Toronto District School Board Governance Advisory Panel Report
Submitted to the Honourable Liz Sandals, Minister of Education, on August 19, 2015
Letter from Barbara Hall to Minister Sandals
Dear Minister Sandals:
The TDSB Governance Advisory Panel is pleased to present our report and recommendations to you.
Pursuant to our mandate, we have heard from and talked with more than five hundred people from across this city, and beyond, about ways to eliminate a culture of fear and governance dysfunction at the TDSB.
The panel has been impressed by the range and depth of the input we have received. We heard of many achievements of the board in the education of children. But we also heard serious concerns about the board's capacity to maintain these achievements and create real opportunities for all children unless significant changes in governance are made. We heard many ideas on what changes are needed and we got a very strong message that change is urgent: children and their communities are vulnerable. Public education itself, in our diverse city, feels vulnerable.
Strongly influenced by what we heard, the panel worked to make recommendations that create the conditions for success in bringing needed change. We believe that the trustees at the TDSB want to provide the best possible education for all children and restore public confidence in the system, and that our recommendations will provide them with the necessary support to do so.
The panel wishes to acknowledge the contribution of so many community members to our work. We also want to thank ministry staff for their hard work and strong support in helping us fulfil our mandate.
Finally, we wish to thank you for giving us the opportunity to serve on this panel and make a contribution to strong, healthy public education in Toronto, something for which we all share a passion.
The TDSB Governance Advisory Panel was appointed to consult with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) community and make recommendations to the Minister of Education with respect to possible structural and procedural changes to address the identified “culture of fear” within the TDSB. We were appointed to consult on governance structures that would better enable trustees to focus on broader policy issues in balance with responsiveness to local concerns, to explore the impact of potential governance structures on operational decision-making, and to consider electoral representation options for the TDSB. Public confidence in the governance of the TDSB has been so significantly eroded that a strong and meaningful response is required.
Since our appointment on March 16, 2015, using public consultations, focused interviews, and online submissions, we consulted with more than 550 students and student leaders, parents and guardians, educators, union representatives, groups and associations of current and former TDSB employees, current and former trustees, senior municipal officials, business leaders, and governance and equity experts.
One of the most frequent messages we heard was that people know that there are many positive experiences for children in schools across the TDSB but, at the same time, all they hear about is bad, unacceptable behaviour throughout the organization with no apparent consequences. They want this to stop.
The fundamental issues underlying the governance dysfunction at the TDSB are a culture of fear and lack of trust, especially at the top levels of the organization. There is also a critical need to refocus and redirect more efforts and resources to connecting schools to their immediate neighbourhoods and to increase the engagement of students and parents in schools.
This report summarizes what we heard, particularly with respect to the dysfunctional culture of the board; role clarification; trustee and senior staff relationships; parent and community outreach; equity and accessibility; electoral issue; size and structure; and accountability mechanisms. Our analysis and recommendations are informed by this and by our review of research and reports on educational governance, governance models in other boards and sectors, and the demographic complexity of Toronto's neighbourhoods. We offer 20 recommendations concerning the board of trustees, accountability and transparency, the director of education position, parent and community engagement, and student trustees and student leadership.
We confirm that a culture of fear exists at the TDSB and that it has had substantial and detrimental consequences for those working at the board. The panel believes that this culture is also impacting what is happening in schools. We heard serious concerns about the inequities of access to specialty programs and the lack of resources in schools to support the specific needs of communities. Those concerns, coupled with our review of student achievement data in the context of demographic factors – including race, socio-economic status and parental level of education – lead us to conclude that governance dysfunction is perpetuating inequities of opportunity and success across the board.
It is our view that this culture has developed over many years and under the watch of several directors, board chairs, and senior administrators and that it cannot be allowed to continue. The comprehensive cultural shift that is required cannot happen without external support.
We heard that many in the TDSB community attribute governance problems to the size of the board. Others told us that size, while a complicating factor, was not at the root of the dysfunction. We agree that size is a major issue, but also believe that the lack of role clarity, accountability and strong leadership on both the elected and administrative sides of the board are causes of the dysfunction and the erosion of public confidence.
We also confirm that under the existing organizational structure, parents and the community feel disconnected from schools; principals and school staff feel disconnected from school and executive superintendents; and school superintendents feel disconnected from executive superintendents and the director of education.
We have concluded that a significant structural change at the TDSB is required to respond to the serious concerns that the community and staff have raised over disconnection and disengagement. This sense of disengagement, coupled with a perception of little accountability and transparency must be addressed.
Because we believe that there is a desire at the board to address these issues, we are recommending that the TDSB remain as one board if significant steps are taken, and progress is made, to address, among other pressing issues, the culture of fear. Engagement and communication between all stakeholders must be improved. Accordingly, we recommend that the TDSB be given the opportunity to work collaboratively with a supervisor, appointed by the Minister of Education, to make the necessary organizational, structural, and policy changes recommended by the panel to improve governance and restore public confidence in the TDSB. Our recommendations include changes to its administrative structure that would result in the creation of two or more Education Centres and the creation of accountability offices.
If demonstrable progress has not been made after one year of collaborative work, then we recommend that the TDSB should be divided into smaller boards. If such a division is required, we have identified principles that should guide the creation of the new boards, and have recommended that a mandatory shared services organization be created to assist the newly created boards by providing effective processes for key shared functions.
Toronto is the largest city in Canada and many say its population is the most diverse in the world. One of the institutions most crucial to its health and success is its system for public education, the foundation of a civil society. The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the subject of this report, is mandated to provide universally accessible education for all students, regardless of their ethnic, racial or cultural backgrounds; social or economic status; disability; gender; sexual orientation; individual exceptionality; or creed. It is founded on the principle of educational opportunity: that every student will receive the support they need to reach their individual potential. It also provides character education to ensure that students develop as caring and responsible members of their community and of Canadian society as a whole.
Since 1816, Ontario has elected trustees to provide stewardship of school board resources in the interests of all students and the communities where they reside. They are the only group directly elected by the public with the sole responsibility for Ontario's children's education and are an important link between schools and local communities. Elected school boards are an important part of our democratic traditions.
There is a high level of achievement among many children in the TDSB, which is a testament to the commitment and talent of many classroom teachers, principals and other staff. However, since the creation of the TDSB through the amalgamation of seven public school boards in 1998, there have been numerous crises in leadership, and controversies associated with decision making by the board.1 This has resulted in the appointment of a provincial supervisor in 2002, the appointment of five different directors since 1998, and a number of external financial and operational reviews.
In 2012, when the TDSB faced budget pressures and challenges in balancing its budget, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) conducted a review of TDSB business services to assist the board in finding opportunities for cost effectiveness, efficiencies and optimal resource allocations. Later that year, the Ministry of Education assigned a Special Assistance Team to assist the board in eliminating its capital deficit and implementing recommendations from the PwC report. The province also released a forensic audit in December 2013 (conducted by Ernst & Young LLP) at the request of the board, following concerns raised by the board's audit committee. Most recently, in November 2014, Margaret Wilson was appointed by the Minister of Education to undertake a review of the board in light of the Minister's concerns over persistent governance and operational issues affecting the TDSB.
The events leading to these reviews and the turmoil that they have created have led to the continued erosion of public trust and confidence in the board, resulting in Recommendation 10 of the Wilson Report, which is the source of the mandate of this Governance Advisory Panel.
The TDSB Governance Advisory Panel was established to consult with the TDSB community and make recommendations to the Minister of Education with respect to possible structural and procedural changes to address an identified "culture of fear" within the TDSB. We were asked to consult on governance structures that would better enable trustees to focus on broader policy issues in balance with responsiveness to local concerns. We were also mandated to explore the impact of potential governance structures on operational decision making, and to consider electoral representation options for the TDSB.
Since the TDSB Governance Advisory Panel was appointed on March 15, 2015, we have engaged with more than 550 students and student leaders, parents and guardians, educators, union representatives, groups and associations of current and former employees of the TDSB, current and former trustees, senior municipal officials, business leaders, and governance and equity experts and community members. We also consulted with education leaders in other jurisdictions and studied their governance models.
There were three principal methods through which the panel reached out and through which members of all of these groups engaged with the panel: online submissions, public meetings and focused interviews.
An online consultation website, ConsultationsonTDSB.ca, was created to provide information to the community about the work of the panel and about how all members of the community could share their thoughts and perspectives. The community was invited to respond to nine online questions on ways of improving the governance structure and culture at the TDSB.2 It should be noted that several groups and individuals offered written submissions, where they felt a different structure would be more suitable for their input. These submissions were received electronically through the website and in some cases, by traditional mail. The panel received over 130 online and other written submissions. We were impressed by the depth of thought and the consideration given to the consultation questions and appreciate the time that these members of the TDSB community took to participate in the consultation process.
The community was also invited to attend consultation sessions held across the city. For many of these sessions, translation services were offered. The sessions varied in size from conversations with a few community participants to facilitated table discussions with larger groups. Feedback from the participants indicated that a majority were pleased with the in-person consultation format that allowed for small-group discussion. Most felt that the format they participated in provided them the opportunity to contribute their ideas and thoughts on the consultation questions. Some wanted to discuss issues outside of the scope of our mandate and we list those issues in Appendix B.
Our discussions at the consultations were structured around three of the nine questions on the consultation website. The first question focused on indicators of good governance and asked: What would signal to you that our Trustees are governing in the interests of all students of the TDSB? The second question – In what ways should the TDSB reach out to families, especially those who may not feel welcome now or in the past? – gathered ideas on key ways of engaging parents. The final question focused on the benefits and challenges associated with the large size of the board and specifically asked community members: What are the benefits of the TDSB being a large board and what is working well? What are the challenges of the TDSB being a large board and what is not working well? What changes do you recommend to address these challenges? More than 270 participants attended these sessions. Again, we were impressed by the quality of the conversation and the insights, creativity and openness of mind that the participants brought to the discussions.
The public consultations and the consultation website were widely advertised through various means, including media relations activities, community outreach organizations and social media. The panel acknowledges and thanks the TDSB for their assistance in communicating information about the consultation process to the TDSB community.
Finally, the panel engaged in smaller, more focused interviews with groups or individuals representing a broad spectrum of education professionals and stakeholder groups connected to the TDSB or Ontario public education more generally, as well as individuals in other jurisdictions who shared their experience and insights with us. More than 60 meetings were held in which panel members engaged with approximately 150 individuals. We owe them a debt of thanks for their time and for sharing their expertise and advice with the panel.
The panel reviewed research on many aspects of different governance models in the education sector, with a particular emphasis on the framework for political and operational oversight. We examined board demographics and socio-economic factors to understand the conditions for student learning. Specifically, the panel examined the governance structure of a number of large school boards, including those of New York City and Chicago, where the delivery of public education is overseen by the mayor. In Chicago, the mayor appoints the chief executive officer and all members of the governing body. In New York City, the mayor appoints the chancellor and most members of the governing body, which is called the Panel for Educational Policy. City- and community-wide education councils act in an advisory capacity to the Panel for Educational Policy. We did not find other examples of U.S. public school boards with appointed trustees. We did see several U.S. school boards larger than Toronto, but closer in size, such as Miami-Dade, Broward County (Fort Lauderdale) and Clark County (Las Vegas). All have governance by fully elected school boards with between seven and nine elected trustees. As with the TDSB, they hire a “Superintendent of Schools” who is the sole employee reporting to the trustees.
We looked at the Vancouver District School Board model where all nine trustees are elected at large and where voting on educational policy is closely aligned with partisan political parties.
We also spent considerable time examining the demographic complexity of Toronto's neighbourhoods, particularly with respect to how demographic factors relate to students' learning opportunities.3 Research included studies on the distribution of immigrant populations, first language spoken at home, family structure, student absenteeism and suspension rates as well as parental education and income levels. Related reports from the Conference Board of Canada, the TDSB and the City of Toronto were reviewed.
The following section of the report summarizes what has been learned from this research and what we heard from students, parents and guardians, current and former staff and trustees, business leaders, and community members during our three-month consultation period. The rich feedback from participants deeply informed the panel's deliberations and helped to focus our recommendations, which are articulated at the end of the report.
