Trustee accused of conflict in suit

Catholic school board member Oliver Carroll claims ratepayer's allegations 'absolutely untrue'
Toronto Star  Louise Brown   EDUCATION REPORTER  July 8, 2008 

Though they are largely stripped of power, Toronto Catholic school board trustees continue to face turmoil with a possible pay cut and a conflict-of-interest complaint filed against their former chair.

Ratepayer Michael Baillargeon has filed a complaint with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice accusing trustee Oliver Carroll of breaking conflict laws when he took part in a board debate about teacher layoffs during budget talks.

Baillargeon will apply Friday to have a judge lay charges against the former board chair which, if proven, could lead to his removal from office for up to seven years.

Trustee Rob Davis filed an affidavit supporting Baillargeon's case, saying he was "astounded" at the May 14 board meeting when Carroll – whose daughter is a new teacher with the board – welcomed a proposal by trustee Maria Rizzo to ban teacher layoffs, despite declining enrolment and a pressing need to wipe out an $11 million deficit and help restore public confidence in the board after a high-profile spending scandal.

The layoff ban passed, leading to a deficit of more than $14 million, which prompted Education Minister Kathleen Wynne to seize control of the board and name educator Norbert Hartmann to take over as supervisor and balance the books.

In his affidavit, Davis claims that after that meeting, Rizzo told him, board chair Catherine LeBlanc-Miller and trustee Barbara Poplowski that it was Carroll who suggested she propose the amendment to prevent layoffs, something Rizzo denied yesterday.

"I approached Oliver, not the other way around, and it was an off-the-cuff conversation about how we might get out of this whole (deficit) mess and it was my idea, not his, to suggest not laying off teachers or cutting programs," she said.

Carroll said yesterday the accusations are "absolutely untrue" and denies having suggested Rizzo propose the layoffs ban that could have preserved his daughter's job. The board later rescinded the ban in a last-ditch but failed bid to balance the budget and escape government takeover.

"I never suggested that to trustee Rizzo, which is why we'll be fighting this in court," said Carroll.

He said he asked the board's lawyer during the meeting whether he could take part in debate on particular items that did not pertain to layoffs and was told he could, "so that's what I was doing" when discussing the deficit in general.

Meanwhile LeBlanc-Miller said Hartmann has indicated he may reduce trustees' $18,500 a year pay while he is in power, to reflect their diminished responsibilities.

Although Queen's Park has sent supervisors into four other school boards in recent years, in no case were trustees' honoraria reduced, noted LeBlanc-Miller.

"And we still have a lot of work to do; our constituents still call us with all their concerns."