Class Dismissed

Do we really need school board trustees?

Illustration by Jeannie Phan

Last fall, during the city’s high-profile municipal election, a young man decided to run for a position on the Toronto District School Board. He sought to represent a suburban ward with a high concentration of middle-income families and newcomers to Canada—in other words, a community that depends heavily on the viability of its schools. Yet he chose not to answer journalists’ questions and offered little in the way of relevant experience. He did, however, have a critical asset: his surname, and by extension his ties to a powerful family that had represented the area for two decades. Not surprisingly, Michael Ford, the twenty-year-old nephew of Toronto’s globally infamous mayor, won the race handily, scooping up 10,000 votes on the strength of nothing more than his being a Ford.

Hand-me-down politics is not new in Canada; think of bankable monikers such as Trudeau, Layton, and MacKay. But Ford’s friction-free ascendance to public office illuminates much of what’s wrong with the way we oversee our school boards. On paper, elected trustees are mandated to act as intermediaries between aggrieved constituents and implacable bureaucracies. But they’re also expected to make decisions about how to spend the dollars allocated by provincial governments. That means establishing priorities based on local needs, as well as building, renovating, or closing schools. They hire the directors of education and, in some boards, have a say in the selection of principals and superintendents. To do their jobs properly, trustees must also steep themselves in the complexities of education policy and administration—and do all of this on a part-time basis for very little pay.

There was a time when school trustees wielded real power and advocated for reforms, including the end of corporal punishment. In some places, such as downtown Toronto, they even had constituency offices and assistants. But in the past twenty years, provincial governments across Canada have systematically stripped trustees of much of their formal decision-making power and most of whatever remuneration they received. Today, trustees can no longer levy property taxes, set curricula, regulate the teaching profession, or even, in some jurisdictions, negotiate collective agreements. Because they have few revenue streams beyond provincial grants, boards are legally obliged to submit balanced budgets each year. Indeed, provincial education ministries have scooped up most of the authority that once resided with local boards and trustees. Perhaps not coincidentally, fewer and fewer people bother to cast votes at election time.

So what can trustees like Ford do once we elect them? Many people, even education insiders, no longer know. “I don’t think we understand their role,” says Paul Axelrod, a former dean of education at York University, in Toronto. They ostensibly conduct public business, like municipal councillors, but much of the work they do takes place in closed-door sessions. “I regret to say that, for a whole host of reasons, trustees don’t add much value,” says Charles Ungerleider, formerly a British Columbia deputy minister of education and member of the Vancouver School Board.

The TDSB, however, is an especially egregious case. Overseen by twenty-two elected trustees, it is far and away Canada’s largest school board, with more than 246,000 students, 595 schools, and a $3 billion annual operating budget. It is also known as something of a political rat’s nest and, in recent years, has become mired in permanent crisis. There was the horrific 2007 school shooting that left a fifteen-year-old dead; a high-profile director of education ousted for serial plagiarism; poisonous partisanship among trustees and senior officials; dodgy business deals; unauthorized secret raises for top bureaucrats; and a bizarre curriculum partnership with an educational institute that seems to promote Chinese propaganda.

The list goes on. Senior TDSB officials have twice charged trustees with harassment, while one former trustee, a loudmouth named Sam Sotiropoulos, had a habit of telling fellow board members to “fuck off” during meetings. In 2014, chair Chris Bolton resigned in the wake of sensational revelations about outsize travel expenses and his questionable relationship with an educational charity run by his partner. The current director of education, Donna Quan, has been openly defiant with the trustees, who are nominally her employers. A series of external audits and investigative news reports have turned up eye-popping irregularities—a $143 pencil sharpener installation, renovation overruns, cavernous schools that remain open despite minuscule enrolment. Successive evaluations note everything from a “culture of secrecy” to basic incompetence. “The TDSB’s long-term ability to carry on its operations sustainably is at stake,” a 2012 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers warns.

Things have only gotten worse since then. A 2013 forensic audit by Ernst & Young flags a “culture of fear” created by trustees’ interference in ordinary operational decisions. Veteran education consultant Margaret Wilson—the author of a January 2015 inquiry commissioned by education minister Liz Sandals following a series of damning articles in the Globe and Mail—tells me that many TDSB insiders she interviewed believed someone was monitoring their email. Some trustees built fiefdoms in their own wards and enjoyed privileges that don’t exist at any other Ontario school board, such as generous budgets for constituency assistants.

