Au­di­tor gen­eral finds money for boards with lo­cal P3 schools

Cape Breton Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY TOM AY­ERS

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.

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