Education Minister fed up with Catholic board finances
Ontario's Ministry of Education is fed up with the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board's inability to balance its budget.
It's reviewing the board's finances — again. Last year, the province looked at the books at the board's request.
Wednesday, a ministry official scolded the board in a scathing email sent exclusively to CBC News.
"There are ongoing financial issues that this board has faced. In spite of support from the province, and a Price Waterhouse Coopers audit, the board still struggles to deliver balanced budgets," wrote Gabrielle Gallant, legislative and issues advisor.
"They have a history of developing overly optimistic annual budgets.
"In fact, last year they projected a balanced budget but will actually be increasing their accumulated deficit by $400,000, instead of reducing it like they planned.
"This is in spite of an increase in per pupil funding of over 60 per cent. Since 2003, we’ve increased per pupil funding from $4,300 to over $11,000."
Board chair Barb Holland insists the board's budget is balanced.
Earlier Wednesday, Holland claimed the timing of the review is suspicious.
She wondered if the investigation had to do with the board's dissatisfaction with the province's handling of teacher contracts.
"I find it interesting that suddenly the board is being looked at again for its finances. Is that a coincidence or is it punitive?" Holland asked.
However, Holland told CBC News her biggest issue with the pending contract is seniority.
"Our priority is to put the best, most qualified person in front of a classroom of students not the next person with the most seniority," Holland said.
However, in a memo the Ministry of Education sent Tuesday to Ontario’s directors of education, the ministry stressed to them all that boards are required, by law, to provide balanced budgets.
Province could step in
"As you know, under the Education Act, school boards are required to submit balanced budgets. In addition to being balanced, budgets must be financially sustainable over the longer term. This means that local bargaining outcomes must align with the provincial funding framework," the ministry wrote.
In fact, the ministry warned that if any local boards refuse to agree to the new collective agreement it risks the province stepping in.
"Concluding local bargaining outside the terms of the provincial funding framework would raise concerns about a board’s ability to meet its financial obligations, at which point, the minister could decide to exercise her powers as set out in the Education Act, to put the board on a more sustainable footing."
Earlier this year, CBC Windsor was the first to report the board was the only one in the province to have a deficit.
"It goes without saying there has been some mismanagement. One of the big-ticket items is capital projects. That money affects the kids," local union president Brian Hogan said.
He said his local accepts the new collective agreement. He also welcomes a provincial review.
"Assessing their books is well overdue," Hogan said. "I’ll leave it up to the government. If they see the board isn’t really doing right by the employees and students and they take over we’ll work with them."