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Enrolment audit carries considerable cost

Six auditors who spent a week inspecting enrolment data at local schools this past May charged $500 a day for their services.

Five of the auditors billed for six days’ work, which included travel days from the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island, while the team leader billed for 10 days to also prepare for the audit and put together a draft report for the Ministry of Education.

The auditors’ invoices and other expense claims were obtained by the Western News through a freedom of information request. All told, the audit cost $28,512 and was paid for by the Okanagan Skaha School District. The bulk of the cost, $20,000, was the auditors’ fees, while the rest covered travel and other expenses.

“There’s no question it’s expensive and any fees that we have to pay takes away from the classroom,” said school board chair Ginny Manning.

“However, it is also part of doing business. They come in and we don’t have a choice in the matter.”

The auditors, she said, are not accountants, but rather ex-school administrators who have knowledge of the school funding models they’re asked to investigate to ensure compliance with government rules.

Usually the audits identify money the Ministry of Education can claw back from districts. In this case, the auditors found $21,000 to which the district was not entitled, mostly due to insufficient documentation. The money was not taken away, however, because the audit report was delayed past its appeal date by teachers’ job action.

According to the notes attached to the auditors’ expense claims, the team arrived in Penticton on Sunday, May 13, and left on Friday, May 18.

While in Penticton, auditors stayed in hotel rooms that cost $115 to $125 per night, which required permission in advance to exceed the $90 rate cap the government has in place for that time of year. Each auditor received $49 a day for meals and worked 12 to 14 hours each day.

The team also rented an SUV in Kelowna at a cost of $623 for the week. The other two team members drove their personal vehicles from Vancouver and Coquitlam and were reimbursed $456 and $410, respectively, which was just slightly more than airfare, but saved money by eliminating the need for an additional rental vehicle, according to the notes.

Education Ministry spokesperson Matt Silver said via email that the audit was the first in the district since 1999 and looked at multiple aspects of enrolment, such as supplemental funding claims for Aboriginal students, at five different schools.

He said the audits provide assurance to government and taxpayers that education dollars are being distributed fairly and according to established funding formulas, and that if the team members worked 14 hours a day, their pay equalled about $35 an hour, “which is well within (the) expected rate for an auditor.”

Silver also pointed out that some auditors charge much more than $500, including the person the district hired in October 2011 at $750 a day to conduct a mock audit on its aboriginal education program.

NDP education critic Robin Austin didn’t take issue with the auditors’ expenses.

“That’s what they earn these days,” he said. “That’s not out of line with what I would expect.”

However, the two-term Skeena MLA said the audit is another example of costs the provincial government is downloading onto school boards, while not helping cover the increased costs of things like MSP premiums and utility bills.

“All of those increased costs over the last 10 years have been paid out of your school budgets,” Austin said.

While he stopped short of making any funding commitments, the NDP critic said if his party forms government after next spring’s provincial election, it will put its money where its mouth is.

“We are going to ensure that when we make a decision that we pay for it,” he said.

 

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