To understand the current context of governance at the TDSB, the panel explored the history of this board as well as significant changes affecting long-standing governance arrangements in Ontario's elected school boards. At a provincial level, we note that the amalgamations of school boards in 1998 decreased the overall number of trustees in the province and expanded the territory and number of schools and students for which trustees were responsible.
In the City of Toronto, seven school boards4 were amalgamated into the current TDSB. Just prior to amalgamation, the predecessor boards each had a governing body ranging from eight elected trustees in the former Board of Education for the Borough of East York, 12 in the former Board of Education for the City of Scarborough and 18 in the former Board of Education for the City of Toronto. In 1998, the TDSB was established with 22 elected trustees. In terms of the size of the board of trustees, the TDSB stands apart as no other Ontario school board has more than 12 elected trustees.
The role and expectations of school trustee varied from one predecessor board to another. In some boards, it was viewed and compensated as full-time. Trustees were not just activist in policy making, but were active in day-to-day operations of the board. This raised expectations on the part of some trustees and community groups, which they carried over into the amalgamated board. Connections between the trustees and communities became more challenging to develop in the larger amalgamated board, which further complicated understandings and expectations of the role of trustees.
In other predecessor boards, the position was seen as a policy-setting role, as representing the local community interest in the funding and delivery of public education, and distinct from the operations of the board. This resulted in those communities having a more hands-off relationship with their trustees.
We note the impact of increased provincial direction in the provision of education on governance in district school boards. We have heard that for many, the transfer of responsibilities created a void or a "loss of purpose" for trustees. We even heard from a few who questioned the ongoing need for school trustees.
The panel noted the significant demographic shifts impacting district school boards, including immigration, migration, declining enrolment and population growth, and we acknowledge that the TDSB has been especially impacted by immigration and declining enrolment. Between 2003-2004 and 2013-2014, TDSB enrolment decreased 12 per cent. We also appreciate that governance at the TDSB, as in other boards, has been affected by increased societal expectations and demands on schools and increased participation by parents and students in decision making.5
It is not surprising that in light of these significant changes, the roles and responsibilities of trustees, boards, senior administrators and the government have changed as well. We reviewed research that noted that school boards have voiced concerns that there is a lack of clarity on roles, and that this role confusion often results in some boards struggling to govern effectively and in ways that foster public confidence.6
Through the course of our consultations, we heard how role confusion and unclear understandings of responsibilities have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the dysfunction at the TDSB. We heard of trustees asserting themselves in operational matters that may have been appropriate in one predecessor board or another in previous decades, but that, in the current reality, fall under the purview of senior administrators and professional staff. Community expectations of trustees that were voiced during our consultations were also not aligned with the current context. We heard, for example, that some parents and community members expect trustees to be in schools regularly, talking to students and staff, and that they expect trustees to resolve issues that are actually the responsibility of school staff or administration. For some, there is a perception that publicly elected trustees, rather than administrators, have "got the backs" of parents and community members. Depending on the circumstances, this may or may or may not be true, but whatever the case, this thinking helps to shape roles.
We heard a number of instances where individuals holding positions of significant accountability appeared not to have an appreciation of their responsibility. For example, some staff who met with us spoke of their deep concern about and disappointment with the perceived lack of a strong and substantial response from the director of education and the chair of the board of trustees to the April 2015 media reports of a hidden camera that had been discovered in a TDSB principal's office. This incident was reported on the heels of the Wilson Report, which publicly documented the culture of fear and staff concerns of emails being monitored and phones being bugged. However, it appears that neither the chair nor the director of education strongly responded to the public outrage that ensued in the media, nor to staff's heightened fears of working in a culture where hidden cameras were seemingly acceptable methods of monitoring staff performance. To many staff, the absence of a strong public statement from senior leadership indicated that there was either a lack of understanding of responsibility and accountability or, equally troubling to them, tacit approval of these practices.
The lack of clarity on roles and responsibilities is both an internal and external problem that needs to be addressed. We note in particular the research that suggests that school boards will continue to lose ground unless they re-evaluate their role within the current educational context and refashion themselves accordingly.7
This section of the report identifies key messages on specific themes that emerged through the course of our consultation: dysfunctional culture; role clarification; trustee/senior staff relationships; communication and parent and community outreach; equity and accessibility; electoral issues; student leadership and engagement; size and structure; and accountability.
The mandate of our panel includes making recommendations with respect to possible structural and procedural changes to address the identified "culture of fear" within the TDSB. The first use of this term in relation to the TDSB is found in the final report on school safety by the School Community Advisory Panel (released in January 2008), also known as the "Falconer Report." In an appendix to the report, it states, "… there is a culture of silence at the TDSB that inhibits the reporting of school safety issues and more generally creates reluctance to scrutiny" and that "… fear of offending those in authority filters from the trustee level to teachers in classrooms and support staff."8 It speaks of the culture of fear applying to staff at all levels throughout the TDSB:
Staff members who should report on issues affecting the system in general, a particular trustee's committee work, or a school district are concerned about gaining the disfavour of the administration or trustees. They are fearful that such disfavour from either group could alter their career paths.9
A culture of fear was also noted in the 2013 forensic audit of the board by auditors Ernst & Young in their observations regarding trustee involvement in the management of the board:
We heard from numerous individuals including management, staff and Trustees of a culture of "fear" in the organization. Pressure is sometimes put on staff to not comply with set policies and some employees fear their employment may be terminated if they refuse to do as requested. We found examples of this type of pressure.10
The term "culture of fear" was used in the Wilson Report11 to describe the undercurrent of anxiety and mistrust permeating relationships between and among senior staff and trustees at the TDSB. Wilson noted that there was little recognition among experienced trustees on the board of their role in contributing to the culture of fear. During our consultations, some trustees continued to assert their disbelief that such a culture exists, and others did not demonstrate an appreciation of their responsibility, as governors of the board, to address the culture of fear. The Wilson Report documented the factors contributing to the culture of fear and expressed concerns that it is now beginning to seep down into schools at the level of principals and even teachers.
Through our consultations over the past several months, we heard serious concerns from current and former trustees, staff, and school and board leaders that an unhealthy and divisive culture continues to thrive at the TDSB. There were some objections to the use of the term "culture of fear," but most acknowledged problematic aspects to the climate variously described as "bullying," "harassment," "exhaustion" or "culture of silence."
We strongly believe that a culture of fear exists and is taking its toll. At the time the panel was beginning its work, two of the board's associate directors suddenly announced their retirement. A third member of the senior executive team resigned shortly thereafter. Many regarded these departures as a strong signal of an untenable work environment. It was, in fact, telling to us that several individuals were reluctant to meet with the panel out of stated fear for their jobs or career advancement, and some agreed to meet with us only after we assured them of anonymity. Others declined. Several were in tears as they shared their experiences with us.
Individuals characterized the culture at the TDSB as dysfunctional and as suppressing open and honest discussions. We heard that people don't feel free to express their opinions with colleagues in public and that messaging from the top has not been effective in countering this culture, nor has there been any modelling of positive trust-building behaviour. Indeed, this dysfunction has given rise to low morale, stress, fatigue, harassment, high turnover of senior staff and staff opting not to seek more senior positions.
We were told that information is treated as currency that is shared with an "in-group," leaving the "out-group" feeling marginalized and not valued. We heard this from the perspective of both trustees and senior administration. Trustees who are not in the in-group "get the short end of the stick," and we were told that responses to their requests for information are often dragged out or not supported. Those who told us about this imbalance in access to information spoke of the need for a governance mechanism to ensure timely and complete responses from the director and senior administration. Senior staff also noted how information is used by the director and senior administration in a way that favours those who are in the in-group and marginalizes those who are in the out-group. That in-groups and out-groups are perceived to exist within senior administration and elected leadership speaks to the extent of the unhealthy and divisive culture at the TDSB.
We heard of "layers of fear," exhaustion, constant in-fighting and staff concerned for their job security and career advancement if they were not in favour with their trustee and senior administration. We heard of constant jockeying among the 22 trustees to get a 12-trustee majority onside to support an item coming before the board, and that once those 12 votes were secured, the remaining trustees had difficulty engaging in critical discussion on the item. The Wilson Report noted this practice and concluded that this was not a model that spoke to cooperation among trustees. Yet, despite this dysfunction, teachers, support staff, volunteers and principals are in their schools, working hard to ensure that student achievement and well-being remain their focus.
We heard disappointment, discouragement, and despair at the lack of integrity and accountability in the organization. Many strongly suggested that the culture of fear comes in equal parts from trustees and senior-level staff. Participants told us that leadership on both the elected side and senior administrative side of the board needs to develop and model a culture of openness and integrity. It is ironic that we heard of bullying and in-fighting between and among senior-level staff and trustees in an organization that is legally required to promote an inclusive, caring and safe environment for children and young adults and to promote anti-bullying initiatives in schools.
Many people we spoke with suggested that respectful and honest approaches and improved communication processes would help build a positive climate and mutually respectful relationships between and among trustees and staff. As one respondent eloquently observed, "You need to figure out how to get people to be their better selves."
You need people in the role of director, chair and senior staff positions that trust and respect each other, understand all of their associated roles and responsibilities and are able to communicate honestly and effectively. (A participant in focused consultation)
The panel reviewed a recent research paper12 that associates strong district school boards with effective system leadership. That research suggests that trustees contribute most to their board's progress when they focus on strategic planning consistent with their board's mission and values, respect the roles and responsibilities of the director and senior staff, develop and sustain productive relationships among themselves, and respect decisions reached by the board as a whole. Through the course of our consultations, we found that, on the whole, trustees are falling short on each count.
We also looked at the Education Act and reviewed the duties of board members and the duties and powers of boards. The fundamental responsibilities of the board are to develop a multi-year strategic plan that establishes the board's goals and to monitor and evaluate the performance of the director of education in meeting the goals in the strategic plan. This is a significant responsibility of trustees: to set the vision and goals of the board, to develop policies to achieve the goals, and to monitor and evaluate the implementation of those board policies. During our consultations, we learned that many, including trustees, do not appreciate the importance of that fundamental responsibility.
We looked at the TDSB's current multi-year strategic plan and were concerned by what we saw. A strategic plan should articulate the common direction and focused, aspirational – yet attainable – goals that will serve as a guidepost for the work of every member of the school board organization. All policy decisions and all operational decisions – indeed all actions taken by the organization – should be informed by and ultimately align with the vision and goals established in the strategic plan.
The TDSB's current strategic plan does not fulfil this purpose. Rather, it sets out an overwhelming number of priorities and a list of actions the TDSB will take or targets it will reach, many of which relate to the ongoing administration of the board in meeting existing legal or provincial policy requirements, or board policy requirements. By its very definition, a priority is something that is more important than other things and that needs to be done or dealt with first. Hence, by its very nature, this board's and this director's list of 36 priorities overloads an already fraying organization.
School superintendents are experiencing exhaustion due to the demands from their executive team for paperwork to support the unmanageable board priorities list. Principals perceive that because of the unusually high number of board priorities – compared with five or six in other Ontario boards' strategic plans – their school superintendents are losing focus on school needs. They also told us that with frequently changing senior personnel, they are experiencing frequently changing directions.
We also heard that as a result of this frantic activity to please the top end of the administration, projects are initiated constantly but never given long enough to run their course. Each September, new initiatives are launched with not enough regard for stewarding and monitoring their implementation.
We also noted that the Education Act clearly sets out that trustees are to entrust the day-to-day management of the organization to staff through the director of education.13 However, the Wilson Report, as well as previous audits and reviews of the TDSB, have noted the problematic practice of trustee involvement in the day-to-day operations of the board, despite the provision in the Education Act. During our consultations, we heard of many situations where trustees inserted themselves in operational matters, including participating in the floor plans of individual schools and directing which school would house a specialized education program. We heard that trustee involvement in operational issues has been a long-standing problem at the board and that some trustees have acted in ways that show a clear lack of understanding of the difference between governance and operations.
