SD43 boss defends $73,000 in expenses

Foreign travel necessary to support international education, gain knowledge and share ideas about technology for education, superintendent, board chair say

School District 43’s top staffer spent $73,172 — and more than a month out of the country — on travel in the last school year, much of it to promote the district’s international education program.

Tallied up in the latest edition of the annual Statement of Financial Information (SOFI), the expenses are higher than those of superintendents in other large B.C. school districts.

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SOFI records show that Gartland’s expenses were more than $16,576 spent by Vancouver superintendent Suzanne Hoffman last year and more than that of Surrey School District superintendent Jordan Tinney, who spent $59,441 in 2017/’18.

Information requested by The Tri-City News and provided by SD43 shows Gartland was out of the country for 34 days in the 2018/’19 school year, with $46,698 in travel paid for from international ed. revenues. The remainder, $26,474, came out of operating expenses for a total of $73,172, down from nearly $88,000 last year but higher than $62,000 in expenses for 2017.

But the benefits to the district justify the costs, she said.

Gartland, who visited the U.S., Asia and Europe to speak and participate in conferences last year, said the travel is necessary to bring the latest strategies and ideas back to SD43, promote international ed. and show SD43’s expertise in areas such as the use of technology in schools.

“It's for us us to ensure we have the visionary leadership by networking with people all over the world and we're not just gaining ideas but sharing ideas,” said Gartland, who said she’ll probably go on the same number of trips this year.

Gartland told The Tri-City News attending conferences and meeting delegates from around the world is important to bolster the international program, which brings $35 million to district coffers each year, $500 million since it was created 20 years ago.

“You have to be building that global network in order to have those kind of results, and you have to have a stellar system. It doesn’t happen by magic,” said Gartland, who said the district is receiving renown both for its high achieving students and successful schools while fees foreign students pay help fund innovative technology and fill gaps in provincial funding.

Board chair Kerri Palmer Isaak said she and her trustee colleagues are supportive of Gartland’s travel because it brings benefits to the district.

“She’s still the steward of that [international education] program. She definitely oversees even though we have principals. It’s still part of her role,” said Palmer Isaak, who is the trustee representing Anmore/Belcarra.

Palmer Isaak told The Tri-City News she couldn’t comment on other districts' expenses but said Gartland’s are justified and help to make SD43 one of the highest-achieving school districts in the province.

The trips aren’t always for international education, Palmer Isaak noted, as the superintendent also goes to conferences to share strategies for incorporating technology into the school curriculum.

“We’re fully supportive of the the work she does. Our district has one of the top two graduation rates in province. We deliver incredible programming, wonderful programming. Her role and leadership in the district is unparalleled,” Palmer Isaak said, adding: “We are very far ahead in our initiatives.”

TRAVEL & MONEY

Here’s how SD43 superintendent Patricia Gartland travelled for International education:

• China, Nov. 9 to 14, 2018;

• United States, Dec. 1 to 6, 2018;

• France, March 30 to April 7, 2019;

• China, May 25 to June 2, 2019;

• and the U.S., June 22 to 26, 2019.

Meanwhile, other administrators who went on trips to promote SD43's international program, paid for from program revenues, were among those with the biggest expenses during the last school year. They are:

• Geoffrey Johnston, international ed. principal, $72,975;

• Shawn Silverstone, manager, $63,615;

• Troy Cunningham, co-ordinator, $54,050;

• Robert Lajoie, manager, $53,375;

• and Jean Wong, vice-principal, $51,648.

EXPENSES CHALLENGED

School district executive expenses came under the microscope recently after auditor general Carol Bellringer audited Victoria and Surrey school districts, where she examined the books to ensure expenses met the standards of districts' own policies and those of the provincial treasury board’s Core Policy and Procedures Manual. 

In August, Bellringer found Surrey was doing a “reasonable job” in managing executives’ expenses but suggested that some were “inconsistent” with policy, including a meal where $80 steaks were ordered.

Still, she found the school district expenses records were complete and accurately reported, although some, such as the steaks, were not adequately supported for business reasons.

Still, Bellringer, who retires Dec. 31, was unequivocal in her reasons for doing the audit and why the public should care about expenses of top executives in the public sector.

“Those at the top of an organization have significant influence over its culture and values. The public needs to have confidence that public sector executives adhere to the ethical principles of transparency and accountable spending. This sets the tone for responsible governance and is a good indicator of an organization’s practices for payments of staff expenses as a whole.”

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