SD 67 promises new era of budget transparency, accountability

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SD 67 promises new era of budget transparency, accountability
SD 67 promises new era of budget transparency, accountability – Mar 11, 2020

The Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union says it is optimistic the district’s financial troubles are over and is hopeful for a new era of accountability.

President Kevin Epp said he was pleased school board trustees hired an independent financial consultant to review the 2019-20 amended budget proposal, and supported a recommendation to improve transparency when it comes to the budget.

“I think that that will go a long way to rebuilding all of the relationships that have been sort of shaken up by do we know what’s going on with the books?” he said on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Auditor hired, budget deadline extended at Okanagan Skaha school district

Veteran chartered accountant Joan Axford presented her findings to the SD 67 school board on Monday evening.

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Trustees heard the district faced a roughly $1 million budget shortfall.

Axford said the district over spent on salaries and benefits in 2018 and the deficit that carried over to 2019-20 was compounded by lower-than-projected enrolment numbers.

Click to play video: 'SD 67 board of trustees order audit'
SD 67 board of trustees order audit

The district tightened its belt, cutting school supply budgets by an average of nine per cent, she said.

The move alarmed some teachers, students and parents.

“I would say frustrated, I think as a parent, I’d like to see a better understanding of the budget,” said parent Paula Overland, after Monday’s meeting.

Axford said the decision to direct school administrators to reduce supply budgets was poorly communicated.

“There was a general lack of communication, collaboration and trust in the budgets that were given. It wasn’t anybody’s specific fault, but there was a lot of people concerned about what was happening with your finances,” she told trustees.

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READ MORE: Faced with an $800K budget deficit, Okanagan Skaha School District votes for audit

Epp said school administrators first received the order in August.

“They’re telling shop teachers, you don’t have any money to buy that lumber or buy that metal for students in trades programs, or they are telling art teachers that they don’t have that money to buy materials for a pottery class or photography class,” Epp said.

The board approved its amended budget Monday, covering the shortfall by using $850,000 from the sale of former McNicoll Park Middle School and clawing back $300,000 from local high schools.

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That money was earmarked for new mini-buses at Pen High and information technology.

READ MORE: Busing, financial shortfall among topics at upcoming Okanagan Skaha school district meeting

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“Our budget is extremely tight, it’s showing $39,000 deficit still, we are going to have to turn off the lights every day,” said board chair James Palanio on Wednesday.

Palanio promised greater budget transparency moving forward.

“There is no reason that any decisions, really, should be hidden, and we need to communicate all of our decisions to the public,” he said.

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“I heard a lot of confusion or just misunderstanding of the information that is being presented, and we are just looking for clarity, so we can all understand,” Palanio said.

READ MORE: Okanagan Skaha school district announces new superintendent

Meanwhile, the district’s top two administrators, superintendent Wendy Hyer and secretary-treasurer Kevin Lorenz, have been on leave since a heated budget meeting on Feb. 24.

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“It was certainly unexpected, and yes I would say it’s concerning to folks wondering about leadership,” Epp said.

Palanio said the district still has a strong leadership team under the direction of assistant superintendent Todd Manuel.

“It results in the need for the other senior staff to step up, it’s a concern that they are on medical leave, of course, and hopefully that gets rectified and they get better, and we can all move forward together,” he said.

The district says it can’t comment on personnel matters.

It was announced last week that Manuel will take over as superintendent of schools when Hyer retires in July.

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