Though mostly pleased with the results of an audit into Catholic school trustees’ expenses, a local trustee says the process could have been more thorough.
Oliver Carroll, the trustee for the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s Ward 8, says the audit focused only on the spending of trustees while ignoring the administrative staff who approved those expenses.
“I think there was a mistake on both sides. When I say both sides, there’s the whole administrative function of the board, and then there’s the trustees,” Carroll says. “The audit looked at the trustees only.”
The audit, conducted by Ernst & Young, followed a review of the board in May by Norbert Hartmann, and was released in November. It looked at questionable spending by trustees from December 2003 to May 2008. The process cost $250,000 and discovered $30,000 in prohibited spending. Most of that money has now been repaid.
Carroll himself was criticized for using $7,557 from his account to help pay for a Master of Education program, but the audit found this expense to be acceptable under the board’s policy then.
Although he doesn’t accept the behaviour of trustees, Carroll says school board staff should have been more vigilant as well. For example, one board rule requires trustees to provide a receipt for items they buy in order to charge them to their accounts.
“There were some situations where trustees didn’t provide the receipts, and nobody asked for them. They just paid the amounts out,” he says.
However, board chair and Ward 9 trustee Catherine LeBlanc-Miller says the audit did a good job, and focused on everyone involved in the expense account situation.
It looked at expense account policies, the expenses themselves, and how they were approved, including the staff responsible for approval, she says.
“All of those things were looked at and reviewed, and improved significantly,” LeBlanc-Miller says. “I wouldn’t say that staff was not really looked at.”
Clearer language in the policies will ensure the new rules are properly enforced, she added.
Overall, both Caroll and LeBlanc-Miller are pleased with the new rules intended to make trustees more accountable, such as having their expenses posted online every three months.
“They’re fair rules,” Caroll says. “I think that the most important part of them, of course, is their transparency.”
“In my view, the new policies, the clearer language, the tightening up of all of this all the way through, benefits both the taxpayer and the trustee,” LeBlanc-Miller says.
The two trustees also agree having the expenses posted online will be a big help in winning back the trust of parents and schools.
“There is lots of opportunity for scrutiny by the minister [of education], by the media, and by the public generally, to our expense accounts posted online, and the expenses that we’ll send to the minister,” LeBlanc-Miller says.