According to Wilson, the political featherbedding has been exacerbated by “unstable professional leadership” in an organization that’s cycled through five directors in seventeen years. And despite laudable attempts by individual schools to improve, Wilson writes, “the school leadership is under severe stress as a result of the infighting at the board level and the ever-increasing intrusiveness of some, but not all, trustees.” The problems have become so dire that the government of Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne, whose meteoric political career began at the TDSB in 2000, set up a blue-ribbon panel to ask whether the board should be carved into more manageable units or overseen in some other way; a final report was expected in August. “The TDSB is facing challenges that distinguish it across the country,” says education policy expert Jennifer Wallner.

So why do we have elected trustees? Even those who believe in the office admit there may be a good case for doing away with the most junior position in Canadian public life. As Axelrod notes, the relentless erosion of trustees’ policy-making ability may actually be causing all this dysfunction, by forcing them to stray into the minutiae of day-to-day operations, scheme with senior bureaucrats, or seek out attention in other, more conspicuous ways. Case in point: a bid by some Catholic and rural Alberta boards last year to refuse to allow students to set up gay-straight alliance clubs in their schools. After hesitating, Premier Jim Prentice moved swiftly to counter the backlash, passing legislation ensuring that elected public office holders couldn’t interfere with their students’ Charter rights.

The TDSB’s tribulations are unique. But the situation should force all Canadians—especially those with children in the system—to ask whether school board trustees continue to safeguard the public good or merely serve as self-interested obstacles to change.

School boards are the farm teams of local politics. Lots of politicians, impressive or otherwise, have followed a path that looks like this: from school council chair or advocacy group spokesperson to trustee to city councillor to member of Parliament or cabinet minister. The public profile associated with this lowly way station becomes the political trampoline for a shot at higher office.

If trustees acquit themselves well in the day-to-day work of board business—helping constituents, turning up to graduation ceremonies, getting their names in the news from time to time—they’ll position themselves for political promotion. Wynne is the poster child for this journey up the ladder, but the churn continues: TDSB chair Shaun Chen recently announced he’d be running for the Liberals in the federal election.

Yet the reality is that the vast majority of voters barely care about trustees. Local politics suffers from poor participation generally, but with trustees public indifference reaches new heights; most people know little about their incumbents, much less the challengers or the issues. A 2013 report on school board elections pegged the national voter turnout rate at about 15 percent. According to an analysis in Spacing magazine, about ten times more people vote randomly for trustees than for city councillors.

During Quebec’s school board races last November, only about 5 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, and almost half of the positions went uncontested. (Montreal’s English board attracted a comparatively robust 21 percent.) Those results followed a long period during which the province had suspended school board races due to negligible turnout. Prior to the election, Yves Bolduc, Quebec’s education minister, told reporters the government might eliminate elected school boards. The day after the disappointing vote, he pledged “significant changes” to board governance. TDSB elections generate better results, but even last fall, with a mayoral gong show pushing citizens to the polls and a public service campaign encouraging voters to learn about their trustees, turnout was only around 50 percent.

This model—elected trustees governing a board of education—is neither universal nor (contrary to the rhetoric of some school board associations) indispensable. In education-focused countries such as Finland, municipalities run the local schools. In the United Kingdom, municipal councils oversee the school districts. South of the border, there are many variations on the theme: Some states appoint a single statewide board of education but directly elect superintendents to run the bureaucracy. Others elect trustees, who then hire superintendents. Since the 1990s, mayors in big cities such as New York have sought to take back struggling boards from state control and put hard-headed reformers in charge. “Finding where democracy fits within education is a very complex problem,” says Annie Kidder, who heads People for Education, an Ontario research and advocacy group.

In Canada, school board governance doesn’t vary much across the country, thanks to Section 93 of the British North America Act, which has a provision recognizing the office of trustee. In the run-up to Confederation, Quebec pushed for protection of its Catholic school system as a bulwark against centralization, and so pre-Confederation laws establishing the role of trustees came to be enshrined in the constitution. The arrangement has remained in place ever since, at least formally. The only real attempt to edit local school boards out of the education system—advanced by New Brunswick in the late 1990s—failed dismally. “The move was seen as an assault on democracy,” says Axelrod.

