TDSB's finances to be probed amid 'irregularities'

Ontario's education minister has called for an independent accounting firm to probe how the Toronto District School Board managed its finances during a period that overlaps with disgraced director Chris Spence's tenure.

Audit to examine period during former director Chris Spence's tenure through to present

Ontario Minister of Education Liz Sandals has approved an audit of the Toronto District School Board after receiving a letter describing concerns about potential financial mismanagement. (Kenneth Armstrong/CBC)

Ontario's education minister has called for an independent accounting firm to probe how the Toronto District School Board managed its finances during a period that overlaps with disgraced director Chris Spence's tenure.

Liz Sandals announced Wednesday that she has ordered a forensic audit for the school board after receiving a letter of concern from Donna Quan, the board's acting director of education. Board officials have outlined concerns about "irregularities" in the TDSB's auditing practices since 2009.

"We're responding to a request of the board to have somebody take a closer look at some of their financial management practices," Sandals told reporters Wednesday at Queen's Park.

Among the concerns were questions about the availability of reports to the board's auditing committee, improper salary raises for staff, and expenses as well as financial reports that were either not properly reviewed or not approved by the chief financial officer.

In a Wednesday press conference, Quan, who stepped in earlier this year to replace Chris Spence the school board's director of education, said she wrote to the minister's office after she began receiving reports about improper financial management during her predecessor's tenure.

TDSB a $3B organization

"I can say to you that I've asked that [an auditor] address how funds have been used in the director's office in the past four years from 2009 to the current year," Quan told reporters.

Spence was appointed for his second tenure in 2009.

"In the past few weeks," Quan added, "a number of reports have come forth to me in terms of irregularities of our audit and business processes."

Quan said the investigation will look into how funds were used in the director's office in the past four years, during which time Spence served as director of the TDSB, a $3-billion organization.

Spence resigned from the post after it was revealed in January that he had plagiarized material in an op-ed that was published in the Toronto Star newspaper.

A team from the accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP has been contacted and will be performing the audit of the school board "to address the concerns raised, as well as any other matters that may be of interest to the ministry," Sandals said in a statement.

Asked about Spence at Queen's Park, she said some of the timelines would be "during Mr. Spence's administration, and some going into the current administration."

However, she added that "it's not about a particular individual; it's more about the financial management practices of the board in general."

The auditors are expected to deliver their report and recommendations in the fall.