We also heard from some trustees and community members that trustee involvement in operational matters occurs in response to either the inability, or the unwillingness, of the operational side of the board to respond to pressing and urgent needs. One example of what we heard illustrates the point. The families in a chronically overcrowded school were increasingly frustrated by board staff's inadequate responses to their ever-growing accommodation needs. It was incomprehensible to them that, approaching 160 per cent capacity, their school was not identified as a capital priority. The school trustee investigated the facts, reviewed the policies, obtained and analysed the utilization rates of nearby schools and concluded that the school belonged on the priority list. The trustee brought the "disconnect" to the board's planning department to achieve a resolution. The amount of work was substantial, and the trustee is seen to have moved the operations of the board in line with the policy and, as a result, senior staff have this item on their priority list.
We heard other accounts of trustees doing similar work, and virtually all agreed that this was properly the domain of staff. We heard concerns that this contributes to a culture where "the loudest voices are heard" in a system where the most vulnerable are often the most quiet. What we did not hear is how the board of trustees holds staff accountable for the work of ensuring that board policies are followed. Too many times we found ourselves asking staff and trustees: How does the board of trustees hold staff accountable? Too many times there was no answer. The absence of accountability mechanisms in place in the board and lack of understanding of lines of accountability was, quite frankly, astounding.
Previous reviews and audits of the TDSB have found that unclear understandings of roles and responsibilities have contributed to the dysfunction at the board. In 2013, The Special Assistance Team recommended that "the school board's governance model needs to be strengthened to distinguish the roles and responsibilities of the trustees and the director of education to support an effective working relationship that meets the goals and priorities of the school board."14
The importance of role clarification for trustees was raised often during our consultations and was identified as a key indicator of effective governance. A contributing factor to trustee role confusion is the tension inherent in the role itself: trustees are elected by their local communities and are expected to bring the voice of their communities to the board table, but at the same time they are expected to act as a unified body in the best interests of all students of the board. Only the board of trustees as a whole has the power to make decisions. While trustees have an important role to play as members of the board, they do not have individual authority.
We heard that this confusion and lack of understanding often becomes obvious at the time people put their names forward to run for trustee. Candidates who have a different and incorrect understanding of the role make unrealistic campaign promises which they cannot keep. This creates expectations about the role of trustees in the community, whose members then make inappropriate demands on trustees, or on the board of trustees as a whole.
Many people asked the panel what training, qualifications or orientation is undertaken by trustees to help them understand and fulfil their roles, expecting that it would be substantial. We learned that relatively little formal orientation and training has been available and that many current trustees have not attended the available professional development opportunities, such as the post-election orientation sessions offered by the Ministry of Education and the Ontario Public School Boards' Association. Either they did not believe they needed to attend, or felt they could not justify the costs associated with some of these events. We were shocked that in an organization whose business is teaching and learning, there wasn't an appreciation that learning and understanding is an appropriate investment for its governing members.
Participants suggested that trustees need to better balance their community needs with the district's needs and look at the whole system rather than just the needs of "their schools." We heard that trustees are too focused on micro-level problems rather than board-wide issues, and of trustees viewing themselves in more of a "customer-service" role – responding to endless telephone calls and emails from constituents – rather than viewing their role as governors responsible for board-wide issues. We were told that it is a minority of trustees that have been able to appropriately balance those responsibilities. Trustees are certainly passionate about their local communities and are strong representatives; however, wherever practicable, the chair of the board should work with board members to bring those local community issues to the board table in the context of system-wide discussions. We were told that this frequently has not happened.
During our consultations, we heard varying views on whether the role of trustee should be a full-time or a part-time position. Not surprisingly, those who thought that trustees should be readily accessible and immediately responsive to their constituents' emails and telephone calls believed that the position should be full-time. We heard from trustees who tended to be involved in more operational matters and who understood their role in the context of "customer-service" rather than as a board governor, and they also advocated for full-time status. On the other hand, we were told that if trustees focused on governance matters and relied on staff, when appropriate, to follow up with parents and community members, then the time commitment demanded by the position would not be full-time.
Many people noted that the office of school trustee is regarded by many as an entry point for a political career. They were concerned about the partisan politicization of the role and feared that decisions were made that were in the best interest of one's political career rather than the best interests of the students of the board.
Role of the Chair
At its first meeting each year, the board of trustees is required, under the Education Act, to elect one of its members to serve as chair for a period of one year. There is no limit on the number of years a trustee may be elected as chair, and in some boards, the same person is re-elected as chair over many years. In other boards, including the TDSB, there is frequent turnover in the chair position.
The chair is the board leader and has significant additional leadership and governance responsibilities consistent with good governance practice that are also set out in the Education Act. It is the chair's responsibility to preside over and effectively manage board meetings; to establish agendas for board meetings, in consultation with the director of education; and to ensure that members of the board have the information needed for informed discussions. The Act requires that the chair convey the decisions of the board to the director of education and to act as spokesperson to the public on behalf of the board, unless otherwise determined by the board. The Act is explicit in stating the responsibility of the chair to provide leadership to the board in maintaining the board's focus on its mission, its vision and its multi-year strategic plan.15
Everyone who spoke with us about this role underscored its influence and impact on the functioning and, ultimately, the effectiveness of the board. There was widespread agreement about the qualities needed in an effective school board chair: deep knowledge about the school system and board policies; the ability to foster respectful and productive working relationships among trustees and with senior staff; strong consensus-building skills, with the attendant ability to recognize where compromise is needed and exert influence to achieve it; and the ability to maintain high standards of behaviour and the ability to enforce discipline when rules are breached.
Many spoke to the panel about the role of the chair in building an understanding of, and ensuring respect for, governance roles and responsibilities: "Having a strong chair who can shape the board, without a stranglehold on the members, can help trustees who understand their role." Board members, staff and the public told us that they look to the chair to manage the balance between ward and system-wide issues. Some participants during the consultation suggested that the chair should be appointed by the government or elected at large by the public, with the express mandate to represent "the whole board."
Director of Education
Under the Education Act, the director of education is both the chief executive officer and the chief education officer of the board.16
Currently, the only requirement for the position of director of education is to be a supervisory officer in Ontario who qualified for a supervisory officer's certificate as a teacher. To receive such a certificate, an individual must have a progression of education experience – essentially teaching and principal experience – as well as successful completion of the Supervisory Officer's Qualification program, which includes the study of theories and practices of supervision, administration and business organization. The foundation for the qualification, however, is education and instructional leadership. This qualification is distinct from the "business supervisory officer's qualification," which is founded on business experience and designated professional qualifications, other than teaching.
The panel heard many views on the role and qualifications of the director of education position. We heard from some that teaching and instructional leadership are critical qualifications and experiences, without which one could not possibly lead a school board, particularly a board this large. We heard from others, however, that they are not. Without exception, we heard that instructional leadership is not enough: the position of director of education requires governance skills, political acuity, business acumen, an understanding of finance, capital, business, labour relations and human resources at a sufficient level to fulfil the substantial and significant governance responsibilities of director and to provide oversight and leadership to the senior executive team that provides day-to-day management of these portfolios. We also heard that the director must ensure that all programs and operations of the board are strongly aligned with the mission and values of the board. In a board as complex and diverse as the TDSB, we heard that the director must also demonstrate a strong commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity.
The business and industry leaders we met with said that they would be hard pressed to think of a business leader with the skills and expertise to manage such a large and complex organization. Consistent with this observation, we heard from current and past trustees about the challenges of having to recruit a new director and the length of time involved in the recruitment process. Many expressed the view that the requirement for the Ontario Supervisory Officer's Qualification hampers the ability of the board of trustees to recruit from jurisdictions outside Ontario. Others suggested that the requirement to be a supervisory officer with teaching qualifications is unduly restrictive and that the pool of candidates should include business supervisory officers as well.
Many suggested that clarity of roles is a means to build a positive climate between and among trustees and staff. We were advised that "Going forward, roles for trustees and staff would benefit from being more clearly defined through legislation, policy, and procedure" and that the board should ensure that all trustees and staff know these definitions thoroughly and abide by them.
We also heard the perspective that the Education Act is very clear on roles and responsibilities; however, carrying them out can take ongoing hard work and sophistication on everyone's part. Governance relationships can be complex, and there must be a willingness to reach a common understanding and make them work. As a close observer of school board governance noted, "It is important to explore the role [of trustee] through and be explicit about what it is together. Giving up the sense of power is hard, but you need to have that explicit understanding." This can be challenging, particularly as, in the words of another participant, "The understanding of the role differs based on how long you've been there and what your political leanings are."
School boards in Ontario have found that when the governance model or the relationship between the board of trustees and the director of education is not effective, the resulting governance-related issues can be significant detractors for operational effectiveness.17 The panel heard this echoed frequently during our consultations. As one participant simply put it: "Good governance means good relationships." The words of another participant reflect what we heard repeatedly from directors, chairs and others with deep experience in educational governance: "No board can be successful if there are not good professional working relationships with mutual trust and respect." The critical importance of healthy, effective relationships was impressed upon us by this comment: "Relationships are important, not for the sake of the relationship, but to move the student agenda forward." Time and time again, the panel was urged to get the right structures in place to enable good relationships to take root and flourish.
Many observed that the relationship between trustees and staff requires sophistication and commitment, and that trust between the director and chair is key to a successful relationship. The directors and chairs that we spoke with stressed how crucial that relationship is and noted the time, effort and commitment it takes to create a foundation of trust on which such a relationship can be built.
Currently, the director of education is the only employee who reports directly to the board of trustees, which is responsible for the recruitment, hiring and ongoing evaluation of the performance of the director. The board of trustees is required to annually review the board's strategic plan with the director of education, and to monitor and evaluate the director's performance in implementing the strategic plan. Ongoing monitoring of the implementation of the strategic plan is typically done through regular reports to the board. Through the consultation process, we heard that there is a fundamental lack of understanding on the part of some trustees as well as some members of the community about this crucial responsibility of the board of trustees. We were dismayed by comments that signalled to us that some trustees had little sense of their role in monitoring and evaluating the implementation of board policies through the director of education. The strategic plan that we referenced earlier as being too complicated and all-encompassing also does not have clear performance measures that would form the basis for the evaluation of the director of education.
Many participants noted that the director has a responsibility to work with the board chair to establish a respectful relationship. While there can be tensions between the director and the chair, we heard that those tensions can be dealt with if there is mutual respect and a strong relationship in place. We were told that senior staff look to and rely on the leadership of the director of education to ensure that the roles and responsibilities of trustees and staff are understood and respected, and to intervene appropriately in situations when lines become blurred. We heard that failure to do so contributes to dysfunction, low morale and a culture of fear.
While we heard that there are some positive relationships between trustees and senior staff, we also heard that too often that is not the case and many senior staff are in fact fearful of trustees and reluctant to push back on trustees' unreasonable or inappropriate requests. Blurred lines of responsibility and lack of mutual trust have created an environment where senior staff are fearful of elected leaders, have little trust in their relationship with other senior staff and feel like their time is spent "putting out fires" and protecting themselves and staff in schools.
We were told that the lack of trust also flows from the trustee side of the trustee/staff relationship. We heard that "There is little trust where the flow of information is impeded and becomes a currency that can be shared or withheld to the advantage or disadvantage of others." Some suggested that staff deliberately withhold information or obfuscate the information that flows back to the board, often depending on the trustee who is making the request. Many trustees observed that information is delayed or delivered in massive packages to the board table with no time to review it, hampering their ability to be prepared for board meetings.
From the perspective of staff, we heard that too often trustees make requests for time-consuming reports that do not serve the greater interests of the board as a whole but the narrower interests of the trustee, and are unrelated to the core work of the TDSB. This form of "freelancing" is a major distracter from the core work of all staff to support students and schools. There is a larger issue here as well concerning the interaction of trustees and staff. Problems arise with respect to lines of accountability, workflow and coherence if trustees are communicating directly with staff and assigning tasks that the director may not be aware of. We heard that both the trustees and senior administration would be well served if a person with governance expertise acted as the secretary of the board. Such a person could assist trustees, particularly those newly elected, in making motions, requesting and accessing information from senior staff, as well as buffering senior staff from trustees' unwieldy requests for information and reports.
