N.B. auditor general identifies issues with school funding decisions

School zone signs outside Magnetic Hill School in Moncton, NB. Steve Fiander / Global News

New Brunswick’s auditor general released a report on Tuesday identifying several critical areas for improvement in school infrastructure planning in the province.

In the report, Auditor General Kim Adair-MacPherson says that while school districts and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development put effort into preparing their annual capital budgets, those funding decisions are not always evidence-based or objective.

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“There are several instances where the department did not follow their own project assessment tool and process, and others where cabinet approved projects different than those put forward by the department for funding,” said Adair-MacPherson in a statement.

She cited the situation for l’École de Moncton and the Hanwell School projects as examples in the report.

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The audit also found that aging school infrastructure requires significant funding to maintain, and if current processes continue, the department will likely face the tough choices of either lowering the quality standards for educational facilities or shutting down schools.

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“What is most concerning is that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has no specific plan for aging school infrastructure, including no comprehensive strategy to address the $282.7 million in significant deferred maintenance issues,” Adair-MacPherson said. “This reactionary approach to planning and project funding creates continuous uncertainty in the education system.”

The auditor pointed out that there are “current deficiencies and incompleteness of existing facility condition data,” which will make it difficult to make plans and prioritize processes in the long-term.

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“I believe the department, as the asset owner, should exercise its role in a more proactive, all-encompassing manner when it comes to deciding the optimal allocation of capital budget dollars,” Adair-MacPherson said.

The auditor recommends that the department implement a data validation and quality review process, and develop a form for school districts to collect and present major capital project information.

Adair-MacPherson said she is “not optimistic recommended improvements will be implemented.”

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The province said specific reference is made in the auditor general’s report to the identification and execution of a new kindergarten to Grade 8 school in Hanwell.

“It was established as a priority in 2016 to address overcrowding and space deficiencies in the Fredericton catchment area,” the province added in a statement.

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“While there are recommendations in this report that are valid, there are conclusions that are out-of-context and incomplete,” said Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy. “Having an objective, data-driven process when it comes to setting priorities and making decisions is important. We welcome any fact-based recommendations to help us achieve this goal.”

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