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Delays to public consultation for Coquitlam district school budget

Coquitlam school district promises to have a finance committee running by April 1, although it
Coquitlam school district promises to have a finance committee running by April 1, although it's not known whether it will be a public group that welcomes anyone to attend.
— image credit: THINKSTOCK

The Tri-City News

Consultation for next year's school district budget is far behind last year's schedule but board chair Melissa Hyndes said trustees are waiting for more details from the provincial government.

Last year by this time, the Coquitlam Teachers' Association and the support workers' union CUPE Local 561 had already made their presentation on the budget but this year's consultation schedule won't be known until after the next meeting Feb. 11.

"We want to give people multiple opportunities to speak to the budget," said School District 43 secretary treasurer Mark Ferrari.

The extra caution is sparked by the desire to have more facts in hand before talking about the budget, said Hyndes, a Port Moody school trustee. Last year's early budget process was marred by news of a $7.5-million deficit, which grew to $8 million, even after about $5 million in cuts.

MEETINGS PUBLIC?

It led to the district hiring KPMG to do a forensic audit of district finances and that audit found a lack of control and monitoring over spending. On Tuesday, the board unanimously approved the audit's 14 recommendations.

The district will now have a finance committee running by April 1, although it's not known whether it will be a public group that welcomes anyone to attend.

"We have been always up to date with financial information but striking a financial committee that meets more frequently with better reporting is a good recommendation and we need to get back to that," Hyndes told The Tri-City News on Wednesday.

The board had a finance committee before, she said, but abandoned it for a committee-of-the-whole structure so that everyone had the same information. A new one could work better and the district will look at various models to come up with one that works.

MORE TRAINING?

Hyndes was also open to KPMG's suggestion of more training for people on the finance committee or the appointment of a community volunteer with a financial background, both of which were recommended by the B.C. Auditor General's report on school district governance last April.

It's even more important, however, for trustees to have confidence in their senior leadership team, including the secretary treasurer and finance staff, something she said the board has in the current team.

"It's imperative you have experienced secretary treasurer and finance people that understand the education concept as well as the finances. I can see with Mark [Ferrari] and the finance department that we have that and we're confident in them," she said.

Meanwhile, the Coquitlam Teachers' Association is lobbying for the entire forensic audit to be made public, not just the summary. At Tuesday's board meeting, CTA vice-president Chris King said such a move would make the district more "transparent."

His suggestion was turned down by Ferrari, who said the district has already met its obligations by making the summary available to the public.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

 

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