From principals, we heard the trickle-down effect that such "offline" requests have in creating stress and exhaustion at their level. As one principal stated: "Staff would promise things (to trustees and others) they can't do, and then create exhaustion and blame someone else." Speaking to the increased bureaucratization of system, another summarized the sentiment we heard from many: "There was a time when it felt like the system was working and supporting principals – now it feels like the school has to serve the system. We need to get back to the system serving the schools."
The panel consistently heard the strong belief that improved consultation and engagement were crucial for the TDSB to govern in the interests of all students. We clearly heard the need for the board to reach out to the broader community on a more regular and consistent basis (such as, through community meetings and town halls), because "many people don't know how the board works." Many participants also emphasized the need to support parents by creating more opportunities for them to provide input and have a real impact on decision making so that they see their "input is encouraged and valued and is seen in actions and policies." We heard that too often what purports to be consultation is instead an information session rather than vital dialogue with the community.
Like every board in Ontario, the TDSB has a Parent Involvement Committee (PIC), and the purpose of the PIC is to encourage and enhance parent involvement at the board. PICs are led by parents and are intended to be an important advisory body to the board. During our consultations, we were told that the PIC at the TDSB requires administrative support and additional resources to allow for that committee to better engage parents. We heard that information comes to the PIC with timelines for feedback that make it impossible for meaningful engagement; under those challenging circumstances, true consultation is impossible.
Similarly, we heard that improved communication processes were crucial in order for the TDSB to build a positive climate throughout the organization, to help with efforts to reach out to families who may not feel welcome now or in the past, and to support trustees in staying connected to their communities. We also heard that clear communication protocols could help to ensure that parents and students know how to get their concerns addressed in a timely way.
We learned that there is a perceived need to develop and implement robust communication structures between trustees and constituents. There was considerable support for the reinstatement of community liaison or community outreach workers as a means to help "build school-to-family relationships," particularly in high-priority neighbourhoods. Many identified community support workers as a means to improve communications with the larger community and its many support service organizations, and to encourage parent and community engagement. From several trustees we heard about the hours spent on a weekly basis responding to, redirecting and following up on parent requests for help navigating the system and obtaining needed supports for their children. We heard that community outreach workers could significantly lessen this work and allow trustees to focus on higher level, board-wide governance issues. Many perceived that some trustees more than others are more active, interested and effective in supporting parents or "advocating" on their behalf. Having dedicated staff positions to support parents in this way was encouraged by many as an equitable way to help ensure that all families and all parents get the support they need and to keep trustees from asserting themselves in ostensibly operational matters.
Participants were passionate about ensuring that schools were inclusive and were serving the needs of students with diverse linguistic and ethnocultural backgrounds. Many participants spoke of the importance of having access to translation or interpretive services when needed for interacting with the board, and they suggested communicating in many languages if community needs reflect that this would be helpful to board–community relations. We were told of the importance of increasing language and translation services and offering materials in multiple languages. From trustees in wards with high rates of new immigrants we heard about the need to engage newcomers in their language. These trustees understand their responsibility to represent the voices of their community at the board table, but need to be able to engage constituents in their language to carry out that responsibility. They felt a disproportionate burden on their discretionary budget to support vitally needed translation services and would like to see a budget for translation from which all trustees can draw as required. One participant noted that "Reaching out to families means using whatever communication tools are needed" and ensuring that materials are written in accessible language and translated when necessary into the languages of the families who are part of the school community.
During our conversations, we heard a variety of suggestions to improve communication, including improving the TDSB website to ensure that it is user-friendly and has a directory with contact information for trustees and key board administrators, and distributing mail or newsletters to reach those who may have limited access to technology or who do not attend meetings. There were suggestions for improved internal and external communications at the board, including expanded communication protocols. The TDSB was described as a large, complex system to navigate that needs to be broken down by "creating multiple entry access points to power." Providing parents, students and community members with contact information, such as a 311 line, and easy-to-access key information would go a long way in breaking down the complex system that is the TDSB.
Many who spoke with the panel expressed the view that the harmony and tolerance that exists in Toronto is due, in no small part, to the efforts of all who work in the schools to build safe and equitable classrooms for students. We also heard that, but for the sustained efforts of TDSB trustees and staff, many of the gains that have been made in the establishment of progressive hiring and promotional policies and programs might not have been achieved. Throughout our consultations, many community members remarked on the critical need for the TDSB to maintain and promote equitable learning and working environments for students, staff and communities.
While it was clear that much work has been done, in order to maintain the board's pride of place as a leader in human rights and equity, it was also clear that much remains to be done in order to embed a culture of human rights within the TDSB and to improve upon equity of outcomes for students. During our consultations, we heard much from which the panel concludes that the TDSB has some distance to travel in order to establish equitable learning and working environments in which everyone is respected.
The panel examined research18 that the TDSB had undertaken on student demographics and secondary school programs. We applaud the board for undertaking this research. The collection and critical analysis of this data is essential if a board is to know how it is serving its diverse student populations; and the TDSB has certainly been a leader in Ontario on this front. However, the concern, from a governance perspective, is that the dysfunctional culture of the board diminishes its capacity to appropriately respond to the concerns that the data reveals.
The research report published by the TDSB – Structured Pathways – examined correlations between student demographics and secondary school program pathways across the TDSB. The latter refers to the academic level of the courses that students pursue, and it is a critical determinant of graduation and post-secondary outcomes. As a whole, these outcomes are best for students who take most of their courses within Academic programs of study. They decline for student who take most of their courses at the Applied level, and are significantly worse for students within Locally Developed/Essentials ("Essentials") programs of study. Students in Essentials programs would generally have significant barriers to learning with the other programs. For these students, the focus is on successfully preparing them for employment or for entry into other vocational programs directly after high school.
Many findings were presented with respect to achievement across the three programs of study, but a few will serve to illustrate a common pattern. For students taking the majority of their Grade 9–10 courses at the Academic level, 81.6 per cent graduated on time compared to 39.3 per cent of students at the Applied level and 20.3 per cent of students in the Essentials program of study.19 The pass rate for those writing the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test for the first time is 87.8 per cent for students in the Academic program of study; 37.4 per cent for students in the Applied program of study; and 3.9 per cent for Essentials program of study.20 The suspension rates for students in Academic, Applied and Essentials POS are 1.8 per cent, 7.1 per cent and 11.5 per cent, respectively.21
Looking at the TDSB Grade 9 math scores administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO),22 the panel notes a significant discrepancy between the math achievement of Applied level students and their peers in the Academic program. In 2010–2012, the results for students achieving at or above the provincial level in the Academic level was 81 per cent, compared to 30 per cent in the Applied level. For 2012–2014, 83 per cent of Academic level students were performing at or above the provincial level, compared to only 33 per cent of Applied level students. We acknowledge that similar patterns exist in boards across Ontario.23
These findings reveal a particularly troubling picture for equity when the characteristics (e.g., race, socio-economic status, parental level of education) of students are examined within the three program levels. For example, TDSB students who were enrolled in Academic programs of study were significantly more likely to come from higher income households than students in both the Applied and Essentials programs of study.24 The report notes significant differences in the representation of self-identified racial groups across programs of study. For example, 12.6 per cent of TDSB secondary students self-identified as Black; however, 29.3 per cent of the student population taking the Essentials program self-identified as Black. This group is overrepresented in the Applied program of study (22.7 per cent) and underrepresented at the Academic level (8.8 per cent). By contrast, students who self-identified as White were largely equitably distributed across the three programs of study.25
The researchers looked at the proportional representation of race across TDSB schools delivering select programs. The data showed that Aboriginal, Black and Latin American students were significantly overrepresented in Special Education Schools and Schools with Limited Academics, that is, those schools offering limited academic and university preparedness courses. With respect to the TDSB's two prestigious Specialized Arts Schools, self-identified Black students are significantly underrepresented. These schools provide unique opportunities to pursue intensive arts training within a rigorous academic program, and admission is based on a competitive process. In sum, despite past efforts to end the practice, it is clear to the panel that "streaming" still takes place within the TDSB.
Many participants were particularly vocal about the lack of speciality programs in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. We heard frustration from those who believed that French Immersion, gifted and other specialized programs are, by great majority, offered in affluent neighbourhoods, leading to an inequity of access to learning opportunities that has a long-term detrimental effect on children from marginalized communities. We heard that this is because parents with greater resources are better able to advocate for their children. This highlights a dysfunction in governance, because an important responsibility of trustees is to ensure equity across the whole board.
In this regard, many parents and community members expressed to us that the school board was not aware of or responsive to the unique needs of students with cultural differences or socio-economic challenges, and suggested that teaching, funding, programs and resources should be carefully differentiated among unique communities to ensure that all students can reach their full potential. We were told that "Some schools have laptops, some have NOTHING, some have international baccalaureates, some have smart boards, and some have no new textbooks." It was suggested that the excellent demographic data that the board has collected has not been utilized in a meaningful and practical way to support student learning for all.
We heard many times that the board's policies also need to focus on equity in an effort to even out resource allocation among neighbourhoods. Policies should reflect the diversity of TDSB families, respecting the linguistic and cultural-ethnic differences that are particularly important to parents and communities. Curriculum materials used in all schools should reflect the different cultures of students. Participants also requested that cultural sensitivity training be mandatory for all staff and trustees so that every school provides an open, welcoming environment in which all parents and students are welcome.
We also heard comments about the lack of physically accessible schools, characterized as a disregard for the right to freedom from barriers to access for those with disabilities. We heard that there is no plan to make all schools accessible by the year 2025, as required under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Frustration was clearly expressed that equity and accessibility do not seem to be core values demonstrated by the TDSB.
We received a very strong message that the entire system needs to demonstrate greater cultural competency and sensitivity. We also heard that the teaching staff do not adequately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, and that the diversity of Toronto's population should be leveraged as an advantage to support students and their communities rather than be seen as an impediment or obstacle to be overcome. We heard concern that there are inadequate supports to help new Canadians to understand and become active participants in their children's learning. Moving forward, it is essential that public education in Toronto continues its efforts to be an exemplar in innovative methods of integrating equity into the school curriculum and that those methodologies reach a wider audience.
Prior to amalgamation, as a part of their governance structures, each of the predecessor boards of education maintained equity offices. The current TDSB includes an Equitable and Inclusive Schools team and a Human Rights Office. The panel heard about confusion and lack of knowledge about the roles and reporting lines of the board's Human Rights and Equity Officers. It was suggested that more communication is needed to educate both students and parents about their own human rights. The panel also heard that there are significant and unreasonable delays in the processing of human rights complaints and that, given a shortage of staff in the Human Rights Office, complaints are accepted only from staff and not from students or parents.
There is also a strong perception among participants that too often children with disabilities are not being well served. We heard time and again that there is no long-term plan for special education, but merely a series of reactions to related problems and issues as they continue to arise. Some felt that the Special Education Advisory Committee could play a more active role in developing a long-term plan to support students. Many participants perceived that the board lacked a culture of caring for its most vulnerable and disadvantaged students. Parents expressed frustration at their inability to advocate for their children's special education needs in an effective way. They feel isolated, afraid and unsure of how to work with the school board administration to support their children's learning needs. They also said that the specific information they require to be informed about the options available to support students is not easily accessible on the website or from any other source.
Many people described to the panel the challenges that an elected board presents in running such a large and complex organization as the TDSB. By their very nature, elected boards comprise individuals chosen to represent their constituencies. Trustees come from all walks of life and bring to the board table a variety of skill sets, experience and expertise. Many people we spoke with felt that important skills and competencies may be missing on the elected school board at any given time and suggested that the appointment of some or all trustees would provide an opportunity to bring in additional talent to the board, filling gaps in expertise.
There were a variety of options presented to us on this topic, ranging from having an entirely appointed board to maintaining the status quo. Some people we spoke with suggested a hybrid model, with some elected trustees and some appointed trustees. Others acknowledged that there are gaps in expertise on the board, but felt that this did not outweigh the importance of having democratically elected trustees. Some of these people instead suggested that these gaps be filled by appointing people with the required skills to standing committees or advisory committees of the board.
We looked at other jurisdictions and sectors that have appointed boards or partially appointed boards. Although there are some clear benefits of appointing board members, including filling skills gaps and gaps in representation, we also found various examples of appointed boards that have demonstrated significant governance challenges similar to those faced by some elected boards.
