Board fights to loosen minister's grip

Canada

ONTARIO's second largest education board is taking legal action over the education minister's decision to place the authority's schools under the control of a supervisor appointed by the province.

The Ottawa-Carelton board of education is also attempting to reverse the decision of the supervisor, Merv Beckstead, to cut $4 million (pound;1.7m) from special education in secondary schools.

"We are arguing to have our democratically elected trustees restored," says Mitchell Beer, spokesperson for Our Schools, Our Communities.

Two more boards - Toronto and Hamilton-Wentworth - are also considering filing actions. Both have also been replaced by the minister for running illegal deficits of $90m and $16m respectively.

Elizabeth Witmer, the education minister, suspended the Ottawa-Carelton board in late August after an audit confirmed that it was poised to run a $23m deficit. This was in contravention of the Education Act, which requires Ontario boards to balance their budgets annually.

Both the elected trustees, who make up the board, and parents' groups argue that the audit upon which the minister based her decision was flawed. Mr Beer said the audit was incomplete because it looked at expenditure but not revenue, which is provided by the province.

The auditor's report showed that according to the existing funding formula the board is due to receive a further $34m, which would more than offset the deficit. But his recommendations did not take this into account.

The Ottawa board argues that Mr Beckstead's decision to cut $4m is illegal because it violates contracts signed between parents and school boards. Ontario's Education Act stipulates that officially recognised special-needs children are legally entitled to special education.

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