consultants and the public vacated the Board premises on the January 25th, the meeting went into “private session”, where the Board Lawyer and Mr. Mc Guckin apparently changed their view on the legal liability of trustees if an extension to the redevelopment project were not provided.
Two trustees, ’Piccininni and D’Amico, asked to see the deal before any vote. Seems like the prudent thing to do. They were denied access by Mr. McGuckin.
How does he expect Trustees to fulfill their fiduciary duties? They were not elected to be bobble heads for someone else’s agenda.