Toronto District School Board

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TDSB Education Director Donna Quan’s pay package is now slightly less mysterious

$289,000

Donna Quan’s current salary as director of education for the Toronto District School Board, according to a TDSB spokesperson. Quan’s salary has been a topic of speculation, because her employment contract hasn’t been available for scrutiny by politicians. Former TDSB chair Mari Rutka claims to have tried and failed to get a copy of the contract from Quan. It still hasn’t been released.

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Not every TDSB school is rolling in bake-sale money

$891.44

—The amount of donation money raised per student during the 2012-2013 session at Quest Alternative Senior School, a 68-student junior high school in Riverdale. According to a Globe analysis, Quest is one of the fortunate few. The citywide average for funds raised per student at public schools is just under $150, and most schools—particularly ones in poorer neighbourhoods—get by on less than that. The money is used to pay for upgrades and programming the Toronto District School Board couldn’t otherwise afford.

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A TDSB trustee billed taxpayers for a tour of Israel, for some reason

$3,765

—The amount of Toronto District School Board money trustee Gerri Gershon spent on a tour of Israel, according to an internal audit of this and other questionable trustee expense claims obtained by the Star. Gershon told the Star that the junket was intended to promote interfaith relations, and that she “tweeted the entire trip.”

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TDSB is spending $700,000 to fix a security breach it created all by itself

toronto-district-school-board-rotten
In the bitterly ironic world of Toronto District School Board politics, even a newspaper investigation into wasteful spending can, itself, lead to more wasteful spending. Case in point: according to the Globe, the district is currently spending an estimated $700,000 to change locks in about 140 schools. This is happening because school board officials accidentally divulged the locks’ pin settings to reporters at the Globe and the Star in response to freedom-of-information requests. The two newspapers were compiling evidence of TDSB’s tendency to overspend on simple maintenance tasks—like, for instance, changing locks. The Star built a cool interactive feature around the data, though, so at least Toronto’s taxpaying news junkies got that for their money. The pin settings, which the Star initially published with the rest of its haul, have since been removed from its website.

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Ex-TDSB director Chris Spence wants the University of Toronto to let him keep his PhD

(Image: TDSB/Facebook)

(Image: TDSB/Facebook)

It’s possible that Chris Spence has suffered enough. Hired as TDSB’s education director in 2009, his reform mandate came to an abrupt end last year after he was forced to admit to being a serial plagiarist, calling his wide body of published work into question. Now, it seems as though the University of Toronto is getting ready to layer a little insult on top of all the injury: the Star reports that the school will hold a hearing on July 15 to decide whether or not Spence gets to keep his PhD.

The reason for the hearing is that Spence’s doctoral thesis, like much of his other writing, appears to borrow entire passages from previously published work, without attribution. Spence’s lawyer, Selwyn Pieters, told the Star that he’ll be attempting to show that the lack of attribution was the fault of a person Spence hired to transcribe his written manuscript. Pieters also said that he’ll be attempting to get the whole case thrown out as an abuse of process, because U of T used plagiarism-checking software on the thesis without his client’s consent.

Even if Spence does manage to retain those three all-important letters on his resume, though, his Google results will forever be plagued by write-ups like this one, which in some ways is the worst and most fitting punishment of all.

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TDSB trustees are misusing their expense accounts, an auditor finds

toronto-district-school-board-rotten

The Toronto District School Board’s trustees have a new bullet point to add to their lengthy resume of failures: a new internal audit concludes that some of them have been racking up improper office expenses.

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What’s the matter with the Toronto District School Board?

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Today’s revelation that the Toronto District School Board has funneled tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars into a charity founded by its own board chair is only the latest in a long series of politically damaging news stories to emerge out of the organization over the past two years. Allegations of sexual harassment, plagiarism, homophobia, bullying and inappropriate spending have dogged the school board’s 22 trustees, a collection of relatively inexperienced elected officials who seem incapable of reining in their behaviour despite repeated attempts at intervention from outside agencies.

And yet, despite all the issues in its boardroom, the school district continues to do what is, by most accounts, a decent job. Kids are still learning, and the city’s public schools continue to function, leading some to suggest that trustees are to some extent merely interfering with the work of competent school staff. How did we get to this point? Here’s a rundown of the board’s recent history of scandal.

