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More transparency, openness on finances, CTA says

Charley King, the president of the Coquitlam Teachers
Charley King, the president of the Coquitlam Teachers' Association, wants more openness and transparency in School District 43 finances. The board expects to have a finance committee in place by April 1 to monitor SD43's fiscal situation.
— image credit: FILE

The Coquitlam Teachers' Association is looking for more openness and transparency on school district finances after a forensic audit revealed numerous flaws in forecasting, control and monitoring of operating expenses.

The audit, made public by the board of education last week, called for the establishment of a finance committee and a contingency fund as well as monthly forecast reports and more in-depth risk analysis. All 14 of KPMG's recommendations were approved by the trustees but the CTA's Charley King is concerned that there is more to the audit that wasn't made public and he wants more "openness and transparency" in district finances as well as a release of the full audit report.

"I can imagine it's frustrating for the public being given a summary report and now waiting until the Feb. 11 about what to do next, I think it's causing anxiety for people in the system too." King said.

Among the findings of the audit was a delay in reporting the district's financial situation to a board of education. When the details of last year's deficit was finally made public last January, teachers and many other groups were surprised,. But King said that wouldn't happen if there was more frequent public reporting.

"Other districts are doing that," he said. "One thing that concerns me, you've got to have report form a forensic auditor to get people moving."

The CTA's call for more frequent disclosure of the district's finances comes as the board looks at various options for structuring a finance committee it plans to have in place by Apr. 1.

Board chair Melissa Hyndes said district staff will be looking at various options for the new committee and will likely bring them to the March board of education meeting. However, she said she personally favours an internal committee of trustees that meets once or twice a month and reports the findings publicly.

The board had a committee structure prior to 2004, but it became too unwieldy and duplicated unnecessary work. It was abandoned following a review of board and district processes and policies, Hyndes said.

How the board decides to structure its committee will depend on local needs, Hyndes told The Tri-City News, but there are various options to choose from. Surrey School District, which ended last year with a budget surplus, according to the 2013 Statement of Financial Information, has an internal committee and minutes are kept and reported to the full board, along with recommendations.

The Central Okanagan School District has a public finance and legal committee that reports its agenda and recommendations online. It ended the 2012/'13 school year with a $16,272 deficit which was offset by $104.7 million in accumulated surplus, according to the SOFI report.

KEY EVENTS

The following key events were described in the KPMG audit:

• April, 2012: Preliminary 2012/'13 budget contains various assumptions and deficit figures, but no written minutes were kept.

• May, 2012: A balanced preliminary budget was approved following a series of budget revisions. The board did not ask how the budget was balanced, nor were they told of early drafts that contained larger deficits.

• June, 2012: Finance identifies $2.3 million in staff hiring over budget.

• September, 2012: District Leadership staff are informed of a $4.4 million deficit, but there was some skepticism about the reliability of the information and trustees were not informed.

• November, 2012: The board is informed of the developing deficit.

• February, 2013: The public is informed of a plan to achieve $4.9 million in savings

• June, 2013: The accumulated deficit was $8 million due to various cost over-runs, shortfalls and higher than expected employee benefit costs.

dstrandberg@tricitynews.com

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