Auditor general finds money for boards with local P3 schools
SYDNEY — Nova Scotia’s auditor general looked into contract arrangements between school boards and public-private partnerships operating P3 schools last year and has found some money local boards should have collected.
Officials at the Strait Regional School Board and the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board have assured the auditor general’s office that the money owed is being collected, but the provincial auditor’s report is also being held up by officials at the Canadian Union of Public Employees as a “scathing indictment” of P3 contracts.
“First of all, kudos to (auditor general) Jacques Lapointe and his staff for confirming what CUPE has been saying since the get-go — that the contracts for Nova Scotia’s P3 schools were nothing more than a licence to print money for the private partners,” said CUPE president Danny Cavanagh.
The auditor general’s report, issued Wednesday, identified what Lapointe called “significant weaknesses in both the contracts for management of P3 schools and the processes and procedures which ensure services paid for are received.”
The Strait region has seven P3 schools — five of them in Cape Breton — and the Cape BretonVictoria region has six P3 schools.
The report found that boards with P3 schools had not been reimbursed $864,000 for cost-ofliving adjustments under subcontracts involving cleaning and maintenance staff, despite the fact the P3 management companies had received that money from the province.
In the Strait region’s case, the shortfall would not have been noticed without the provincial audit, the report also says.
Strait school board superintendent Jack Beaton said since the audit identified the shortfall last year, the Strait board has received the $220,000 it was owed from the P3 developer for the previous two years under its contract.
“ We are up to date now,” he said Wednesday.
The auditor general also found the Cape Breton-Victoria board was short about $21,000 over two years under its contract, an amount that essentially doubled the cost because the developer had been paid the amount by the province, but the school board had incurred a deficit in those years and deficits are required to be funded out of existing money.
In its response to the auditor general, the Cape Breton-Victoria board said the payments were expected to be received by the end of 2009. Superintendent Ed Davis was unavailable for comment Wednesday.
Lapointe also found a number of contractual requirements involving some staff at P3 schools that were not met, including child abuse and criminal record checks, first-aid training and fire safety inspections.
“If I’m a parent with a child in a P3 school, I would be very con- cerned about these findings,” said Cavanagh.
The Education Department said in its response to the auditor general’s report that “gaps” in contract standards occurred and the department “will work with the relevant school boards to ensure that all checks and training are done in advance of employment within school facilities.”
Beaton said all Strait region employees, even those in P3 schools, are covered by board policy on criminal record and child abuse registry checks. And, he said, the board was in the process of implementing new fire safety and first-aid regulations while the audit was being conducted, and all the schools are now in compliance.
“All of those issues were covered off,” said Beaton.