TORONTO - Sandhya Kohli, now hired as the Interim Integrity Commissioner at the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB), must be a glutton for punishment. Her background includes similar work with other “troubled” School Boards – York Region, Peel Region and Durham Region. The last two assignments have ended “unexpectedly”.
All three school boards have experienced egregious problems among Trustee members of the Board in the last two years. They are what may euphemistically be called “gong shows”. Conflicts of interest seem to abound; pettiness is rampant; squabbling over the minutest of decisions is the order of the day and there is no oversight.
In the above three boards, as in the Toronto District School Board before them, two, three or more individual Trustees galvanized around one misguided (“bad apple”) individual and the rot begins.
The Education Act requires every Board to establish a Code of Conduct for Trustees. Such requirements speak for themselves: they are the absolute minimum behaviour expected of trustees, who, it appears, were unaware of even that “floor” or common-sense limitations.
Moreover, there are no consequences to fear in the event of a breach. Besides, only five (now six) School Boards in the province have an outside investigator (Integrity Commissioner) – and that individual reports to the Board… case closed.
But back to the TCDSB. At the June18 meeting, it formally welcomed Ms. Kohli as its Interim Integrity Commissioner. She has her work cut out for her. The Board’s own Trustees have openly labelled the organization as “dysfunctional”.
This is a Catholic Board whose mandate, constitutionally, carries additional obligations both ethically and fiscally. The Ontario Catholic Trustees’ Association describes their mission statement (applicable to all their members)…”Inspired by the Gospel … to promote and protect publicly funded Catholic education in Ontario… For individual Catholic school board trustees, this unique and distinct role means that they see their democratically elected positions as a vocation flowing out of a call to serve.”
Adherence to such a code might demand eschewing political/material interests. That would be dicult for mere mortals. At least four of the Trustees (Markus De Domenico, Norm Di Pasquale, Ida Li Preti and Dan Di Giorgio) are openly campaigning for the next level of political oce, sning the air, so to speak, to get a better sense of the prevailing winds. They look to veteran Trustee Maria Rizzo for guidance. In a non-partisan environment, one chooses one’s own puppeteer.
Over my last six years of attendance and observation, in person or online, at meetings of the Board, she has come across as sly, scheming, and deceitful. Not once have I had cause to evidence her commitment to student achievement, professional development, or Catholic values. But she espouses all issues that are arguably extraneous – if not damaging - to the mandate she is obliged to discharge.
The hiring of an Interim Integrity Commissioner to investigate transgressions of a Trustee’s Code of Conduct among themselves is nonetheless somewhat encouraging. Ms. Kohli, a veteran prosecutor, and expert in criminal law, seemed almost promising in her opening statement to the Board: “…Trustees are truly privileged to have a fiduciary role, unlike City Councillors...”.
She promised to act as a “guiding hand”, suggesting that they might simply not know any better, but added, categorically, “I reject the watchdog role”.
That will be of little comfort to concerned parents whose complaints about the direction of their children’s social and moral environment attracted the dismissive, scornful condemnation of the Catholic ethic by one trustee, Markus de Domenico. He threatened cease and desist letters from the Board’s legal counsel (often a tactic alerting pending Court action) if those parents were to call again.
Imagine being threatened or harassed as a parent for insisting that your representative observe and respect his/her obligations to you in loco parentis under the Education Act.
Trustees and Staff have tried this in the past with unhappy results. The mere fact that they appear to act with a sense of impunity speaks poorly about the direction of the Catholicity of their children’s education, in a Catholic School Board.
It must surely be a recipe for “system disaster”.
NB: Corriere Canadese reached out to trustees for comment. As at time of writing there was no response.