News

School District 67 quiet on $20,000-plus expense club

Invoice for FOI request for details about employee expenses

Four school district administrators last year booked expenses totalling nearly $83,000, and the price for details of the claims isn’t cheap either.

In January, the Okanagan Skaha School District provided the Western News a $40 cost estimate to fulfill a freedom of information request for copies of documents used to support the expense claims.

An invoice arrived in late February for $182.27.

“This is one of the games that government agencies play to limit accountability. Whether they mean to or not, they’re sending a message to the public that says, ‘We don’t have to disclose how we’re spending their money,” said Jordan Batemen, the B.C. director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“But the bottom line here is, expenses, especially those by senior executives, are very standard things for governments to disclose.”

The total expense amounts are contained in the annual statement of financial information prepared by the Okanagan Skaha School District for the year ended June 30, 2013.

No district employees had expenses over $20,000 in 2011 or 2012, but four eclipsed the mark last year: facilities director Doug Gorcak; superintendent Wendy Hyer; retired secretary-treasurer and now director of business development Ron Shongrunden; and retired payroll manager Lynda Warr.

According to other Okanagan school districts’ statements of financial information, there were only two other administrators in the entire region outside Penticton who had expenses over $20,000 in 2013.

None of the three active employees on the Okanagan Skaha list responded to an email request for information about their expenses, except for Hyer, who directed questions to secretary-treasurer Bonnie Roller Routley.

Roller Routley was unable to provide specifics of the expense claims.

“Two of those people retired and I do believe there is some allocation with regard to their retirement included in those expenses,” she said.

“And I think the other major thing that I see here is we went to the MasterCard this year, and I believe that’s allowing us to not (only) track things better, but in a different manner.”

In a letter that accompanied the invoice for $182, which covered 8.9 hours of staff time and 47 photocopies, Roller Routley stated “it took longer for staff to retrieve and copy the information than we had anticipated” at the time the $40 quote was provided.

She declined to waive the charge for the information package in the public interest.

“I’m not prepared to just hand over the information, because it did in fact take us that much time to get the information together. The quote was unfortunate, but it was just a quote,” she said.

The Western News has filed a complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for B.C. regarding the cost of the FOI response package, which is still at the school district office.

School board chairman Bruce Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.

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