update: pricey maintenance
thestar.com July 26, 2012. The Toronto District School Board is revising its $3.6 million estimate to provide data for a Star investigation.
How much the fee will drop is unclear, but a top official said the board is committed to finding a way to release the information.
“I am confident we will find a solution,” board education director Chris Spence said Thursday.
The Star is probing the high costs charged to taxpayers for simple jobs — such as $19,000 to install a school sign, almost $3,000 to wire an electric outlet and $143 to screw a pencil sharpener to a library wall.
The Star requested access to the database the school board uses to determine how widespread the problem is, something the board is not doing.
The TDSB wrote to the Star saying access to the 450,000 work orders carried out by its maintenance and construction workers over three years would be provided under provincial access laws, for a fee of $3,555,000. The board said the job would cost its information and technology section 82,500 hours of labour — equaling 41 years of work for a single worker. The board also asked for more than $1 million to photocopy three years of records from the electronic database.
At Queen’s Park, Opposition MPPs pounced. Conservative red-tape critic Todd Smith wrote to Education Minister Laurel Broten saying the large fee was an attempt by the school board to keep secret the high charges levied by the Maintenance and Skilled Trades Council, a group of unions that does the work and which Smith said has “very close ties to your government.”
Smith also wrote to provincial integrity commissioner Lynn Morrison, asking her to determine whether the board is complying with the spirit of the freedom of information law.
“With the scandal currently unfolding at the TDSB, and the outrageous fees charged for routine maintenance work, the Star and all Ontarians have a right to know just how badly their tax dollars may have been abused,” Smith wrote to Morrison.
Previous stories by the Star have detailed the political donations and campaign help the trades council has provided to provincial Liberals and certain trustees at election time.
Jimmy Hazel, business manager and president of the trades council, has told the Star that all the council’s political activities “reflect the best interests of our members.” Recently, Hazel wrote to school board trustees saying he would support “new measures to flag pricing irregularities” at the board.
The school board has never done a comprehensive review of its construction and maintenance work.
In an interview, TDSB freedom of information co-ordinator Giselle Basanta agreed to set up a meeting between their information technology department and the Star. She said very little information will have to be removed — workers’ names will remain in, but their employee numbers will have to be removed.
“We are here all summer. We are going to work this through,” Basanta said.
Kevin Donovan, thestar.com July 26, 2012. Donovan can be reached at (416) 312-3503 or firstname.lastname@example.org