Nova Central trustee critical of Eastern booze bills

A trustee in central Newfoundland says it was no surprise to hear of the Eastern School District's spending on questionable alcohol and meal purchases.

Kerry Noble criticizes 'double standard' in expense claims

Nova Central trustee Kerry Noble is not surprised by reports of questionable spending at Eastern School District. (CBC)

A trustee with the Nova Central school board says it was no surprise to hear of the Eastern School District's spending on questionable alcohol and meal purchases.

An exclusive CBC News report this week found that trustees with the Eastern School District spent more than $10,000 on two parties, including a booze bill that totalled in the thousands.

Kerry Noble, a trustee with the Nova Central school board, says the news didn't come as a shock.

"I'd say it's been going on for years," he told CBC Radio’s Central Morning on Wednesday.

"It's been a well-known fact amongst the trustee group, that there's been a double standard. That's been our feeling."

He says there are close ties between the Eastern board and the Department of Education.

Letters from education minister

According to Noble, last June, Education Minister Clyde Jackman sent two letters to the province's school boards asking them to declare their expenses on alcohol and travel.

He says in the year prior to those letters, Nova Central spent a total of $121 on alcohol. That amount was spent on table wine at an annual Christmas social, totalling one bottle of wine per table.

As per Jackman's request, the Eastern School District changed its entertainment policy earlier this year, from the "moderate and reasonable" purchase of alcoholic beverages to "one glass per person at district retirement functions."

Travel expenses also examined

Noble says Nova Central's total expenses for the year were less than $78,000.

"That includes all of the travel for all of the volunteer trustees throughout the district to attend board meetings, committee meetings, school board consultations with student councils, teacher liaison committee meetings, and so on," he said.

"We had some weekend retreats where we would have done some work on our policies, bylaws, constitution, that sort of thing. And all of that money came out of our total budget."

In contrast, the Eastern School District spent nearly $50,000 in one year to attend conferences mostly outside of Newfoundland and Labrador.

When the board was asked to review its travel expenditures last fall, chair Milton Peach said they cut it down by 50 per cent. Now only the chair plus two trustees can travel outside the province for professional development.

Noble says he has attended three conferences, all locally, for the Newfoundland and Labrador School Boards Association.

‘Good stewards of the public purse’

Noble says he couldn't comment on how the Eastern School District approved its expenses, but maintains that his board takes care of public funds.

"In my [eight] years at Nova Central as a trustee, I've worked with, under the direction of, three CEOs of education, and we've always been good stewards of the public purse," he said.

"We've never overspent on alcohol. We've never overspent on trustee travel. So we've not had to revise our policies. We've always done the right thing, and we will continue to do so."

Noble says he's concerned that overspending will just get worse when the school boards are amalgamated in the fall. All four English boards will be collapsed into one superboard, based in St. John’s.

"If you continue to allow this organization to grow larger and larger, then this expense on alcohol and travel — it's just only one example of the inefficiencies that you're going to see in the whole system."