Ontario appoints supervisor for Catholic board

The local Catholic school board should be placed under provincial supervision, according to a report by independent auditor Deloitte Canada.
Education Minister Laurel Broten told CBC News a supervisor will remain in place as long as it takes to turn the board around. (CP File)

Ontario has appointed a supervisor to oversee the financial management and administration of the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board.

The province made the move Tuesday just hours after a report by independent auditor Deloitte Touche made the recommendation.

According to the Ministry of Education, the supervisor will return the board to fiscal sustainability, ensure there are no labour disruptions in the coming year and to put the best interests of students first. 

Norbert Hartmann has been appointed under the Education Act, effective Sept. 4.

Education Minister Laurel Broten told CBC News immediately after the appointment that Hartmann's appointment is open ended.

"We'll stay there for as long as we need to," Broten said.

Strike a possibility

Broten also accused the board of wanting teachers to strike this fall.

"The willingness of the board to endure strikes to meet its financial responsibilities was also of significant concern to me," Broten said. "My actions today will ensure that this board is put back on track so that it can make responsible decisions that are in the best interests of students."

School board trustee Barb Holland denies Broten's claim.

"That's simply not true and I would suggest that this is fear mongering from the ministry," Holland said. "We have been on record as saying we are not interested in lockouts; we are not interested in strikes."

Holland also called the appointment of a supervisor "unwarranted." She accused the province of making the appointment in an effort to force the board to sign off the memorandum of agreement between the province and teachers.

"We expected that this would happen. I think I've been saying from day one that we would not be surprised if the supervisor was appointed and we felt that from the start the minister was being very punitive because we were speaking out against bad policy," Holland said.

The Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board has been in financial disarray for years. It is currently the only school board in the province to have an accumulated deficit. And, according to the province, it failed to present a balanced budget again this year, a violation of the Education Act.

"[I]t is the view of Deloitte that there are significant risks surrounding WECDSB’s ability to rectify its financial position in the short term.," the report reads, in part. "Given that WECSDB has been in contravention of the Education Act, and in our view will likely continue to be in contravention, our conclusion is that the Minister of Education should consider placing WECDSB under Supervision."

The report says it is "evident" that the board has "an inability to develop accurate budgets and an inability to develop accurate reports throughout the year."

Deloitte also found the board has no real mechanism in place to curb spending.

"Deloitte also noted that the school board has not configured their financial systems to either stop purchase orders and/or send a warning to budget owners whenever a transaction has the potential to exceed budgeted funds," the report says.

Deloitte also took exception to some of the board’s HR policies.

"The school board has not documented all non-union job descriptions, but is instead revising job descriptions as vacant positions are posted," the auditor found.

The Deloitte report does say the Board recognizes "a sense of ownership and a call to action" in regards to the ongoing financial challenges.

CBC News has placed a call to the board's director of education, Paul Picard, and school board trustee Barb Holland.