Trustees haven’t always been so hapless. At the turn of the last century, urban trustees began advocating for the establishment of vocational and secondary schools to increase the number of young people with high school degrees. With the postwar baby boom, boards raced to build new schools and hire thousands of teachers. In the late 1960s, activists on the Toronto Board of Education drove ambitious reforms, including changes to special education and policies geared at boosting parent involvement.

By the early 1980s, Toronto trustees—who had begun to behave like full-time politicians—had also figured out a nifty trick: by leveraging the city’s robust commercial tax base (the bank towers) and harvesting votes in dense inner-city neighbourhoods, they could advance a highly progressive education agenda. There was so much money, in fact, that the TBE subsidized the small boards serving suburban municipalities outside the core. It was a golden era.

But the deficit spending of the 1960s and ’70s eventually gave way to budget cuts, the amalgamation of smaller boards, and a political swing to the right. In the wake of the 1991–92 recession, provincial governments across the country looked to contain their two largest expenses: health and education. The mounting fiscal pressures produced dramatic changes in education funding, and thus in the role of trustees.

Taking their cue from the Mike Harris Tories in Ontario, education ministries across Canada stripped trustees of their ability to raise local taxes and instead imposed new formulas that provided boards with roughly the same amount of funding for every student enrolled across the province. (The formula allowed for some variations based on local needs, such as buses and higher concentrations of low-income families.) Provinces also centralized control over curricula and introduced standardized testing as a means of evaluating schools’ effectiveness. In Ontario, Harris merged the old Toronto Board of Education with the five smaller suburban boards surrounding it, creating the unwieldy behemoth that is the Toronto District School Board.

More than a decade and a half later, Harris remains a bogeyman in Ontario education circles, and with some justification: steep budget cuts and labour strife marked his terms in office. Many also bemoan the loss of local political autonomy. Doug Little, a left-leaning Toronto school trustee from the 1980s, itemizes the key levers he and his colleagues had at their disposal, such as influencing the selection of principals and raising revenues by increasing property taxes. “Basically, all that’s been taken away,” he says. “They’ve been emasculated.”

Across Canada, similar changes triggered years of feuding between trustees and education ministers—battles the trustees mostly lost. Provincial governments have put elected boards in Toronto and Calgary in receivership when they have refused to submit balanced budgets, as they are required by law to do. In 1995, the Public School Boards Association of Alberta sued Ralph Klein’s government in an attempt to prove that trustees have a constitutionally protected form of political autonomy, but the Supreme Court of Canada shot down that line of reasoning.

The upshot of these reforms is that an individual board’s capacity to finance its schools is no longer tied to the health of the local property tax base. Schools serving prosperous communities receive the same allocation as schools in depressed areas, and local school trustees can no longer step in and hike taxes whenever they want. What’s more, the dollars follow the child. In other words, if a family moves from one city to another, their new school board receives a commensurate increase in funding, while the old one loses the same amount.

Facing declining enrolments, the TDSB emerged from this epic reshuffle a fiscal loser. When Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals took over in 2003, they nailed their colours to the mast of education, suing for peace with the teachers’ unions and pushing to improve test scores, dropout rates, and other indicators of student achievement. Several top McGuinty ministers were former trustees—including Wynne, who became education minister, and Sandals, a former head of Ontario’s school boards association.

Despite that political lineage, McGuinty and his cabinet did little to restore the pre-Harris authority of school trustees. Indeed, in 2009, when the Liberals tabled a bill updating the Education Act, Ontario’s school board lobby had to fight to include provisions recognizing that trustees have a legislated role. Senior provincial officials saw trustees as a nuisance, says one former trustee: “Much of what is complained about concerning board meddling arises from complaints from ministry and directors of education related to trustees performing their legally required duties.”

Part of the reason has to do with the sorts of people who ended up with the job. “Lots of trustees are single-issue or see education as a way of achieving certain ideological goals,” says Ungerleider. Others have ties to education unions or political parties. And a few are buffoons: Sotiropoulos, who was defeated in 2014 after just one term, once tweeted that he didn’t believe in transgender people and reckoned they were suffering from a mental illness. At the TDSB, the roster in recent years has also included a core of old hands—trustees who have held office for years or even decades. They have an unshakable grip on their wards, know how to work their constituents, and treat the job as if it were a career. “They’ve been there so long they can’t be defeated,” observes Little. “They start to think of themselves like, Those are my schools.”

