Spending should have been wiser

The recent school closure announcements in Trout Creek and Penticton raise several concerns regarding the overall use of our tax money.

Dear Editor:

The recent school closure announcements in Trout Creek and Penticton raise several concerns regarding the overall use of our tax money by the school district and the trustees’ ability to conduct sound budget planning and financial management.

A recent example that is evident of this is the board’s short-sighted view where they spent about $40,000 on new kitchen and other equipment at McNicoll Park Middle School, only a few months before their announcement in October that they would close the school.

In addition, SD 67 will continue with the installation of dark fibre networks at Trout Creek Elementary even though the school will be closed. They had apparently prepaid the $50,000 installation cost through the 2015 financial year budget. Just these two budget lines demonstrate a total of $90,000 that could have been utilized for better purposes.

Trout Creek has one of the largest combined developments underway in the Summerland/ Penticton area with 74 new lots available (suitable for families) and numerous additional new houses under construction.

The trustees’ lack of interest to budget for growth in this area will leave them with a big problem (Giant’s Head school will be over-capacity within the next year or two. Depending on capacity used, it is already over capacity at the start of the new school year).

This raises the overall concern of the board’s ability to make long term educational decisions in the best interest of the students, which include the period after submitting their 2016/2017 financial budget. Long term planning, thinking and risk management are critical when handling the public’s money.

Only the school board can appoint a special advisor to assist these matters, which is very ironic, as the school board can’t seem to see any problems with their budget and related process.

The 2015 Special Advisor’s review of the Vancouver Board of Education (District 39) resulted in many findings that could benefit other school districts or result in provincial policy changes.

One of the critical findings in the SD 39 review was the “Limited Financial Oversight at Board Level” and it is recommended that the board establish an audit committee to improve the strength of the board’s fiduciary oversight.

This is already being used by the Richmond School District and is a legislative requirement in the Province of Ontario.

Implementation of an audit committee of the board with external members will help ensure that the necessary skills and expertise are in place.

These types of tools are common in private industry to oversee major initiatives, contribute to sound fiscal management, and as a tool to provide the board with objective and independent advice.

This might prevent the board from missing crucial financial information, like the fact that Trout Creek actually received a small community grant, or other information that has an impact on our children/students and our tax money.

Helena van der Vyver