CALGARY (660 NEWS) – The Calgary Board of Education (CBE) has been given a ministerial order to improve its financial practices, or they will be fired.
It comes as the United Conservative government released the final report of an independent review of the board that was launched last November.
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said at the time that she was disappointed the board announced it would cut 300 temporary teaching jobs instead of working with her ministry to find other ways to cover a $32-million budget shortfall.
The audit, conducted by Grant Thornton Canada, focused on several elements including board procedures, the effectiveness of financial management and the funding and allocation of resources.
“Overall, the findings are indicative of an organization that has undergone turmoil at the governance level with a focus on process over function and a short-term view of financial sustainability,” the report reads.
Here is a summary of the recommendations. It did not find gross financial mismanagement, but the suggestion to eliminate half days and reduce bus service are interesting. pic.twitter.com/dzsC7D7GjV
— Tom Ross (@Tommy_Slick) May 21, 2020
The audit found the board placed more focus on protecting themselves rather than the broader mission of the CBE.
It also found higher class sizes were as a result of centralizing some teaching staff at the board office and a failure to consider options to reduce the financial risk of the Education Centre building.
It did not, however, show signs of financial mismanagement which the CBE is pleased with.
“The report highlighted that our spending is fully aligned with that of other metro school jurisdictions and that we have strong financial processes and controls,” the board said in a release. “The review also found that we have very efficient operations, especially in the area of operations and maintenance.”
The audit presented 19 recommendations to improve finances including eliminating half days of instruction to save transportation costs and to bring salaries in line with other school boards.
The CBE said however, salaries are mostly in line with other boards as almost all staff members are part of the Alberta Teachers Association who negotiates wages with the provincial government.
Other recommendations include hiring a minister-approved governance instructor and evaluating ways to reduce risks associated with the headquarters building it leases in downtown Calgary.
In 2010, the CBE signed a 20-year lease for their headquarters and LaGrange said they spend more to pay that lease than to purchase the building.
However, the board said the lease was signed by a previous administration at a time when rent prices were rising and they were unable to buy the building.
They have sublet some floors of the centre but said due to current market conditions, they haven’t been able to find new tenants.
Minister LaGrange has now given the CBE until November 30 to comply or she will dissolve the board.
“The Calgary Board of Education must act now to improve operations in order to direct as many dollars as possible to the classroom. As the independent report shows, the board’s short-term view focused more on protecting individuals on the board rather than its overall duty. This is unacceptable.”
The board said some of the recommendations are already a part of the 2020-2021 budget plans.
“The Ministerial Order outlines areas for improvement related to governance processes and financial oversight. We are committed to working with Alberta Education on the plan to comply with the Ministerial Order.”
However, The NDP’s education critic says taking drastic action like that doesn’t help the thousands of students at CBE schools.
“Firing education assistants, increasing class sizes and hiking transportation fees is the record of this minister and government after just one
year,” said MLA Sarah Hoffman.
“Per-student funding has fallen even as new schools open and enrolment climbs. The UCP say they have a plan to safely reopen schools when their focus has been on cutting supports for kids and deflecting responsibility.”
The CBE was previously audited in 2018 and while the report did not find overspending, it did note accounting errors that cost over $9 million.
-With files from The Canadian Press