Alberta School Boards Association spending habits under fire

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation wants the expenses and receipts of the Alberta School Boards Association posted online following emails that questioned the association’s use of funds for staff perks, travel and retreats.

Health Minister's emails questioned ASBA's use of funds for perks, travel

When Health Minister Sarah Hoffman was the Edmonton Public School Board chair in May, she questioned how the Alberta School Boards Association was spending funds in emails. (CBC)

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation wants the expenses and receipts of the Alberta School Boards Association posted online following emails that questioned the association's use of funds for staff perks, travel and retreats.

CTF obtained emails of Health Minister and former Edmonton Public School Board chair Sarah Hoffman and current EPSB chair Michael Janz that questioned if the ASBA is spending money appropriately.

"If these emails are true, and ASBA executives are indeed spending money on unnecessary flights, travel, hotel rooms for staff who live in the same city, and office space costing 20 times what they could be paying, then taxpayers need to be able to hold the ASBA to account," said Paige MacPherson, CTF's Alberta director.

MacPherson said immediate action must be taken.

"The Canadian Taxpayers Federation is calling on the education minister to withhold the ASBA's grant funding until they retroactively post their detailed expenses and receipts online for the last five years. Otherwise taxpayers won't know whom to hold to account. 

"It sounds like Minister Hoffman was right to question these expenses when she was serving as chair of the Edmonton Public School Board.

"Taking money out of the classroom because ASBA staff didn't feel like taking the bus from Calgary to Edmonton is unacceptable. That money should be directed to Alberta students, not staff perks."

In February, Hoffman, then-EPSB chair, requested the ASBA for a review of its spending.

Hoffman kept tabs on spending

"In general, I feel like there is a great deal of discretionary spending," she wrote in the email. "I have watched task forces come and go, and trips be taken without feeling well-informed on the costs and benefits."

On Monday, Hoffman reiterated a commitment to the proper spending of public funds.

"I think, especially when you're using public funds, it's important that you treat every dollar with the utmost respect. Any time that I've had concerns about that, I've made sure that I've noted them.

"I'm proud of what I've done in the past and where it's brought me today, and the fact that I continue to treat taxpayer dollars with the most respect."

Education Minister David Eggen said he will look into the situation.

"I expect the highest degree of transparency from all school boards in the province, and certainly we have had communications with all 61 boards as well as with the auditor general. So if we need to help expedite further levels of transparency, then that's fair play.

"I end up disseminating 98 per cent of the education budget down into school boards, so the responsibility for both transparency and careful, careful expenditure is passed on to them too."

Janz resigned "on principle" as vice-president of the ASBA in June, saying the organization's commitments did not "align with the current direction of the ASBA."

Emails sent from Janz prior to his resignation put a spotlight on expenses accrued by ASBA representatives on a trip to Washington for a conference on lobbying government.

The CTF said the ASBA will start disclosing expenses as of Jan. 1, 2016.


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