Calgary

Education minister orders audit of Calgary Board of Education, accusing it of 'mismanagement'

Alberta's education minister has ordered a provincial review of the Calgary Board of Education — just two years after the last one — accusing the public school board of "reckless" misspending and criticizing a CBE decision to cut 300 temporary teachers after the UCP reduced its provincial funding.

CBE says they are confident in their financial and governance practices

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange had ordered an independent financial audit of the Calgary Board of Education as well as a governance review. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Alberta's education minister has ordered a provincial review of the Calgary Board of Education — just two years after the last one — accusing the public school board of "reckless" misspending and criticizing a CBE decision to cut 300 temporary teachers after the UCP reduced its provincial funding.

On Tuesday, the CBE said it had cut 300 temporary teacher contracts after the United Conservative Party's November budget reduced the board's provincial funding by $32 million.

The government funding cut came even though Calgary schools already had many costs locked in since the academic year had started months earlier and even though enrolment had jumped by nearly 2,400 students from the previous year — the equivalent of four large elementary schools.

The CBE also said class sizes were likely to go up as staffing was reduced and busing fees would increase to help make up the provincial funding shortfall.

On Wednesday, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said she was ordering a independent financial audit and governance review, stating there was no reason that a board with an operating budget of $1.2 billion servicing 130,000 students should be cutting teaching positions.

"The Calgary Board of Education has a history of questionable, irresponsible decision-making when it comes to its finances," LaGrange alleged in a news release.

"In 2010-11, the board trustees locked themselves into an expensive, 20-year lease in which they are paying more than it would cost them to purchase the building."

The lease was signed while Calgary property values were at their highest before the economic downturn after global oil prices tanked in 2014.

LaGrange also mentioned that a 2018 operational review of the board by the province — then under the previous NDP government — found the CBE had recorded $9.1 million as instructional costs rather than administrative overhead in its accounting. The bookkeeping error had no impact on the board's bottom line.

"The reckless misuse of taxpayer dollars by this board cannot be allowed to continue," LaGrange said in the release. "I will be ordering an independent financial audit of the Calgary Board of Education as well as a governance review. There is a clear pattern of mismanagement by this board that must be corrected.

The same provincial audit ultimately offered no recommendations on how the school board could improve its service.

The review found that the CBE's funding, expenses and spending allocations were comparable to the other three metro  school boards in the province.

Although the board was found to have the highest administrative costs of the four, the CBE still fell under the 3.6 per cent of its budget it is allowed to spend on administration in line with Alberta Education guidelines.

CBE says it will be 'fully cooperative' in any review

The CBE responded to LaGrange's attack on Wednesday, pointing out that the provincial review found that its spending "was in line with those of other large school boards in the province."

"In a large organization that welcomes all students and serves very diverse needs, we have made decisions within the financial constraints under which we operate," it said in a statement provided to CBC News on Wednesday and attributed to the board of trustees.

"We are extremely proud of the work staff do each day across the system to ensure students are at the forefront of everything we do."

The CBE said it was committed to being "fully cooperative" in any review process.

"We are confident in our sound financial and governance practices," the statement reads.

"We submit all required financial information to the ministry monthly, quarterly and annually. We continue to receive clean audits that show our financial results are fully compliant with legislation, regulation and Canadian accounting standards."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

now