We heard from a number of individuals who had concerns about trustees being elected by ward, rather than at large. Specific concerns with the ward structure included that some TDSB trustees focus more on their own ward than on the system as a whole, and that, as a result of this, they become vociferous advocates only for their own constituents rather than advocates for students across the board. Those people believed that at-large trustees would increase overall accountability, as trustees would have clear responsibility to the entire board and not just a specific community. However, it was also raised that in other boards across the province, trustees are elected by ward and are still able to put the interests of all students first.
Others spoke of the benefits of the ward structure and expressed concerns about trustees losing their connections with the community if there was a shift to a city-wide structure. We also heard concerns about what it takes to run in a city-wide election in terms of the cost, and how that could limit who would run. The possibility of a city-wide election for a board chair was also raised.
We also spoke to jurisdictions that do elect their school board trustees at large, such as the Vancouver Board of Education. This board comprises trustees who are all elected at large. Trustees are assigned to a group of schools, but are not advocates for them; they fill more of a liaison role with their group of schools. Trustees then make their decisions based on what is best for the whole school district. It is important to note, however, that there is also a formal party system in Vancouver; trustee candidates are affiliated with political parties, their platforms are aligned with that of their respective parties and they are elected as part of a city-wide slate that also includes city councillors and Parks board members.
The panel heard remarkably consistent support for term limits for trustees from almost every stakeholder group. Individuals who raised this described the benefits of renewal in terms of bringing new ideas and new energy to the board. Some linked the dysfunctional culture described in the Wilson Report, in part, to a sense of entitlement and domination that can come with being in the position for many years. We heard that term limits would change the culture, bring in new people, and make the role more attractive and more attainable for new people with new ideas. One participant noted that renewal is important if trustees are to reflect the concerns of new generations of parents engaging the public education system. Over and over again we heard that the renewal of board members is healthy from a governance perspective as well as from the perspective of effective representation.
The panel spent a considerable amount of time consulting students on their views about governance and their experience with public education at the TDSB. We reached out to students, from Grades 7–12, through student consultation sessions. We also met with the Student SuperCouncil, an elected group of TDSB students who work with the two elected student trustees to consult with students from across the board on board-wide and regional student issues. We also reached out to student trustees from across the province through the Ontario Student Trustees' Association (OSTA-AECO). Although students at each consultation were associated with differing levels of student leadership in the board, the comments and suggestions were fairly consistent among all.
Students spoke to us about their interest in being involved in what they learn, how they learn it, and the environment in which they learn. More and more, schools are recognizing the important contributions of the student voice in how teaching and learning processes are structured. In a technologically driven, socially interconnected world of instant communication and rapid change, students are often ahead of the curve compared to their teachers and parents. In the context of this consultation, TDSB students shared ideas about their role in board governance that reflect the need and importance of students being meaningfully engaged and connected, particularly with respect to decisions that impact them directly.
The panel consulted students on the specific questions of how trustees, including student trustees, can stay connected with their communities, and act in the interest of all students of the board. The students were also asked to make recommendations on the role of student trustees in the governance structure of the TDSB.
Students told us that it was extremely important for student trustees to have a binding vote on matters that pertain specifically to students, such as program development, policy matters, and issues relating to student leadership and engagement in the board. They expressed that this binding vote would ensure that the board is taking into account the views of students, and would further engage students in the election and consultation processes.
With regards to the eligibility of student trustees, students also suggested that students in Grades 9–12 should be eligible to run for the position. As for the number of student trustees, differing views were expressed with respect to whether or not there should be additional student trustees elected. However, there was consensus around student trustees representing specific, smaller regional areas of the board in order to better connect with students. This was also noted during discussions with the provincial student trustees' association (OSTA-AECO).
Students also told us that the current election process for student trustees is limited because it excludes many students from voting. They recommended that all students from Grades 7–12 should be allowed to vote for the position, through a more representative means of election. For example, it was suggested that the TDSB explore electing student trustees through online elections, similar to the model used by the Peel DSB. Another option suggested would be for Student SuperCouncil representatives who are elected by their school's students, as described below, to elect the student trustees.
Many suggestions were offered on ways to improve the relationships between student trustees and the student body. For example, it was suggested that student trustee terms of office be increased to two years, building in a mentorship component through staggered terms, as is in place at the Durham DSB. Student trustees on the Durham DSB, along with those at the TDSB and in other boards who have served two-year terms by matter of circumstance rather than by board policy, have found it beneficial for carrying out long-term projects and policy changes, and for forming stronger relationships with students in the board.
We heard concerns about the amount of work student trustees need to shoulder in addition to their regular course load. They suggested that the position should be a cooperative education placement or a secondary school credit, provided there is an academic component incorporated. In addition, current and former TDSB student trustees told us that student trustees need more training, reflective of the training that other board members receive. They also suggested that there is a need for continued support from the student trustee advisor.
With respect to the Student SuperCouncil structure, many students expressed frustration, as they felt that communication from the SuperCouncil to students needed significant improvement. They expressed that SuperCouncil members are not representative of the voices of all students in the system. Students discussed different formulas for representation and suggested that a Student SuperCouncil representative be elected by the students at schools with Grades 7–12 at the same time as Student Council elections. This would allow the SuperCouncil to have a dedicated student representative to connect with at each school the SuperCouncil represents. In addition to improved communication, students suggested that the SuperCouncil use social media and regular newsletters to share information with the student body. Students also recommended that the SuperCouncil reach out to students who are not involved in Student Council/leadership, by visiting schools and engaging in other groups, such as gay-straight alliances, environmental clubs, academic clubs and athletic groups.
It was also suggested that a direct link between senior staff and the SuperCouncil should exist, and that attending meetings on a regular basis and giving SuperCouncil members an opportunity to participate on board committees would be beneficial. Students also expressed frustration with support for their work in establishing and developing Student Councils. Although we heard of excellent examples of staff, such as teachers or principals, supporting the work of the Student Council, many students expressed the challenges they faced with either creating a Student Council at their school or with the work their Student Council was doing. Students recommended that the school administration provide support for Student Councils, especially for students in younger grade levels as they establish elementary-level Student Councils.
With regards to education and curriculum, we heard that there should be mandatory instruction regarding the role of student trustees and the SuperCouncil delivered to all students. Students suggested that information about governance, including the role of student trustees and the board of trustees, should be incorporated into the curriculum. They suggested that student leadership be introduced in elementary school, followed by progressive curriculum inclusion through middle school, into the high school Civics curriculum.
Students did have some suggestions on forging connections with trustees and improving trustees' communication with students. Students suggested that trustees should be in direct contact with them, particularly with respect to matters that affect students. They suggested that trustees meet with Student Councils and visit schools to meet students, learn about what is actually happening in schools, talk about their roles and answer questions. Students also expressed the view that the trustee role should be full-time and that trustees should be much more accessible to both students and parents.
The TDSB is the largest board in Ontario. It has over 245,000 students enrolled in more than 550 schools, and the board's 880 principals and vice-principals support more than 19,000 educators and professional support staff in schools across the city.26 The size of the board has been the subject of much discussion with respect to its ability to adequately meet the increasingly complex needs of the students and families in its care.
Many we spoke with over the course of our consultations felt that the board's size brought cost saving advantages and increased efficiencies to the delivery of public education. Most often cited was the ability to negotiate lower prices due to the volume of goods and services required, resulting in the opportunity to direct more money to the classroom. There was also reference to the ability to achieve significant economies of scale by streamlining both services and staff.
The panel also heard that the size of the board brought breadth and diversity to educational opportunities for students. The wide range of programming available and the ability to accommodate students' different learning styles and varied interests were identified as key benefits of the large board.
Additionally, the diversity of Toronto's educational community was viewed as a strength directly related to its large size. The size allows families to come together in neighbourhoods to discuss and advocate for education issues and priorities. Students also benefit from being exposed to many diverse views and opinions, which fosters understanding, tolerance and awareness of community and social justice issues.
We also heard that the breadth of skill and experience that can be shared among staff is a positive characteristic of a large board. This can have a direct impact on capacity building and the sharing of knowledge and ideas through various learning networks. The ability to collect and analyse a large quantity of pedagogical and socio-economic data also helps to support student learning across the board.
Finally, we were told that the ability of a large board to influence local and provincial government initiatives, as well as union and professional associations, was seen as a positive. The size of the TDSB also provides a unique opportunity to be a national and global leader in education.
In contrast to the benefits of the size of the TDSB, we heard from many participants that the size of the board has caused significant challenges in the delivery of public education. One of the most often cited was an inequality in the distribution of resources and programs among all schools. This has had a negative effect on the ability of all students to reach their full potential. Another concern raised was the lack of transparency and accountability for funds and resources that is magnified within the context of a large board.
Those who see the size of the board as an issue identified many negative impacts, including that it is too large for parents and the community to navigate effectively, too big for one director of education to manage, too big of a governing body to be efficient, and too large to create and nurture staff collegiality and a sense of unity. Despite that awareness of the significant limitations due to size, some told us that the chaos of breaking up the board was too big a price to pay, and that dividing the board would be worse than the current challenges facing the board because of its size.
Some parents view the board as a large bureaucracy without easily navigable points of contact into the system. The panel was told that there are too many layers of staff and decision makers to address student issues effectively in a reasonable amount of time, fostering the impression that no one is truly accountable to the students or the public. We were told that "Decision making takes a very long time, with layers of committees to get through before actions are undertaken and the sheer size of the board severely limits its nimbleness." We were told that "Not much works well, you never know who to call and people centrally are constantly moved around; the TDSB has lost the sense of family being the largest board in Canada, and it shows." This results in a feeling of alienation from the school and is a serious impediment for parents who really do wish to engage in their child's learning. The result is a serious disconnect between the board and its many different communities of learners.
Some respondents felt that the size of the board made it difficult to adequately respond to the many diverse needs of students and families. Particular challenges were language barriers and a lack of effective communication with students, families and the larger community, resulting in a perception that the board is inaccessible and unresponsive.
An issue related to the size and structure of the TDSB concerns the roles and responsibilities of individuals who are Family of School Superintendents (called "school superintendents" in this report). They are responsible for implementing the board's policies, plans and programs for a group of schools and are directly responsible for ensuring the quality and continuous improvement of the schools. Their success depends, in large part, on knowing their communities well and in being responsive to them. Developing and maintaining good communications among parents, principals and trustees is critical to their success, as is fostering collegial and supportive relationships with and among school principals, vice-principals and all staff dedicated to their schools.
In the TDSB, the school superintendents are, on average, responsible for 30 schools. The panel heard broad agreement that, by any standard, this is a very high number, and certainly beyond a reasonable number to allow even a seasoned professional to meet the expectations of the role. The TDSB has one of the smallest average school sizes when compared to some of the largest school boards in Ontario. While this means that there are fewer students per school on average, that does not lessen the work of superintendents who are responsible for individual schools themselves – including school-improvement planning, facility management, and supporting the principal and school staff.
We were advised that in recent years, there have been more executive superintendent positions than school superintendent positions. The effects of this overload on schools were evident to the panel. In most boards across Ontario, school superintendents schedule regular weekly visits to the schools they serve. In the TDSB, however, these visits are limited, and principals told us that for many years they have been frustrated that school superintendents are not available to schools. As a result, attending to important learning environment needs of students, such as facilities repairs, is not a priority for school superintendents. A further result is that relationship building between and among school leaders and superintendents is interrupted or non-existent. Hence, opportunities to establish trust, respect and team building are not occurring as they should, especially in a learning organization. This sense of disconnect is exacerbated by frequent changes in senior administration.
As senior team members who, through the director of education, take policies to the board of trustees for approval, superintendents need to be "on the ground" with students, teachers and principals to understand the complexities of a rapidly changing knowledge environment. Superintendents need to understand such factors as the rapidly changing learning styles of students of the 21st century; the influence of web technology on learning; the global mobility of students and communities and its impact on credit accumulation; the fluid relationship between and among secondary schools and post-secondary institutions; and the changing trends in professional education, apprenticeship and trades training.
