British Columbia

VSB audit recommends trustees stop acting as advocates, start acting as stewards

The 28 recommendations also call on the VSB to reduce facility and labour costs and transfer partial interest in Kingsgate Mall to the province. Ex-trustee Patti Bacchus criticized that idea as a short-sighted move.

Results of audit 'troubling,' says Education Minister Mike Bernier

Education Minister Mike Bernier fired all nine elected Vancouver School Board trustees in October and on Friday publicly released a forensic audit of the VSB. (Frederic Janvier Gagnon/CBC)

Education Minister Mike Bernier reiterated past criticisms of the Vancouver School Board on Friday after a forensic audit ordered by the province was released.

Special advisor Peter Milburn, who conducted the audit, wrote his findings "are in line with other reviews of the VSB in recent years" and the VSB not passing a balanced budget was "intentional and deliberately undertaken as a means of protesting the level of funding provided."

"What I find most troubling in the special advisor's report is how the Vancouver School Board allowed money to be tied up in inefficiencies, rather than spent in classrooms, in services to students and on teachers," Bernier said, reading from a prepared statement on a conference call with media.

"Stability has been put at risk by overstaffing compared to other school districts, labour agreements driving additional call-out, duplication and idle time and a failure to use surplus real estate like the Kingsgate Mall to set a new path for fiscal sustainability."

Milburn wrote even passing a balanced budget this year will not address underlying issues because of the VSB suspending school-closure consultations.

Among the 28 recommendations were directives to trustees "to conduct themselves in accordance with their role as stewards rather than advocates," lower facility costs and reduce the costs in its collective agreements with employees.

The audit also recommends the VSB "work with the province to develop viable options for achieving early value (revenue) from the transfer of a partial interest in the Kingsgate Mall to the province."

Steward and advocate roles intertwined, says fired trustee

Patti Bacchus, one of the fired trustees, told On The Coast guest host Gloria Macarenko that there was nothing "forensic" about the audit, as no wrongdoing found, and nowhere in the report was it recommended the board be fired.

She rejects the report's findings of overstaffing, saying hundreds of positions have been cut over the years.

"The report, drawn up mainly by accountants, separates the roles of stewards and advocates. Well, my view as an elected official is those two roles are intertwined," she said. "To be an effective steward you have to be an effective advocate."

Bacchus says selling off assets like Kingsgate Mall would only be a short-term fix and would not bring in as much money as suggested because it is in the midst of a long-term lease.

She says the troubles in Vancouver are, at the root, a problem of underfunding by the province.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

To hear the full story, click the audio labelled: VSB audit recommends trustees stop acting as advocates, start acting as stewards


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