Justify expenses

Justify expenses, big-spending trustees told.  Education minister calls Catholic board debacle a 'cautionary tale'
Toronto Star – June 10, 2008  Kristin Rushowy and Kerry Gillespie

Ontario's education minister has asked seven Ontario school boards with the highest-spending trustees – five in Greater Toronto – to justify those expenses by the end of the month.

"We've asked all of those boards to explain those expenses," Education Minister Kathleen Wynne said yesterday of her May 15 letter to the Halton public, Peel public, Toronto public, York public and Catholic, London Catholic and Sudbury Catholic boards.

Just last week, the province took control of the Toronto Catholic District School Board after a scathing report found spending among trustees to the tune of an annual average of $107,000 per trustee.

Catholic board members had voted themselves illegal health and dental benefits, car allowances and some had billed for late-night meals with alcohol, and plus-sized lingerie.

"I think I've made it clear with my actions with the Toronto Catholic board that we won't tolerate that kind of abuse," Wynne said yesterday. "It's a cautionary tale."

The ministry has made it clear it is looking into higher spending levels at these seven boards, not necessarily inappropriate spending.

Janet McDougald, chair of the Peel District School Board – where trustees reportedly spend $43,180 each per year – said her board is at the low end of the top spenders.

"We have good processes in place," she said of trustee expenses, adding staff check and recheck all claims and flag anything questionable.

John Campbell, chair of the Toronto District School Board, said trustees there can spend $18,000 a year on constituency assistants, which pushed trustee expenses up to about $67,000 a year each.

The York Catholic District School Board – where trustees reportedly spend $38,456 each per year – has responded to the minister's letter, said board spokesperson Chris Cable.

"We filed our letter right away, almost immediately," she said, pointing out the board breakdowns did not compare "apples to apples," as her board included provincial trustee association fees – $135,000 divided by 10 trustees – which some of the other boards didn't.