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Opinion: what are we really talking about when we talk about “buck-naked men” at the Pride parade?

(Images: Sotiropoulos: Sam Sotiropoulos/Facebook; parade: Renato Lorini)

(Images: Sotiropoulos: Sam Sotiropoulos/Facebook; parade: Renato Lorini)

Toronto District School Board trustee Sam Sotiropoulos appears to be calling for mass arrests of naked people at an international event commemorating the mass arrests of naked people.

Earlier this week, the trustee for Scarborough-Agincourt stunned many by drafting a motion instructing the school board to ask the city to enforce Canada’s public-nudity laws against participants in the Toronto Pride parade—although, perhaps unbeknownst to him, such laws do not even apply to Pride parades, because of a 2000 Ontario Court of Justice decision. He believes the TDSB should have a say in this because the board has a float in the Pride parade.

Here’s another thing Sotiropoulos doesn’t seem to grasp: the Pride movement is the legacy of the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City, which are now known as the moment LGBT people finally fought back against years of police oppression. Locally, our moment came in 1981 after the Toronto bathhouse raids, when police rounded up about 300 innocent towel-clad men at four gay saunas. Toronto queers were swift to react: they marched through the streets, right up to the doors of city hall and Queen’s Park. It was a watershed moment for the sexual liberation movement in Canada and the birthplace of Toronto Pride.

That night in 1981, police were attacking nudity, sexual freedom, gay identity and their own homophobic perception of icky gay men having sex. As LGBT people, we have seen these types of attacks for decades, and we know what they really mean.

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School board trustees want the city to arrest naked people at the Pride parade, for the children

Pride: it's not all naked people. (Image: Ryan)

Pride: it’s not all naked people. (Image: Ryan)

What happens if a high school student sees a naked dude during the Pride parade? Toronto District School Board trustees Sam Sotiropoulos, Irene Atkinson and John Hastings seem to think the outcome will be something like this—but in any case, they’re not waiting to find out.

The three trustees are tabling a motion at tonight’s school board meeting that calls for TDSB to send a letter to city council “asking them to clarify whether or not the public nudity law of Canada will be upheld and enforced at future Pride events in which the TDSB participates.” The theory here seems to be that students can’t be allowed to march in any parade where they might catch a glimpse of an errant ballsack. (It’s true that there are always some naked or half-naked people at Pride, but the majority of participants are usually fully—if provocatively—clothed.) “It’s simple,” trustee Atkinson told the Star, “I don’t believe males or females should be running around naked in the streets, and if they are, police ought to be called.”

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Editor’s Letter (December 2012): under the influence

Sarah FulfordDavid Mirvish’s plan to tear down the Princess of Wales Theatre and build three 80-plus-storey Frank Gehry–designed condo towers on King Street isn’t very popular. When he announced his intentions, the city’s pessimists were quick to complain: the towers were too tall, too garish, too dominating, and would add way too many new people to a downtown core already straining from rapid expansion. I’m not sure the project’s critics are right. Global cities have giant, imposing towers that seem vaguely threatening. They have unusual skylines. They are impossibly dense. Skyscrapers can be exciting and dramatic, which is what the Gehry towers promise to be. At the very least, I admire the ambition of the project. David Mirvish, who already wields influence in Toronto as both a theatre impresario and an important collector of 20th-century art, is about to make an indelible mark on the cityscape. His father, Ed, occupied a significant role in the city, and now Mirvish is using the money and the position he inherited on his own terms.

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Susur Lee goes all Jamie Oliver with new TDSB cafeteria initiative

Lee’s own sons went to public school, and were thus exposed to the wonders of TDSB cafeterias (Image: Karoylne Ellacott)

Last year, the Toronto District School Board closed 32 of its cafeterias after the province set stricter guidelines about serving healthy food in schools, sending unimpressed students scurrying off-campus for lunch. Now the board has brought in Susur Lee, fresh off the opening of Bent, to help “spice up” the cafeteria’s menus, as the Toronto Star puts it. “Back in Asia, it’s all about variety,” Lee, who never had the pleasure of eating his way through a Canadian education, told Here and Now. “A lot of vegetables, great seasonal stuff. What I see [here] is very stale. People don’t have creativity.” The hope is that Lee’s celeb-chef status and television fame will help get students engaged with more creative menus (which will also be more healthy than the pizza and french fries that are part of a balanced teenaged diet). The board has begun a student consultation process on students’ home turf (i.e., Facebook and Twitter) to determine what they’d like to eat. (We’re not sure that this Skittles burger will make the cut, but it’s pretty neat, regardless.) [Toronto Star]

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Buyers beware: several schools near condo towers have no room for new students

(Image: Tomash Devenishek)

Living in a condo building with kids can be tough: there’s less space for playtime, more insults from deputy mayor Doug Holyday and now—worryingly—no room at local schools. The Toronto District School Board has posted notices in several communities warning condo buyers that nearby public schools are over capacity and can’t accept more students. For instance, in the High Park area, local school trustee Irene Atkinson is expecting an influx of 400 new elementary students in the next few years (already, approximately 270 kids are being bused to schools in neighbouring wards). The situation has local councillor Sarah Doucette wondering, “Can we take over any malls? Can we start building secondary schools in apartment buildings?” Given that condo towers already feature bowling alleys, golf simulators and virtual concierges, we guess throwing in a few classrooms isn’t so far-fetched. [CBC]

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Toronto’s Africentric high-school program finds a home 

The Toronto District School Board has opened enrollment for the city’s first Africentric high-school program, which will kick off this fall at Scarborough’s Winston Churchill Collegiate. (Oakwood Collegiate on St. Clair Avenue was previously tapped to host the program, but hundreds of students and parents opposed the idea and called the program a form of segregation.) Despite the fact that the Africentric Alternative School has been up and running for three years now, we still expect supporters and nay-sayers to clash over the expansion of the city’s Africentric programs. [Toronto Star]

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The principal of Toronto’s Africentric school has decided to leave 

There are changes afoot at Africentric Alternative, Toronto’s controversial school-within-a-school geared toward black students. After several days of rumours and speculation, the Toronto District School Board has confirmed that the school’s principal since its inception, Thando Hyman, has requested a transfer to another post. The community is wondering whether she was pushed out, despite Hyman’s and trustee Howard Kaplan’s insistence that the request came from her, not the board. Hyman has been a controversial figure, praised by some parents for her committed leadership and criticized by others who felt the curriculum was not African enough. She’s also been scrutinized, as an editorial in the ethnic magazine Share suggested, by those who disagree with the entire notion of racially segregated schools. [Toronto Star]

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Allah in the Cafeteria: Inside the school prayer scandal at Valley Park Middle School

When the principal at Valley Park Middle School allowed 400 Muslim students to pray in the lunchroom, he thought he was being progressive. What he got was a scandal—over the preaching of conservative Islam and the separation of girls from boys—that’s testing the TDSB’s policy of religious accomodation

Allah in the Cafeteria

(Image: John Goddard)

Valley Park Middle School, at Don Mills and Overlea, is much like any other TDSB facility in the inner suburbs—an unremarkable rectangle of grey, concrete blocks, plus 11 portables in the back field. It’s also one of Canada’s largest and most ethnically diverse middle schools, with approximately 1,200 students in grades 6 to 8, whose native languages include Urdu, Pashto, Dari, Bengali and Punjabi. The neighbouring streets consist mostly of strip malls and huge apartment complexes that accommodate many of the Muslim immigrants from South Asia who arrived in Toronto in large numbers in the 1990s.

A kilometre and a half away, amid the fast-food chains and electronics repair shops, is the neighbourhood’s mosque—the Darus Salaam. If you were walking by it in a hurry, you might not even realize it’s a mosque. There’s no minaret, nothing distinctive about the building; it’s just another non­descript box that disappears into the industrial landscape. The mosque is orthodox Sunni and adheres to a strict, conservative interpretation of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. It is also a madrassa—a religious place of learning—for many of the children who attend Valley Park.

The majority of the students at Valley Park—more than 800 kids—are Muslims. Until 2008, several hundred of the students would leave school every Friday to attend midday prayers at the mosque. The prayer itself took only 15 to 20 minutes, but the kids wouldn’t return to school for two or three hours, if they bothered to at all. Some simply headed to a shopping mall or home to play video games. The school’s administration needed a solution.

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