TORONTO - Critics are slamming the governing Liberals for renewing the contract of a construction group that they say charged taxpayers exorbitant amounts for routine work in Toronto schools.

The Maintenance and Construction Skilled Trades Council's contract with the Toronto District School Board was extended when the government imposed new two-year contracts on teachers and other workers in public schools across Ontario.

The Progressive Conservatives say they can't believe the government extended the council's contract after it reportedly charged $3,000 to install electrical outlets and $143 for a pencil sharpener.

Education critic Lisa MacLeod says it shows the Liberals, who are running a $14.4-billion deficit, don't understand the grave financial situation they're in.

A government spokeswoman says the contract was imposed because the school board didn't negotiate a new deal with the union before the Dec. 31 deadline for local agreements.

She says the contract can still be changed through mutual agreement between the union and the school board, so long as they stay within the fiscal parameters of the agreement.

The trades council had complained that there are flaws in the current system, including vaguely written work orders that don't capture the true scope of the work required.

The council said those inadequacies have been responsible for what it called "misleading" reports about time and costs associated with completing work orders.

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