AG finds problems in Western School District

Andrew Robinson
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From the overpayment of staff and competition files short on documentation to the purchase of alcohol for school functions, dozens of operational issues at the Western School District were identified by the Office of the Auditor General.

The Western School District is responsible for the delivery of primary, elementary, intermediate and secondary educational services to approximately 12,500 students in 71 schools.

The annual report for the year ending March 31, 2011 found a number issues in human resources. Competition files for 11 positions lacked full documentation on the hiring process, while two other files lacked documents to explain why two retired teachers were rehired for their positions instead of other candidates.

Of 24 personnel files on appointments to non-teaching roles, seven lacked documents to indicate a job competition had taken place.

Instances were also found of teachers being hired without evidence of job competitions taking place, while seven positions were found to have been created and filled without seeking Treasury Board classification as required by the government.

An assistant director of finance was found to have been overpaid by $97,000 over a six-year period, and six cases were found where staff did not receive salary increases or step progressions. They were later granted anywhere from 11 to 23 months’ pay after it was determined they were entitled to receive them.

On purchases, five instances were found where it appeared a public tender was not offered, totalling almost $450,000. Those purchases included four bus contracts and a recycling contract.

For seven of 13 contractors required to provide information to the district as part of the contract, documents were found to be missing, including letters of good standing from the Workplace, Health, Safety and Compensation Commission and proof of insurance.

According to the report, annual leave was not always accurately recorded, and overtime was not always adequately controlled by the district.

Problems monitoring cellphone usage were identified in the report. There were cases of phones racking up hundreds of dollars in bills while barely being used, and in some cases it was found employees did not compensate the district for personal use of the phones.

Issues were found with the monitoring of vehicle expenses. In one case, two vehicles sold in 2006 and 2008, respectively, were found to have expenditures attributed to them in 2010. Instances were found where mileage was not logged.

A review by an external auditor also found issues with purchases made at a school in the district over six fiscal years. Seven hundred dollars in liquor purchases were made for 11 school functions, $4,200 in purchases were made without invoices, the principal’s personal cellphone costs were covered for almost four years and $3,500 in furniture and electronics purchases could not be accounted for.

Within the acting AG’s report, the district offered a response to each of the issues raised by Wayne Loveys.

It noted this was the first assessment done by the Office of the Auditor General since the district had formed in 2004. The district acknowledged the need for improved documentation in job competitions, but took exception to claims in the acting AG’s report that it could not demonstrate the most suitable candidate was selected in job competitions.

The district said classifying positions has not only been a challenge for itself, but also the province as a whole, adding it is now in a position to do so more effectively.

On employee leave, the district said it has moved from a manual system to an electronic one, and with that has come growing pains. It said some inaccuracies were already addressed, while others would be made as deemed necessary.

A policy is in place, it said, for recovering the cost of personal use of district supplied cellphones.

As for the noteworthy purchases made at the school, the RCMP conducted an investigation and found it would not be laying any charges, according to the district. The report said the district was still investigating ways to recover materials or costs associated with the external auditor’s findings.

On public tenders, the district said two of the purchases were approved by the Department of Education in accordance with the Public Tenders Acts. Those purchases totalled $356,000.

As for the two vehicles where expenditures were recorded years after they had been sold, the district said the vehicles have since been removed from its financial records.

District director of education Ross Elliott called the audit a worthwhile experience.

“There are areas they’ve identified particular to documentation and improvement of processes that we are certainly committed to changing,” Elliott said. “There are quite a number of areas we’ve already changed prior to the audit’s completion or afterwards, and there are areas where we very respectfully disagree with the assessment of the AG.”

He said the district is like all other organizations, where improvements are often needed, but stressed the financial integrity of the district and its commitment to betterment is very much intact. He doesn’t believe public perception will be a negative issue, as long as opinions formed are educated.

“We believe the public is fair and I would be very surprised if members of the public were to form judgements of the school board without reading the entire document of the auditor general’s report, as well as our response, and we are confident if they do so, that the report in it’s entirety will support and verify the direction of the school board,” Elliot said.

The operations of the board shouldn’t be impeded by the findings in the report, according to Elliot.

“Quite the opposite,” he said. “What we have are some suggestions for different processes, some suggestions for improvement and a school district that has demonstrated in the past that it is a growing organization and an organization committed to improvement.”

The Telegram

Organizations: Treasury Board, Acting, Safety and Compensation Commission Office of the Auditor General RCMP Department of Education Public Tenders Acts

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