Many directors across the province meet regularly not only with their superintendents but also with principals as a collective. In most Ontario boards, the director meets with school superintendents regularly – often weekly – to discuss school-based issues. We are concerned that we heard that some TDSB school superintendents only see the director once a year at the opening-of-the-school-year mass meeting. Some principals have simply never met the director.
In many Ontario school boards, superintendents mentor vice-principals to prepare them for the principal role and principals to prepare them for the superintendent role. We heard that there is little time for superintendents at the TDSB to commit to this important role, and the fledgling initiative called "Aspiring Leaders" is being undertaken by volunteer principals without the benefit of superintendent input. Obviously, this has significant implications for the board's ability to develop leadership capacity in schools.
We heard that school superintendents are exhausted by the demands from executive superintendents for paperwork to support the unmanageable board priorities list. Their connection to schools and their local communities suffers as a result. Principals are feeling this impact as well; they told us that because of the unusually high number of board goals, their school superintendents are losing focus on school needs.
One of the most frequent things the panel heard throughout this process was that people know that there are many good things happening with children in TDSB schools. But, at the same time, all they hear about is the bad, unacceptable behaviour of people at all levels of the board, with no apparent consequences. They want this to stop.
Inherent to trust and confidence in any well-functioning organization are checks and balances that ensure consistent and transparent lines of accountability. Throughout our consultations, and particularly through the written responses to the consultation question, we heard repeated concerns about the lack of accountability in the board, both for trustees and staff. As one participant wrote, "Accountability is what has been missing for years. In a democratic society where people are constantly and fearlessly crossing the lines, there is an urgent need for a system that will make them accountable." These comments were indicative of many whose confidence in the TDSB is clearly shaken.
Many people we spoke with discussed the need for checks and balances, for professional standards of practice and behaviour for both trustees and staff, and for consequences for not following the rules. Some people said that the accountability for trustees is the election process itself; however, most expressed the need for stronger accountability measures throughout the term of office, in terms of how trustees deal with each other, with staff and with the public. Many of the written submissions spoke to the need for trustees, in all their dealings, to model the behaviours expected in all parts of the organization and, most importantly, for the students themselves. For example, one person wrote, "We expect our students to be respectful and mindful of others and behave in an appropriate manner. I would think that a group of adult elected officials should already know how to behave in an appropriate manner." Another wrote, "Trustees and staff must lead by example. They must act with respect every day, and must show that they trust others if they wish to be trusted themselves … all staff and trustees must adopt and live a set of core values – like respect, fairness, reliability, positive attitude, teamwork, integrity – and demonstrate these values always."
We heard that consequences for not following the rules must be meaningful and enforceable, otherwise the misbehaviour of some trustees will continue. Media stories of police being called to raucous board meetings does nothing to assure the public that the board is well governed and deserving of the public's confidence or trust.
We also heard significant concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability with respect to the recruitment, hiring, and placement of principals and senior board staff. We were told that some trustees continue to serve on interview panels for supervisory officers, and that some trustees exert significant and undue influence over hiring and placement, which prevents effective succession planning and negatively affects service and program delivery to schools. It also has an extremely negative impact on staff morale at the most senior level of the organization.
Principals and superintendents expressed significant concern about the future of their long-term careers in education being adversely affected by trustees' personal preferences. Favouritism and personal issues have negatively affected the appointments and placements of these senior staff members on a long-term basis. The panel heard that this reality has affected decisions being made at the school and senior staff level and has had a direct impact on student achievement and well-being.
We also heard about the critical role of the secretary of the board, and the need to ensure the independence of the office to be able to provide impartial, objective and independent support to the board of trustees, the director and senior staff to ensure the organization's decision-making framework is effective, efficient, transparent and accessible by the public. The Education Act currently provides that the director of education is also the secretary of the board. We heard that this can create potential conflicts of interest and that the separation of these roles is more in keeping with good governance.
We heard of many potential benefits of having accountability officers, such as ombudsmen or integrity commissioners. Other jurisdictions that have accountability officers in place have seen a positive change in culture; people we spoke to discussed how accountability officers foster a supportive environment and build morale and trust. They provide an important mechanism for people to raise issues and concerns; advocate for fairness and process; and shine a light on issues that need attention. Accountability officers also engage in prevention and mediation behind the scenes, mitigating potential issues. People told us that integrity commissioners who can provide advice to elected officials will help support appropriate behaviour. Many people specifically called for an ombudsman for the TDSB. They told us they want to have an official, independent person to investigate complaints regarding decisions, acts or omissions by the board administration.
Through the consultation process, the panel heard a strong message that the TDSB community, on the whole, values the role that democratically elected trustees play in our public education system. The following response to one of the online questions is indicative of a feeling shared by many: "Please work to strengthen, and not to weaken, the democratic underpinnings of our system. If that means our system needs to work harder on making ALL of Toronto's families more politically literate, and engaged with their trustees, please consider how such an active culture could be built via public education, and your 'governance' issues will rectify themselves."
We agree that elected representatives are an essential component of our publicly funded school boards. Panel members concur with the belief that in a democratic and civil society, elected officials are necessary in order to ensure accountability in a publicly funded education system, the purpose of which is to ensure universality and equity so that every student can achieve their full potential. Elected trustees should continue to hold the important responsibility of establishing values and goals for their local education system and, on behalf of their communities, setting long-term strategic direction to continuously improve the quality of public education for all students. We believe that the position of school board trustee is fundamentally about public service. It is not a "job" and should not be viewed as such. If the role is performed in accordance with good governance practices – leadership and attending to system-wide governance issues rather than operational matters – then the time commitment required of trustees is part-time.
In the course of our deliberations, we studied governance models in other large urban boards, and we considered boards in other sectors where all trustees are appointed, as well as boards comprised of both elected and appointed trustees. We looked at the education governance models in New York City and Chicago, for example, where the mayor appoints board members. We were told by New York education officials that the fact that their board is an appointed rather than an elected body was not the singular most important component for its success; rather, they cited having a single point of accountability for the educational community, the ability of senior people to work together to direct resources and funding to support all students, and the strong work ethic and sense of civic duty prevalent in their board members as key to its success. Closer to home, we looked at the Vancouver District School Board, where trustees are elected at large. Our research indicated that the Vancouver District School Board was experiencing almost the very same governance challenges as the TDSB. Ultimately, we concluded that the method of electing trustees – by ward or at large – has no direct correlation with an effective governance structure.
We also considered that several of the recommendations we are making, if accepted by the Minister, would distinguish the TDSB from other boards in the province. It is the panel's view that this is warranted by the unique characteristics of the TDSB, particularly its size and its demographic complexities.
As noted earlier, there have been many consultants' reports on various aspects of the TDSB's operations since amalgamation. Most of them focused on financial, operational and leadership issues. The panel acknowledges that the TDSB has made a number of changes in response to recommendations stemming from these various audits and reports and that the TDSB, in a written submission to us, offered several recent accomplishments as evidence that it is on the right track to governing more effectively and transparently.
However, in our view, the changes made by the TDSB, up to this point, are not adequate in addressing the fundamental concerns that we heard during our consultations – namely, the culture of fear and lack of trust, especially by senior administrators, and the critical need to refocus and redirect more efforts and resources to connecting schools to their immediate neighbourhood, and to increase the engagement of students and parents in the schools. Public confidence in the governance of the TDSB has been so significantly eroded that a strong and meaningful response is required.
Based on our extensive engagement over the past several months, and particularly our conversations with groups and associations of current and former employees of the TDSB, current and former trustees, and governance and equity experts, we are of the view that a culture of fear exists and that it has had significant and detrimental consequences for those working in this school board. The culture of the TDSB is unhealthy, divisive and unprofessional, and it is the panel's opinion that it cannot be allowed to continue. Given that this culture has developed and persisted over many years despite considerable turnover in leadership of directors and board chairs, it is our finding that the comprehensive cultural shift that is required will not happen without external support.
Organizational culture consists of group norms for behaviour and the underlying shared values that support and perpetuate those behaviours. The values typically get defined by those "at the top," and in the case of a school board, it is the board of trustees and the director of education that define those values. Elected and administrative leaders are expected to model and promote behaviours that exemplify those values. We note that in its mission and values statement, the TDSB has publicly committed to valuing the skills and commitment of staff, valuing accountability, and valuing positive and safe learning environments. We have concluded that while laudable, these values are often not upheld by the behaviours of many of the senior leaders themselves. The culture of fear is perpetuated by behaviours that undermine professionalism, collegiality, collaboration and transparency.
We believe that to address the culture of fear entrenched at the TDSB, the undercurrent of anxiety and mistrust permeating relationships between and among senior staff and trustees has to be replaced with a culture of trust, openness, accountability and professionalism. One way to begin to effect this cultural change is to clarify, and clearly and widely communicate across the organization, the roles and responsibilities of key positions at the TDSB: trustees; student trustees; board chair; director of education; executive superintendents; school superintendents; and principals.
We also have concluded that the current qualifications required for the position of director of education are too restrictive and may hamper the ability of the board to attract and retain high-quality leaders with the skills and expertise required to run an organization of this size. The current legislative requirement that the director of education be an academic supervisory officer is, in our opinion, limited in that no significant governance or management experience is required. This is completely inappropriate in light of the demands of the position: the director of education in this board is responsible for running an organization with a budget of more than $3 billion and more than 30,000 staff, working with a large elected board of 22 trustees and overseeing the delivery of education for almost a quarter of a million students in more than 550 schools. That more importance is placed on the fact that the individual has classroom teaching experience rather than business, finance, management and governance experience is, in our opinion, unacceptable and misguided.
The panel also finds that blurred lines of responsibilities and a lack of understanding and/or appreciation of accountabilities that are associated with senior leadership positions in the board contributes to the culture of fear and the continued erosion of public confidence in the governance of the TDSB. We believe that the absence of checks and balances has seriously impacted public confidence and requires a significant response. We acknowledge that the TDSB recently has made efforts to put some accountability mechanisms in place; the board of trustees recently passed a motion to create an Integrity Commissioner Office and shared with us its intention to bring forward a whistle-blower policy for the board of trustee's consideration.
Regardless of these proposals, the panel is not confident that these measures, whether real or superficial, will restore public confidence in the board and prevent the culture of fear from further seeping into schools and adversely impacting students in the classroom. The Wilson Report noted that the culture of fear had seeped down to the level of schools and was impacting vice-principals and principals,27 and we are concerned that the academic gains made by the TDSB will be threatened if the current state of unhealthy governance continues.
Effective and strong governance is marked by transparency and accountability, and we believe that concerns expressed by senior staff and the community about the lack of transparency signal the need for key accountabilities to be clearly tied to positions in the board. Accountability and transparency would be enhanced at the TDSB with the existence of an integrity commissioner and an ombudsman. We also conclude that a fully staffed Human Rights Office and a board secretary that is separate from the director's position would increase accountability at the TDSB and help to restore staff and public confidence.
In our opinion, the board would greatly benefit from a board secretary who has expertise in governance and whose purpose would be to help to ensure that the board of trustees is governing in accordance with legislation, board policy and good governance practices. This role, separate from the administration of the TDSB, would go a long way in rebuilding public and staff confidence in the governance of the board. An effective board secretary with the requisite skills and qualifications, including experience with parliamentary procedures governing the conduct of meetings; knowledge of and experience with policy in an educational setting; and the ability to maintain and promote confidentiality as a norm, could significantly strengthen accountability and transparency at the TDSB.
We are aware that the board of trustees recently considered establishing an ombudsman position but decided against doing so given that the Ontario Ombudsman's jurisdiction has been extended to school boards. The panel believes that for the community to have restored confidence in the TDSB, it is essential that a board-level ombudsman be established to provide responses to complaints and concerns from parents and the community that are independent from the board. In fact, we spoke with the Ontario Ombudsman, who told the panel that he fully supports the implementation of internal ombudsmen within school boards, noting that the public is best served when local issues can be addressed at the local level.
