Monday, August 10, 2009

Trustees, expense thyselves

Catching up from my two-week hiatus, I came across the following 'B-memo' today on the Ministry of Education website. The memos provide direction to school boards on various items and the site is a useful one to bookmark for those keeping tabs on provincial developments. For example, the province's bargaining position in the last round of contracts was posted for all to see as a B-memo last August.
One of two such memos released July 20 covers new guidelines for trustee expenses. The memo is here with the appendix -- full of 'best practices' -- linked here.
The guideline provides some direction on what could be reimbursed to trustees, committee members and the like based on the legislative framework and some of the best practices already in place at some boards across the province. The revised rules are in place, likely, as a result of the Toronto Catholic board's extravagances-- more on this later.
Here's some of what is listed:
The policy addresses whether and under what circumstances the following types of expenses are eligible for reimbursement:
  • Travel and Accommodations;
  • Meals;
  • Hospitality;
  • Community expenses;
  • Gifts;
  • Advertising and promotion;
  • Office Equipment and supplies; and
  • Professional Development.
  • The policy outlines a standard equipment package to be provided to all trustees and provides for the return of any equipment when duties cease. Duplication of services and equipment should be avoided, for example: Trustees have access to either a laptop or desktop computer.
  • The board’s procurement process is used to purchase all supplies and office equipment necessary to perform the function of a trustee as well as advertising services and promotional items.
  • The policy ensures equitable treatment between staff and trustees.
Last fall, I was up to my eyeballs in receipts and expense statements for two southwestern Ontario French-language boards as a result of a Sun Media initiative to request all these documents from every board where the chain had a newspaper. Some of the TorSun's FOI requests to the Toronto Catholic board had provided the meat to the coverage of its trustees' excesses. While some of my colleagues in this region did publish on their allotted boards, a few of us (here and at the LFP) never have-- due to lack of time and opportunity for the followup phone interviews on my part.
Anyway, boards must have their new trustee expense guidelines approved by Dec. 31 of this year, and posted either on their websites or available to the public.


Anonymous said...

Wow...this is something I bet the public has no idea about....why am I not surprised.

Anonymous said...

I have a question. My trustees don't have offices. What do they spend their "office expenses" on exactly?


Education Reporter said...

Anon 21:55:
Trustees without physical office spaces often are able, through their board's expense policy, to claim proportional expenses related to their home computers, Internet access, phones, office supplies, etc. Some boards provide trustees cell phones or Blackberry/PDA devices for board use, in which case those bills would be covered by the board.
In the expenses I requested, the policy at the French public board provided $350 a year for computer related expenses, along with payment of a cellphone for the chair of the board.


educ8m said...

The office expense issue got one Toronto Catholic Trustee into hot water because they claimed for home office expenses because they didn't have an office at the board.
Apparently the trustee involved DID ask for advice from the board's legal dept. and was told to go ahead and claim the expense (the trustee got it in writing too). What is a trustee supposed to do??

Anonymous said...

educ8m - what ended up happening with the Toronto Catholic board? Any consequences of that misuse of money seems to have fallen off the radar.

Was what happened with that board the impetus behind the new discussion around code of conduct for trustees?

Have you seen the discussion paper around the governance review that's taking all of that into consideration? Where is it posted for public consumption..or is it?

educ8m said...

The TDCSB is still under ministry supervision and likely will be until the next round of municipal elections next year. It seems they are the poster child for the new trustee policy.

Yes I've seen the governance papers. The latest Summer Discusson paper was only sent to her select inner circle. With a bit of digging it can be found at the link below. I should add this is from the website of one of the inner circle, whose public spokesperson also sits on the board of the Toronto Lands Corp. They are responsible for selling surplus TDSB properties.*ra2F93YWHws81pmf4k/ProvInterestConsulationPaper.ENG.pdf