Consequently, the dynamic of the post-Harris board—a strange brew of ambitious pols, earnest parents, and complacent lifers—has been fraught. The TDSB’s factionalism is undoubtedly related to the fact that these politicians must fight over a budget whose size they can’t control. School board politics, in other words, is a zero-sum game between players with almost no clout. As Axelrod says, “The smaller the stakes, the bigger the fight.”

Illustration by Jeannie Phan

Cathy Dandy came to TDSB politics by way of her work in educational advocacy. In 2006, after years of running the Toronto Parent Network, she won a trustee seat in an east-end ward. At the time, the Liberals were pouring money into education, and Dandy’s goal was to make sure marginalized students—those from low-income families, for example, or with psychological issues—weren’t shunted to the sidelines. Working full-time for a children’s mental health organization, she didn’t seek a career in politics. But she was defeated in the 2014 elections and left in disgust, battered by the board’s endless crises and internecine feuds.

“There are many pieces to this,” she says, choosing her words carefully. “What it is really about is an ongoing tension between who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ ” On a piece of paper, she sketches what she sees as the board’s entrenched political and bureaucratic rifts. “There are trustees in the ‘cool’ group and others who aren’t.” The irony isn’t lost on her. “It’s like the minutiae of high school politics,” she says.

Howard Goodman was another diligent trustee ground up and spat out by the system. In the early 2000s, he, like Dandy, was a parent with concerns about a local issue—in his case, bullying. A management consultant who’d spent years running a family business, Goodman became active in north Toronto parent networks and came to know his local trustee, one Kathleen Wynne. When Wynne decided to run provincially, she and other parents urged him to put his name on the ballot.

As Goodman told me, he’d never been interested in “capital-P politics,” but he figured he could put his consulting and management experience to good use. He also reckoned he could help working parents and newcomers “navigate a system that I, with all my advantages, wasn’t able to.” After winning, he decided to approach the job as if it were a consulting contract, advocating many big-picture organizational reforms. “I figured this was a six-year job,” he says.

Over the years, Goodman and Dandy both came to observe how trustee and bureaucratic jockeying often undermined rational decision making. After fifteen-year-old Jordan Manners was shot and killed in a north Toronto high school, the TDSB’s first such murder, the board commissioned Julian Falconer, a high-profile civil rights lawyer, to head a panel examining the causes. The voluminous and critical report identified, among other factors, a “culture of fear” within the board that, Falconer argued, had helped create unsafe conditions at Manners’s school. But the TDSB implemented only a handful of the lawyer’s recommendations.

During the 2010–14 term, that culture of fear thrived. Superintendents, one inside source told me, had to shield schools from interference by trustees who saw themselves not only as politicians but also managers. Some were notorious for “cycling” principals and superintendents they didn’t like out of their wards—a degree of micromanagement that would not be tolerated at any other level of government. (Backbench MPPs and MPs can’t even call deputy ministers, much less tell them what to do.)

The board’s chronic infighting went into overdrive after the 2010 municipal election, in part because of the oddly cozy relationship between Donna Quan, the director of education, and Chris Bolton, the chair of the board. Quan’s ascendancy to the top job traces back to the aftermath of Manners’s 2007 murder. Two years later, the TDSB hired Chris Spence, a one-time football player turned educator, to be its senior bureaucrat. Spence, who is black, had made a name for himself as a charismatic teacher and inspirational principal in schools serving tough, low-income neighbourhoods. He was seen as someone who could connect with visible-minority teens, especially young men.

But while the optics were great, Spence wasn’t the board’s first choice. During the search, trustees had zeroed in on several other highly qualified candidates, including a BC academic and the former chancellor of schools in New York. The TDSB, however, couldn’t hire them, because they didn’t have Ontario teaching papers—a provincial requirement. The trustees tried to get Queen’s Park to waive the restriction, but Wynne rebuffed them. Spence proved to be a polarizing figure, organizing pep rallies for thousands of teachers in which he played the starring role. “He’s an ego on stilts,” says Little. “He wanted everyone to know this was the Chris Spence Board.”

