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Alberta government urges more consistency in preliminary CBE audit

Click to play video 'Alberta releases report into Calgary Board of Education finances' Alberta releases report into Calgary Board of Education finances
Thu, Sep 14: The province is releasing its initial report into how the Calgary Board of Education is managing its books. Jenna Freeman has the details.

Alberta Education released preliminary findings from an audit of the Calgary Board of Education’s finances on Thursday, adding that the board “needs to keep their budgets from September to June more consistent.”

The review was ordered in June by Education Minister David Eggen over concerns about a $38.6-million budget shortfall at the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) for 2017-2018.

LISTEN: Minister David Eggen on Alberta Education’s operational review of the Calgary Board of Education

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READ MORE: Reducing transportation and supply fees could be just the beginning for Alberta schools

The review found the board had projected a deficit or balanced budget over the three years ending in 2015-16, but in fact, had delivered a surplus.

“It’s a question of allocation,” Eggen said. “It’s a question of building efficiencies to make sure that we’re paying for transportation, specifically, and all of the other very complicated needs of our very biggest board in Alberta.”

The CBE said it is required to submit balanced budgets and does that every year.

“As such, we need to build in a little bit of conservatism as we go through the year, which may result in a little bit of a surplus at the end of that year,” said Brad Grundy, the chief financial officer with the CBE.

“I would note, however, that we invest those dollars almost immediately back into the classroom.”

Eggen said the same level of funding is provided to the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB).

“I’m sure that we can learn a lot from them,” he said. “We see a lot less flash points and they certainly deliver lots of choice, as well, across not a dissimilar large geographic area.”

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WATCH BELOW: Calgary parents protest school bus changes at Calgary Board of Education

Click to play video 'Calgary parents protest school bus changes at Calgary Board of Education' Calgary parents protest school bus changes at Calgary Board of Education
Calgary parents protest school bus changes at Calgary Board of Education

READ MORE: Calgary parents set to protest CBE busing policy at Tuesday rallyCalgary parents set to protest CBE busing policy at Tuesday rally

Eggen said the province will look to other boards, like the EPSB, for best practices that may help the CBE manage some of its costs. He added that by introducing Bill 1, which was meant to limit school fees, the province had not intended that yellow bus service to alternative school programs be cut.

But, the review did find the average number of students on each route is lower in the CBE than the provincial average. Bus load utilization is about 60 per cent for elementary students and about 75 per cent for middle or junior high schools.

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“There are some minor tweaks that need to happen on some of the routes,” said Joy Bowen-Eyre. “Because new students have either entered a program, or entered a school that we were not aware of.”

The province is asking the CBE to have some concrete solutions in place after Thanksgiving to deal with its congregated bus stop policy.

READ MORE: Calgary parents pay for their own alternative to cancelled school bus service

The minister also questioned a move by the board to lease its current headquarters, which he said is contributing to its operational costs.

“Everybody in the city must know that was not a great decision,” Eggen said. “That building cost more than all of the other metro headquarters in the province, of the other three boards. It cost more than $13 million just for the lease.”

The CBE said it would be happy to meet with the minister or ministry staff about any alternatives to the current lease.

“We have reviewed that document on a regular basis to see if there’s opportunities to minimize costs, move on to something different. At this point in time, there doesn’t seem to be an alternative,” Grundy said.

The government will release a final report later this year, which will include a detailed comparison between the CBE and other school boards and outline how the CBE could benefit from those “best practices.”

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