January 27, 2015
corrected February 9
On January 15, I turned on my television and saw Ontario’s Minister of Education and  the former registrar of Ontario College of Teachers another government member addressing journalists on the occasion of the publishing of a review of the Toronto District School Board. Now I’m embarrassed to say all I could glean from journalist questions and government responses was that there was a “culture of fear” at the Toronto District School Board and that staff there were so fearful that they’d stopped using board telephones and email; the government member who did the review seemed to confirm the sense that staff feared they were being observed because the reviewer said some staff were too  fearful to speak; some broke into tears; others asked if they’d lose their jobs. At one point the reviewer interjected something about not managing her grade 10 English class when she’d been a teacher as precisely as the staff at the board were being handled.

When  I finally looked over the Review I learned that the board Director had appeared to have been micromanaging school board staff, and when the reviewer asked why she was so strict; the Director said “culture of fear” as though she too had to be careful and aware of everything that might be going on. This phrase “culture of fear” as I eventually learned did not originate in the January 15 Review of the board as I had thought, for it appears in an Ernst and Young forensic audit of the Toronto District School Board completed months before, the January 15, 2015 published Review. That audit’s purpose was to determine the degree to which board expenditures were in keeping with Ministry of Education guidelines.

Yesterday I heard a number of speakers at a public school board meeting speaking in reaction to the January 15 Review. I listened to about 10 speakers all of whom spoke against the Review’s concerns that board trustees be restricted in their influence as though the trustees might in some way be causing this “culture of fear” especially to the extent that they participate in hiring and promotions. That of course was my impression when I read the Review Online as though trustees were so in control of board and school staff that everyone was afraid of them. But one thing puzzled me: were trustees the ones controlling board telephones and email to observe staff, thus instilling the “culture of fear”? I do remember the reviewer at the January 15 television press conference admonishing trustees to get out of their board offices. But because of my ignorance I couldn’t see how trustees were able to instil such fear in board staff many of whom earn far more money and hold positions more permanent and with greater authority than do trustees whose income is token-like and whose position rests on the whims of a neighbourhood electorate. My ignorance was corrected when I learned from an article published on November 25, 2014 that the trustee-board staff relationship has been established by law:

The New Democrats wondered why an external review was needed when, by law, staff at the TDSB are required to report directly to elected trustees, but for some reason apparently feel they don’t have to do that.

“This is causing great difficulties in terms of people being able to hold this board to account,” said NDP education critic Peter Tabuns. “My hope is this review will look at this question of who do the administrators at the board report to if they’re not reporting to the people who are elected to oversee them.”

And reading the Ernst and Young report that a variety of board expenditures had not been done in accordance with Ministry guidelines, and hearing speakers’ bemoaning the possible loss of their elected representatives and board assets, and parents’ pleading for replacing or renovating decaying school facilities it seems that the “culture” of fear has spread beyond the confines of the Toronto District School Board.