The knives soon came out; as numerous studies have revealed, the board’s bunker-like head office is a hotbed of bureaucratic intrigue and backstabbing. Dandy recalls encountering Spence one day in the parking lot in 2012, a period when the board was fighting bruising battles on several fronts, and the director’s skills had been called into question internally. “He looked at me in fear,” she recalls. “[He said], ‘I don’t know who to trust.’ ”

Not long afterwards, the Toronto Star reported that he’d plagiarized a newspaper column. Following days of relentless media scrutiny that unearthed other instances of plagiarism, including a portion of his Ph.D. thesis, Spence resigned, and the board named Quan, then the deputy director, as interim director (the appointment was made permanent soon after). Rumours that his ouster was an inside job still circulate.

While Ontario education veterans such as Michael Fullan, McGuinty’s top education adviser, have described Quan as a focused and important “instructional leader,” others see her as autocratic and uncommunicative. Leaks are ruthlessly tracked down, one inside source told me: “You better not play games with Donna Quan, or you’re done. You’ll be counting portables.” (Quan declined an interview.)

Meanwhile, if Quan (or a superintendent) wants something that requires board approval, she has to curry favour with enough trustees—often by offering inducements like a new French immersion program at a preferred school—to “get to twelve,” the number that constitutes a majority of the twenty-two-person board. But such requests come with a price—typically implementing a trustee’s pet projects. “You’re responding to twenty-two different masters,” the source says. “There’s no moderating force. If I push back, they’ll call Donna and say, I’m getting pushback. Can you fix this? ”

The trustee who turned secret deal making into an art form was undoubtedly Bolton, a former school principal who represented a downtown ward that included Chinatown and schools with large numbers of children from Chinese families. Beginning in 2010, Bolton, supported by Quan, quietly negotiated an agreement with the Confucius Institute, an education organization that has ties to the Chinese government, without informing other trustees or most senior TDSB officials; critics worried about pro-Beijing propaganda seeping into the curriculum. Bolton, according to news reports, inked another such deal that provided teachers and curriculum materials to a private school in Vietnam. Both travelled there to negotiate the arrangement.

Bolton and his partner, meanwhile, ran a charity, Friends of Community Schools, that listed his home as its mailing address. Contributors included the Ontario government, the Atkinson Foundation, and a public sector union that represents thousands of TDSB employees. One of the Friends directors, according to documents submitted to the Canada Revenue Agency, oversaw a charity that had its registration revoked after grossly inflating donations as part of a tax shelter scheme. Bolton resigned from the TDSB in the wake of these revelations. (He initially agreed to meet me at a coffee shop near his home for an interview but abruptly cancelled and didn’t respond to my follow-up messages. “Am ill with the flu and as a result having to reschedule business meetings so I will not be able to make the appointment,” he wrote in an email. “By the way I have been rereading some of your submissions. There is at least one inaccuracy where you suggested that I was ‘ousted’; no I left for other career directions.”)

Dandy, Goodman, and others came to see Bolton as a secretive figure whose politics were tainted by self-interest. “He took the personal politicking and coalesced it into a force,” says Dandy. “It became very difficult to crack. There was no way to get into that club.” Quan and Bolton, moreover, had reportedly created a beneficial alliance. After Spence’s fall, Bolton pushed to have Quan hired as the board’s permanent director of education. She, in turn, made sure Bolton could pursue his pet projects. In October 2013, he repaid her loyalty with a $17,000 raise, bringing her salary to $289,000. Acting on his own authority, Bolton offered the raise at a time when Queen’s Park had frozen salaries.

Margaret Wilson, the consultant brought in last year, devoted seven pages of her thirty-four-page report to the ensuing power struggle between Quan and the board, a bitter test of wills that dragged on for much of the year following Bolton’s resignation. The narrative has a surreal quality. Quan, after all, works for the trustees, and is theoretically beholden to them. But she emerges not as wilful but outright belligerent. In fall 2014, she even asked the police to charge Goodman with forcible confinement, several months after the two had had a heated argument. A judge withdrew the charges last spring.

The board’s dysfunction has had perverse results. Dutiful trustees such as Goodman and Dandy, both civic-minded progressives who refused to play the game, were disheartened by the TDSB’s byzantine politics. Trustees such as Sotiropoulos, meanwhile, gained media notoriety for making outlandish statements and picking fights on Twitter. Quan remains in her job, having agreed to forsake the raise and submit to audits of all the questionable deals approved during the Bolton era.