It is also the panel's conclusion that both the Equitable and Inclusive Schools team and the Human Rights Office are significantly understaffed. It is necessary that the board go beyond mere complaints management and instead focus on building effective equity services. The shift from a culture of fear to a culture where professionalism, transparency, inclusivity and collaboration are valued requires that an appropriately high priority be placed on equity. Because human rights complaints management and barrier identification and removal are oversight functions, it will also be necessary to ensure that those services report directly to the director of education and operate at arm's length from those offices that might have a direct interest in the outcome of complaints.
Whether it's repairing the trustee/staff relationship, establishing effective communications with parents and communities, realizing long-held goals in equity and accessibility, ensuring the smooth working of the administrative and political checks and balances of the board or laying to rest the culture of fear, trustees of the TDSB have a leading, long-term policy and advisory role to play in the future of the education of the city's students.
Reform of the governance structure of the TDSB, envisioned here, represents an opportunity for the elected representatives of the TDSB to raise their heads from the day to day to bigger fish, from concerns about individual supply contracts to ensuring equity of outcomes for tens of thousands of children and young adults of Toronto. The TDSB has the human resources and tools with which to achieve much – it is time to put those tools to work.
In addition to the culture of fear, the other key challenge facing the TDSB is the need to lessen the distance between board administration and the schools and communities they serve, and to improve the engagement of parents and the community in schools. We heard clearly that under the existing organizational structure, parents and the community feel disconnected from schools; principals and school staff feel disconnected from school and executive superintendents; and school superintendents feel disconnected from executive superintendents and the director of education. The size of the TDSB, obviously, contributes significantly to this problem, but we also found that methods for engaging and collaborating, both internally and externally, are wanting.
We have concluded that a significant structural change at the TDSB is required to respond to the serious concerns that the community and staff have raised over disconnection and disengagement. This sense of disengagement, coupled with a perception of little accountability and transparency, is a significant contributing factor to the lack of public confidence in the governance of the board, and it is the panel's opinion that this merits a meaningful response.
We believe that the board should be structured in a way that would enable and promote improved focus for school superintendents and principals to deal with local school issues. The structure we are recommending will also promote a governance structure in which superintendents – academic and business – should see themselves as one collaborative team working with the director and elected board to set visions and priorities together, and establish a collective identity.
Accordingly, we believe that the administrative structure of the TDSB should be reorganized to better connect the board with its schools and communities, and senior staff with schools. We recommend that the board restructure and redeploy its senior administrative team so that there are a greater number of superintendents permanently deployed to directly support schools. This would improve the superintendent-to-schools ratio, which is, in our opinion, needed to allow superintendents to focus on learning and supporting schools and local communities. Therefore, we recommend that a larger number of school superintendents be responsible for, ideally, no more than 20 schools each, and that they be organized around two or more newly created Education Centres, each under the leadership of an associate director. We recommend that the guiding principles for the boundaries of these centres include considerations of City of Toronto ward boundaries, socio-economic and ethno-racial factors, enrolment, and geographic size. In our view, the Education Centres will be a structure that will allow for the much-needed reconnection of senior board staff and principals and for the community to have a smaller entity to interface with rather than the enormous and seemingly impenetrable board administration.
These Education Centres will serve as more than the current east and west administrative offices. Each Education Centre will be staffed by the increased number of school superintendents recommended earlier in this report and will conduct all the business of supervising the smaller families of schools assigned to each school superintendent. In keeping with their duties, superintendents in these Education Centres will provide, for example, services such as monitoring the implementation of ministry guidelines in local schools; tracking and providing targeted support to schools for improved academic performance; designating a fair distribution of specialized programs in local schools; liaising with local post-secondary institutions; conducting needs assessments for technology-enabled learning in local schools; creating positive climates of learning for students and staff; ensuring the embedding of equity and inclusive learning principles in all schools; deciding on and placing apprenticeship programs, summer credit accumulation programs and adult learning programs in local schools; and providing increased support for marginalized learners. Being close to the schools they supervise, school superintendents will turn more of their attention on schools and parent concerns rather than board office demands and be more accessible to school principals and the parents of students in local schools.
Superintendents will have a structure around which they can work collaboratively with other superintendents and principals, which will allow them to be more responsive to their local schools and communities. They will keep trustees informed of school and community issues within the larger context of the neighbourhoods served by the Education Centres.
We are convinced of the need for more focused superintendent attention on schools and student achievement, particularly in light of the alarming discrepancies in student achievement revealed in the TDSB's Structured Pathways report. As referenced earlier in this report, there are disturbing discrepancies in student achievement along lines of levels of education programs (i.e., Academic, Applied, and Essential), and along lines of race, socio-economic status and parental level of education. In order for the TDSB to address these significant and alarming and long-standing deficits in student achievement, it is essential that school superintendents be provided with opportunities to be more focused on individual schools and be more connected with principals and communities. It is also essential for trustees to be informed of efforts to redress these discrepancies so they can engage in meaningful discussions at the committee and board tables.
The panel had lengthy discussions about the size of the TDSB and its implications for governance, and the extent to which it contributes to what we heard about dysfunction, including the disconnect between the board and the students, parents and the community it serves. During our deliberations, we considered various de-amalgamation options, undertook research, and consulted with education, business and governance experts in order to gain an understanding of the various factors involved in any de-amalgamation scenario.
Through the course of our consultations, we heard divergent views on the role that the size of the TDSB plays in its governance dysfunction. We heard from some directors of large boards across the country and in the United States that size is certainly a complicating factor in the overall good governance of a board, but it is not the determining factor. Through the written submissions we received, and through our conversations at our public consultations, we heard the perspective that breaking up the board would be too disruptive and too costly. We heard that strengthened leadership on both the elected and senior administrative sides of the board would be enough for the board to govern itself in a manner that restores public confidence.
We heard from others that the current size of the TDSB is unquestionably too large and unmanageable, and that the current number of elected members is similarly too unwieldy. Many told us the only way forward out of the current crisis of dysfunction, mistrust and disconnectedness is to break up the board; it was described as "massive and opaque," and "a top-heavy nightmare." One participant told us that "The TDSB is so messed up there is nothing they can do to apologize. Just put this pathetic excuse of a school board out of its misery – de-amalgamate it!"
It is a given that any de-amalgamation activities would attract uncertainty, anxiety, additional costs and significant disruption. We were cognizant of the need to weigh the financial cost and impact on the entire organization against the potential benefits that could accrue from de-amalgamation – that is, the creation of new, smaller boards. We had extensive discussions about the principles upon which potential new, smaller boards should be based, including equitable access to excellent education programs for all of the diverse communities in the City of Toronto.
We discussed at length the possible scenarios in which the TDSB could remain as one board but concluded that the board should be left intact only if significant and meaningful steps are taken, and progress is made, to address the culture of fear, improve engagement between students, parents and the community with the board, and between and among various levels of staff. In our view, the board requires external support to effect these necessary changes and to help rebuild a healthy culture that is fitting of the country's largest public school board. Accordingly, we recommend that the administration of the affairs of the TDSB be placed under the control and charge of the Ministry of Education, but that it be given the opportunity to work collaboratively with a supervisor, appointed by the Minister of Education, to make the necessary organizational, structural and policy changes recommended by the panel to improve governance and restore public confidence in the TDSB.
We respect and recognize the importance of local, democratically elected trustees and believe that they should have the opportunity to work cooperatively with the supervisor to improve the governance of the board. We also acknowledge that 11 new members were elected to the board of trustees in October 2014, and that they should be given a chance to contribute to more positive and accountable governance policies, processes and practices. We also would expect the director of education and the senior administrative team to support the work of the supervisor and the board of trustees to ensure that the necessary changes are made that will enable a new, healthy culture to emerge and for effective, transparent and accountable governance to replace the dysfunction that has so eroded public confidence.
The panel also agreed that if demonstrable progress has not been made after one year of the board of trustees, the director of education, and the senior team working with the supervisor, then steps should be taken to expeditiously divide the board into smaller boards. We agreed that at the point at which the TDSB is divided into smaller boards, the guiding principles for de-amalgamation should include consideration of City of Toronto ward boundaries, socio-economic and ethno-racial factors, enrolment, and geographic size.
The panel also had lengthy discussions and consulted with education leaders on the issue of capitalizing on the benefits achieved over the past 17 years since amalgamation, specifically with respect to key corporate shared services. We conclude that at the point at which new smaller boards may be created, a shared services organization be established to support the boards in achieving efficiencies, potentially in the areas of finance and accounting, information technology, payroll and benefits management, purchasing, research, and facilities management. The shared services organization, which we recommend be a mandatory component of de-amalgamation, could support the newly created boards by providing strategic implementation and effective processes in key functions such as purchasing and the procurement of services, as well as developing and monitoring performance measurements, enhancing efficiencies and managing risk.
If the TDSB is ultimately divided, we recommend that the mandatory shared services organization be governed by a board of directors on which would serve the chairs from the newly created boards, an equal number of trustees from each of the newly created boards, and community members appointed by the boards based on skills sets and the areas of expertise needed. The panel recommends that trustees should comprise the majority of the members of the shared services board, without overwhelming the number of expert appointees.
Many concerns and problems at the TDSB are related to size, but not size exclusively. There are several issues that need to be addressed, regardless of the size of the board. At the same time, the panel is very aware of the potential chaos of actually dividing the board. Therefore, our recommendations provide the board with a one-year opportunity to work with the supervisor to implement the various initiatives that we think are needed to allow for more effective and transparent governance. If those changes are satisfactorily made, the board will remain as one board.
We know that our recommendations specific to those needed changes cannot be fully implemented in one year, but we believe that motivated, positive senior staff and trustees working collaboratively with a supportive supervisor can achieve enough to signal meaningful change is underway.
If that is not the case, and early signs of positive change are not evident, then, in spite of the disruption and additional cost that might occur, we believe that the board must be divided into two or more smaller boards.
We have, therefore, made recommendations on a two-stage response that we believe is required to address the significant challenges facing the TDSB. We have also made recommendations on supporting the capacity of trustees to fulfil their role effectively, on ways to improve accountability and transparency, and restructuring the organization of the board to improve connection and engagement with students, parents, staff and the community. Finally, we offer recommendations on the electoral process for trustees and student trustees.
Recommendation Regarding Board Supervision
Recommendation 1: That the Minister of Education immediately take steps to appoint a supervisor to work collaboratively with the board of trustees, the director of education and senior staff to implement the recommendations of this report.
Recommendations Regarding the Board of Trustees
Recommendation 2: That the board of trustees clarify and clearly communicate throughout the board and the community the roles and responsibilities of trustees and of the board of trustees in accordance with legislation and good governance practices.
Recommendation 3: That trustees be required to participate in ongoing professional development throughout their term of office and that in the future all trustees be required to participate in comprehensive governance orientation immediately after taking office.
Recommendation 4: That the board of trustees and the ministry review trustee professional development supports to ensure there are appropriate supports for trustees, including student trustees, to fulfil their role.
Recommendation 5: That the board of trustees engage in regular board self-assessments and measure its performance in relation to the goals set out in a redeveloped and realistic board multi-year strategic plan. As a transition measure, the board self-assessment should be conducted with the assistance of a third party.
Recommendation 6: That trustees serve a maximum of three consecutive terms of office.
Recommendation 7: That the board of trustees develop appropriate criteria for the skills and experience required of an effective chair, including but not limited to governance experience and training, conflict-management and consensus-building skills, and demonstrated experience working on city-wide and/or board-wide issues.
Recommendation 8: That an annual assessment of the chair is undertaken by the board of trustees to measure the chair's performance in relation to his or her duties and responsibilities as set out in legislation and board policy and in accordance with good governance practices.
Recommendation 9: That the board of trustees expeditiously establish a mandate and structure for the two or more Education Centres, with particular attention to clarity about the roles and responsibilities of the trustees, executive superintendents, and school superintendents in these centres, as outlined in the panel's report. (Appendix C shows a model of this structure with three Education Centres, for illustrative purposes.)
Recommendations Regarding Accountability and Transparency
Recommendation 10: That the board of trustees establish and adequately staff offices for an integrity officer and ombudsman, reporting to the board of trustees. Further, that the board adequately staff its Human Rights Office, and that the human rights officer report directly to the director of education. The board should establish and communicate across the organization and within the community clear roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for each office, and provide that all three officers annually report their activities publicly through the board of trustees.
