Lack of school board oversight appalls minister, but no commitment yet for a fix

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School District has a plan to fix its problems with financial oversight — but the government is taking a wait-and-see approach to delivering the $2 million needed to put that plan in place. 

"There is a budgetary process that we go through … We will look at the budgets that we have," said Al Hawkins, minister of Advanced Education and Skills, during question period Tuesday at the House of Assembly. 

"We will work within the resources that we have and will work with the school board to ensure that these checks and balances are in place to make sure that these things do not happen in the future."

Bruce Tilley/CBC

Auditor General Julia Mullaley issued a scathing report in September about endemic financial oversight issues at the district. 

Specific issues included school board employees:

  • Breaking tendering rules.  
  • Appearing to have taken gifts from vendors who did business with the district.  
  • Charging taxpayers for things like high-end clothing and accessories. 

On Nov. 4, school board trustees unanimously approved a plan to address the problems. It's estimated it would cost upwards of $2 million in each of the first two years to put new financial systems in place, then a consistent $1.3 million a year for staffing costs after that.

Hawkins admitted during question period that the auditor general's report was "certainly not something that any of us on this side of the House would be proud of" and "totally unacceptable."

But when pressed by PC MHA David Brazil on whether he would commit to giving the district the money it needs to implement those new financial systems, Hawkins would not say yes. 

Rob Antle/CBC

"There are opportunities to look at synergies, and opportunities within the finance department and some other departments to work with to ensure that we have the proper checks and balances in place and that the English school board will have the resources that are necessary."

With files from Rob Antle and Katie Breen

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador