2014 Villain: Toronto District School Board
Nominated for: financial scandals, controversies, and general dysfunction.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains—the people, places, things, and ideas that have had the most positive and negative impacts on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 5 p.m. on December 30. At noon on December 31, we’ll reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
Given the swirl of criminal controversy surrounding Rob Ford at the beginning of the year, and the fact he actually dared the police to come and arrest him, many thought the mayor would be the elected official from Toronto to be arrested in 2014. Instead, that not-at-all-honour went to Howard Goodman, a school trustee who wound up facing charges related to forcible confinement and criminal harassment—ones alleged to involve TDSB head Donna Quan.
This was just part of the turmoil and controversy that dominated the TDSB in 2014—and which eventually led to Education Minister Liz Sandals’s appointing a special “reviewer” to figure out how to fix the dysfunctional organization, and calls from some to eliminate the board altogether, as so many education matters are now handled at the provincial level. This year also saw the board strike, then walk away from a deal with Chinese government–controlled language and culture organization the Confucius Institute; the revelation that Trustee David Smith literally phoned-in most meetings; and a litany of homophobic and transphobic remarks, followed by subsequent Twitter fights, from trustee Sam Sotiropolous.
And you can add to that a laundry list of financial scandals, which involved such things as trustees expensing everything from hand lotion to tours of Israel, Quan making $17,000 more than her predecessor (in spite of a public sector pay freeze), and a secret payment to cover unpaid catering invoices.
In spite of what some people may think, the TDSB is important. In an age in which educational decisions are made by provincial politicians—who may or may not understand or care how hard it is to serve the largest and most diverse student body in the country—we do need local advocates. We just need better ones.
Thankfully, the recent municipal election brought about a massive turnover at the TDSB—half of the trustees elected were rookies. Let’s hope they do better. It would be hard for them to do much worse.