When education minister Liz Sandals released Wilson’s report at a press conference last January, along with a series of formal directives meant to force the TDSB’s new crop of trustees to focus on the board’s financial pressures, she was asked how she felt about the dispute over Quan’s salary. “I’m not going to get into an evaluation of my feelings,” she snapped. “I’m just going to say I’ve given directions and expect those directions to be followed.”

With the implicit threat of a provincial takeover hanging above their heads, the TDSB’s trustees, many of them optimistic rookies, obediently fell into line. Among the changes they approved: closing trustee offices and reducing their own expense budgets. They also agreed to release a “capital plan” to fix or shutter dozens of half-empty schools in order to free up funds for a $3 billion repair backlog. Quan, despite the revelations in Wilson’s report and damning new anecdotes in recent media accounts, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, although some trustees still want to bring about a regime change. “I’m concerned that until the director changes,” sighs Shelley Laskin, a veteran trustee, “we won’t see a way forward.”

Quite aside from the weedy details, it’s worth asking tough existential questions about trustees: Given their degraded mandate and resultant pettiness, do they create more effective school systems that produce adequately educated young people? Do they provide residents with a say in how the education system functions? Do they matter at all?

There are many public institutions—namely hospitals and universities—that deliver complex services to large numbers of people without electing directors or governors. Their accountability systems—ombudspersons, unions, student newspapers, professional certification bodies—don’t necessarily rely on representative democracy to function effectively. So why do school districts?

According to a survey of trustees and superintendents cited in a touchy 2013 study entitled “School Boards Matter” and commissioned by the Canadian School Boards Association, 84 percent of respondents somewhat or strongly agreed that boards have a “major impact” on what goes on in schools. It’s a predictably self-serving result, and there are good reasons to be skeptical.

Last year, former Ontario education czar Michael Fullan, and Alan Boyle, a UK education consultant, penned a detailed analysis of the results of education reforms that played out in New York, London, and Greater Toronto between 2002 and 2012. Schools in all three places were staggering out of tumultuous periods of conservative changes that had created lots of chaos but little improvement. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg persuaded Albany to let him take over a troubled and corrupt board. In London, meanwhile, Thatcherite decentralization had led to privatization and beggar-thy-neighbour policies that allowed local schools to hand-pick the best students, creating a destructive pattern of rivalry.

Bloomberg’s chancellor and a team of top managers aggressively pushed system-wide, performance-driven changes; the mayor reduced the board to an advisory body and threatened to close underperforming schools. In the UK, where municipalities deliver education, the national government in 2003 launched the so-called London Challenge in an attempt to use leadership training, better teacher recruitment, and other incentives to help schools in the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. In Ontario, Fullan worked closely with McGuinty to set up a flying squad of education advisers who would help staff in underperforming schools implement proven teaching techniques.

Overall, the provincial reforms helped Greater Toronto’s schools boost student achievement. But the TDSB comes in for harsh words from Fullan and Boyle. Queen’s Park, they write, had created a program to help struggling teens complete high school. It yielded dramatic results across Ontario—except in Toronto. Trustees there initially opposed the strategy and later diluted it. While the board’s five-year graduation rate rose from 69 to 80 percent between 2002 and 2012, Ontario’s rate jumped from 68 to 83 percent in the same period, and graduation rates in the suburban regions around Toronto rose even higher.

The difference between the TDSB’s and Ontario’s average may seem unimpressive until you do the math: if the board had kept up with the rest of the province and the suburbs, more than 3,000 additional Toronto teens would have finished high school last year. Instead, those kids have been pushed to the margins of the labour force, taking on all the associated hardship and risk; they symbolize the human cost of the board’s politicking and intransigence. Toronto’s schools managed to improve in spite of trustees—not because of them.

Local democracy should make things better, or at least do no harm. But at the TDSB, we’ve seen years of dishonest politics—provincial officials expropriating responsibilities and then pulling levers behind the scenes, even while maintaining the pretense of local accountability. The fact that some good trustees do get elected and bring about change doesn’t negate the central failing of this Potemkin village. If we’ve already decided not to let trustees make serious decisions, then it’s time to figure out a better way to oversee our schools.

This appeared in the October 2015 issue.

John Lorinc
John Lorinc is a Toronto-based journalist and editor and the author of Dream States: Smart Cities, Technology, and the Pursuit of Urban Utopias, published this year.
Jeannie Phan
Jeannie Phan ( draws for Quill & Quire and the New York Times.