Recommendation 11: That the role of the secretary of the board be separated from the role of the director of education, and that the board hire a person with the requisite governance skills and experience to be the secretary of the board, and who will report to the board of trustees.
Recommendation 12: That there be greater transparency in how members of the senior administrative team are selected throughout the organization, including appropriate job descriptions and consistent processes for responding to job postings, as well as clearly communicated policies that include principles and strategies for performance evaluation at all levels of the organization.
Recommendations Regarding the Position of Director of Education
Recommendation 13: That the board of trustees work to expeditiously review and clarify the roles and responsibilities of the director of education, board secretary and associate directors to reflect the recommendations in this report.
Recommendation 14: That the qualifications for the director of education be broadened to permit candidates who have equivalent academic qualifications from other jurisdictions to be eligible for the position, and that qualifications also include experience in areas of business management, finance and governance.
Recommendations Regarding Parent and Community Outreach
Recommendation 15: That the board restructure its administrative organization to create two or more local Education Centres staffed by not less than one school superintendent for every 20 schools. The Education Centres will conduct all business relating to the supervision of the smaller clusters of schools assigned to each school superintendent. (Appendix C shows a model of this structure with three Education Centres, for illustrative purposes.)
Recommendation 16: That the board expand its use of community outreach workers to assist families to navigate the school system and other community supports for their children. The outreach workers will be hired by the school board and be employees of the board.
Recommendations Regarding Student Trustees and Student Leadership
Recommendation 17: That student trustees have a binding vote on matters before the board, with the exception of those matters that are discussed in closed meetings of the board in accordance with the Education Act.
Recommendation 18: That the board consult with student trustees, on behalf of the student body, and receive their recommendations on student trustee election eligibility; improved representative student trustee election process; student trustee representation by geographic areas; student trustee term restructuring; and SuperCouncil representation and communication with Grades 7–12. The board must give consideration to the recommendations and respond in a timely manner.
Recommendations Regarding Governance Restructuring
Recommendation 19: That following a full year's operation, the supervisor undertake an assessment of the progress made by the board of trustees and board administration and make a recommendation to the Minister as to whether the board of trustees and board administration have met the following key performance indicators; if not, the ministry is to proceed to stage two of the recommendations of the TDSB Governance Advisory Panel.
Recommendation 20: If stage two is to be implemented, the ministry would take the following action:
Question 1: How can the TDSB build a positive climate marked by mutual respect and trust between and among Trustees and staff?
Question 2: In what ways should the TDSB reach out to families, especially those who may not feel welcome now or in the past?
Question 3: Currently, the TDSB is divided into 22 wards, and voters elect one Trustee to represent their ward. Although each Trustee is accountable to their local constituents, they are required to act in the broader interest of the board as a whole. All school Boards have the option to elect their Trustees at large (i.e. all voters can vote for all Trustees of the board). What would be the benefits if the community elected their Trustees at large? What would be the disadvantages if the community elected their Trustees at large?
Question 4: What would signal to you that the Board of Trustees is governing in the interests of all students?
Question 5: How could the board ensure that decisions are made in a manner that provides equity of access for all students in the board?
Question 6: How can Trustees stay connected to their communities and act in the interests of all students of the board?
Question 7: How can the TDSB ensure that parents and students know how to get their concerns addressed in a timely way and follow the appropriate channels?
Question 8: The TDSB is the largest board in Canada with more than 240,000 students, 22 Trustees, and over 45 senior executives and superintendents. What are the benefits of the TDSB being a large board? What works well?
Question 9: What are the challenges of the TDSB being a large board? What does not work well? What changes would you recommend to address these challenges?
The following issues were raised during our consultation process, but, while important to the TDSB community, were outside of the scope of our mandate. We appreciate those individuals and groups who took the time to voice their concerns and raise issues related to:
Barbara Hall (Chair)
Ms. Hall has more than 40 years of experience as a community worker, lawyer and municipal politician. She served three terms as a Toronto city councillor from 1985 on and as Toronto's mayor from 1994 to 1997. From 1998 to 2002, she headed the federal government's national strategy on community safety and crime prevention. She was chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 2005 until February 2015.
Ms. Hall has also practised criminal and family law, been a member of the Province of Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care health results team, and lectured nationally and internationally on urban and social issues. She has extensive experience on non-profit boards and committees, and has a strong record of bringing diverse groups together to build safe and strong communities.
Dr. Vicki Bismilla
Dr. Bismilla is the former vice-president academic, and chief learning officer at Centennial College (2005–2012) and a former superintendent of education with the York Region District School Board (1999–2005). She was a facilitator for the supervisory officer qualification program (2002–2005) and since 2010 to the present, she has served on the Ontario Ministry of Education's Curriculum Council. She has served as president of the volunteer board of directors for the Scarborough Women's Centre.
Mr. Case, LL.B. LL.M., is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Guelph, and he is the current chair of the board of Ontario's Human Rights Legal Support Centre. Mr. Case is an adjunct professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and the director of the Osgoode Hall Law School Certificate Program in Human Rights Theory and Practice. Mr. Case is also a member of the board of Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that helps educators worldwide link the past to moral choices today.
From 1979 to 1985, Mr. Case was a school trustee with the former Toronto Board of Education, and from 1989 to 1999 he was an equity advisor with the same board. From 1999 to 2009, Mr. Case was the director of the Human Rights and Equity Office of the University of Guelph. From 2006 to 2010, he held an appointment as a Commissioner at the Ontario Human Rights Commission. He has been a trade unionist, a school trustee and a practitioner whose chief focus was serving women who were victims of male violence. Mr. Case has served as a staff lawyer in the family law division at Parkdale Community Legal Services. He is a past chair of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation, which was created as a part of the federal government's redress agreement with Japanese Canadians and has been a co-chair of the equality rights panel of the Court Challenges Program of Canada.
Ms. Glassco is a former trustee for Ward 10 and served from August to November 2014. Before serving as trustee, Ms. Glassco was a member of several TDSB advisory groups, including the parent involvement advisory committee, the inner-city advisory committee and her community and local parent councils. As a parent, she has worked to improve communication between parents and schools, trustees and the school board. In 2013, she served on an advisory committee reviewing the TDSB's community advisory committees and has run workshops with many school and ward councils on effective communication and meeting practice.
As a communication skills coach, Ms. Glassco has developed innovative programs and exercises for both young people and adults to help them with their communication skills. Ms. Glassco is a board member of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, a philanthropic foundation promoting innovative public policies for the north and fresh water management, and Playwrights Workshop Montreal.
Ms. Hoy started her career in municipal public service in 1980 with the former Metro Toronto government, where she held various positions, including general manager of administration/corporate secretary, at Exhibition Place, and executive director in the Metro Chairman's Office.
Between 1991 to the end of 1995, Ms. Hoy worked in the Ontario government as assistant deputy minister in three ministries – Ontario Women's Directorate, Ministry of Community and Social Services, and the joint position of ADM of operations, and CEO of the Ontario Housing Corporation, in the Ministry of Housing. In 1996, she returned to Metro Toronto, as the commissioner of community services. Following amalgamation, Ms. Hoy was appointed the commissioner of community and neighbourhood services department, and from 2001 to 2008 she served as city manager for the City of Toronto.
From 2009 to January 2014, Ms. Hoy completed a five-year term with the Toronto Lands Corporation, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Toronto District School Board, responsible for managing and disposing of surplus school properties.
With respect to community and volunteer activities, Ms. Hoy is currently vice-chair of the Governing Council of University of Toronto and a member of the board of trustees of United Way Toronto. In the last five years, she has also served on the board of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and the board of regents of Victoria University, U of T.
Mr. Powers is the national academic director, directors education program and governance essentials program at the Rotman School of Management. He recently completed a five-year term as the associate dean and executive director of the Rotman Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Finance programs. Mr. Powers' areas of expertise include corporate governance, ethics, business and corporate law. He also teaches in Rotman's Executive MBA, Omnium Global MBA and executive education programs.
Mr. Powers is a director of several not-for-profit organizations and frequently comments on legal and governance issues in various media across Canada. He currently sits on the following boards: Commonwealth Games Canada (president); Rugby Canada (COC representative); CIS eLearning Consortium (chair of governance committee); and Childhood Cancer Canada.
Ms. Williams is a fourth-year student at Queen's University in the health studies and life sciences programs. She is a former TDSB student trustee (2010–2012) and was active in the board's strategic planning and in developing policies around electronic device use, student leadership and student activity fees. She was also involved in planning and executing student leadership events and retreats geared towards students in Grades 7–12. As president of the Ontario Student Trustees' Association (2011–2012), Ms. Williams co-authored the Mental Health Charter of Rights for students and forged greater links among and between student trustees and other student leaders across Ontario.
Ms. Williams is active in student affairs and initiatives supporting prospective and first-year undergraduates and academically at-risk students, and has for the last three years had a leadership role in the Canadian Undergraduate Conference on healthcare.
1 Throughout this report, we use the term board to refer to the TDSB as an organization; the term board of trustees refers to the elected board.
3 The panel took note of the "learning opportunities index" designed by the TDSB to rank schools for the purpose of steering additional resources to those serving students who face greater challenges. The index comprises a range of indicators that measure external challenges affecting student success, including measures of income and poverty, parents' education and the proportion of lone parent families.
4 The seven predecessor board were: The Board of Education for the City of Toronto; The Board of Education for the City of York; The Board of Education for the Borough of East York; The Board of Education for the City of Scarborough; The Board of Education for the City of North York; The Board of Education for the City of Etobicoke; and The Metropolitan Toronto School Board.
5 Governance Review Committee, School Board Governance: A Focus on Achievement – Report of the Governance Review Committee to the Minister of Education of Ontario (Toronto: Queen's Printer for Ontario, 2009).
6 Patricia Bradshaw and Rachel Osborne, "School Boards: Emerging Governance Challenges," Education Canada 50, no. 1 (April 2009).
7 Deborah Land, "Local School Boards Under Review: Their Role and Effectiveness in Relations to Students' Academic Achievement," Review of Educational Research 72, no. 2 (2002).
8 School Community Safety Advisory Panel, The Road to Health: A Final Report on School Safety (Toronto: School Community Safety Advisory Panel, 2008): Appendix E, 2.
9 School Community Safety Advisory Panel, The Road to Health, Appendix E, 6.
10 Ernst & Young LLP, Report to the Minister on the Toronto District School Board (Toronto: Ernst & Young LLP, 2013), 4.
11 Margaret Wilson was appointed by the Minister of Education in December 2014 to undertake a review of the TDSB in light of the Minister's concerns over serious and persistent governance and operational issues at the board. The Wilson Report – A Review of the Toronto District School Board.
12 Kenneth Leithwood, Strong Districts and Their Leadership: A Paper Commissioned by the Council of Ontario Directors of Education and the Institute for Education Leadership (Toronto: Institute for Education Leadership, 2013).
13 Education Act, s. 218.1 (f).
14 Bill Hogarth, Special Assistance Team: Report to the Ontario Minister of Education Regarding the Toronto District School Board (Toronto: n.p., 2013), 10.
15 Education Act, s. 218.4.
16 Education Act, s. 283 (1.1).
17 Ontario Ministry of Education, The Road Ahead: A Report on Continuous Improvement in School Board Operations (Toronto: n.p., 2013), 7.
18 Gillian Parekh, Structured Pathways: An Exploration of Programs of Study, School-Wide and In-School Programs, as well as Promotion and Transference across Secondary Schools in the Toronto District School Board (Toronto: Toronto District School Board, 2013).
19 Gillian Parekh, Structured Pathways, 20.
20 Gillian Parekh, Structured Pathways, 39.
21 Gillian Parekh, Structured Pathways, 40.
23 People for Education, Annual Report on Ontario's Publicly Funded Schools (Toronto: People for Education, 2013).
24 Gillian Parekh, Structured Pathways, 34.
25 Gillian Parekh, Structured Pathways, 27-28.
26 Figures provided by Toronto District School Board to the Ministry of Education as part of their 2014–15 Revised Estimates submission.
27 Margaret Wilson, Review of the Toronto District School Board (Toronto: n.p., 2015), 9.