Mock audit saves Okanagan school district money

Consultant hired to see if schools follow the rules when they claim supplemental funds for aboriginal students

It cost a little over $3,000, but a mock audit of the Okanagan Skaha School District’s aboriginal education program probably helped preserve funding worth many times that amount.

In October, following the loss of two staff members to the Penticton Indian Band, the district hired a consultant to assess its aboriginal programs and services to make sure it was in compliance with requirements set out by the Ministry of Education to receive supplemental funding.

Last year, the amount was $1,160 for each of the district’s 661 aboriginal students, which totalled $766,760.

Consultant Ross Spina, a retired Kamloops school administrator, wrote in his summary report that the district provides a “rich and wide array” of programs and services for its First Nations learners. However, he discovered ministry criteria were not being met and the district was at risk of losing a “significant” amount of funding if the problems weren’t corrected.

He then spent two days working with principals and aboriginal education staff to help them get on track.

Don MacIntyre, the district’s director of instruction, said most of the problems stemmed from issues with documentation.

For example, the district will now send a letter home at the beginning of each school year with each aboriginal student to inform parents about what programs and services are available. The letter must be signed and returned to the school, but in the past, MacIntyre said, just sending the letter home was thought to be enough.

“That’s a piece of what we cleaned up through the mock audit that really helped us when the actual audit occurred,” he said.

The actual audit, which was looked at the district’s enrollment as a whole, happened in May and Hyer said seven of 42 files aboriginal student files reviewed did not meet requirements.

Spina’s invoice, obtained through a freedom of information request, totalled $2,562.30, which included two days’ work, three meals and mileage. The district also spent $255.53 on dinner at La Casa Ouzeria. MacIntyre said 14 administrators involved with the audit attended the Sunday night working dinner.

He said the upscale Italian eatery was an appropriate choice “to acknowledge the fact they’re giving up personal family time on a Sunday evening.”

Superintendent Wendy Hyer said such mock audits are “common practice” to protect supplementary funding that is at risk if complex ministry guidelines aren’t followed precisely.

Auditors, she said, “never come in trying to give you money; they always come in trying to take money away.”