The Western School District says many of the problems recently outlined by the auditor general trace back to the rapid growth that occurred after several smaller boards amalgamated in 2004.
In January, then-Auditor General Wayne Loveys issued a 60-page report outlining "significant issues" with the district’s human resource practices, including such things as recruitment, compensation, and monitoring of leave and overtime.
Director of education and CEO Ross Elliott said officials focused on their number-one priority — providing students with the best education possible — at times to the detriment of administrative procedures and protocols.
"During the time that we have been together as a school district, our focus — our main focus — has been on the learning of students, on reading and writing, and all of those things," Elliott told a hearing of the legislature’s public accounts committee Thursday.
Effort has also gone into the professional development of teachers, he noted.
"If I can use an overused analogy, our experience has been a little bit like, perhaps, refitting a 747 while keeping it in smooth flight," Elliott said.
The flight part, he noted, is the focus on students and their needs.
The refitting of the organization is important, but supports that goal.
In his report, the AG found occasions when the Public Tender Act was not followed, plus weak travel, cell phone and car policies.
One unnamed school charged booze, personal cellphones, computers and even a wicker chair set to the board. The items were not subsequently located.
Elliott said in January that the spending sparked an RCMP investigation. No charges were ever laid.
Policies and procedures
Tory MHA Kevin Parsons, who sits on the public accounts committee, said he was satisfied with the board’s answers, but wondered why it took so long to get matters sorted out.
Western School District officials said some procedures were in place during the era in question, but the sheer volume of work got larger, and it took time to get the right number of staff in place to meet the new needs.
'If I can use an overused analogy, our experience has been a little bit like, perhaps, refitting a 747 while keeping it in smooth flight.' —Ross Elliott
"We live in changing times," Elliott said. "One of those changing times was the general increase in funding and the greater volume of everything from purchasing to accounting to everything else that occurred at the school level and at the district level."
Officials now feel the board is appropriately staffed, and is in a good position to implement the auditor general’s recommendations.
Elliott and other Western School District staffers appeared in the legislature Thursday to answer questions from MHAs on the public accounts committee.
After a long slumber, the committee — which acts as the house of assembly’s spending watchdog — recently held its first public hearing in nearly seven years.
The Western School District hearing was the second to be held by the newly-reconstituted committee.