Toronto Catholic board still seeking autonomy

Eighteen months after the Ontario Ministry of Education took control of the Toronto District Catholic School Board (TCDSB), many in the Catholic community await the restoration of the board’s autonomy.

A public meeting took place on Feb. 8 at St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School for a strategic review of five Catholic high schools in the east end. A previous meeting had developed a consensus to save all five schools. This night, however, the consensus was to initiate a lobbying campaign.

Students of Notre Dame school announced their ability to round up members from their 1,000-member Facebook page to attend any demonstration at Queen’s Park.

Peter Tabuns, MPP, recommended that people should now write to the Premier and to the Minister of Education. Trustee John Del Grande agreed.

“Take your message to the ministry office. Take your message to the Premier’s office…Numbers count. Flood them with emails. Flood them with letters,” Del Grande said.

Lisa Romano-Dwyer, a former trustee, voiced her concern that an unelected Ministry supervisor now manages the TCDSB.

“We are not functioning as a healthy board. We are under siege by the Ministry,” Romano-Dwyer said. “We as a community need to have our opportunity to vote … for us to consider some of the seriousness of the recommendations.”

Trustee Catherine LeBlanc-Miller clarified that with a Ministry supervisor running the board, elected trustees cannot overturn decisions of TCDSB staff.

“When the board is not under supervision, trustees … make that decision … As the community folks we serve, you have the opportunity to pressure us,” LeBlanc-Miller said. “The difference in this process is that we do not have a vote.”

Opinions differ on the date that direct Ministry supervision will end. Del Grande says it will end in November 2010. LeBlanc-Miller believes that it will end at that time if the TCDSB avoids an operating deficit. However, a Ministry statement from Jan. 9, 2010, offered another perspective.

“On this point, the Minister has been very clear. Supervision will not end while the board is in its current financial situation,” the statement said.

During the tenure of the Ministry supervisors, the TCDSB deficit increased from $433 million to $467 million, or $7,500 per student. During the same period, the deficit of the Ontario government increased from $105 billion to $113 billion, or $10,000 per person.

As of Feb. 15, only five candidates have registered to run in the fall municipal election to fill 13 trustee positions of the Catholic school board. Not one of them is an incumbent.