Consultant will review school district’s books

New Westminster school district is going ahead with hiring a consultant to figure out why it has a $2.8 million deficit for 2011-12, and develop a plan to erase the shortfall to present to the Ministry of Education.

In an announcement at Tuesday’s board of education meeting, chair James Janzen released a statement saying the consultant would also make recommendations on improving the district’s financial management.

The ministry had given the district until the end of the month to develop a business plan to eliminate the deficit. The board won’t meet again before the deadline.

Tuesday’s in-camera decision was accompanied by a statement that also outlined previously announced restrictions on overtime and hiring, and senior administration review. Trustee Casey Cook said the district and board will need time to work out the details of a recovery plan.

“Retiring a deficit of that magnitude you’re looking at a three- to five-year process. That’s what we have to present to the ministry, and we’ll see where we go with it,” said Cook, who welcomed the decision to hire a consultant.

“I’m in favour of third-party oversight on the issue. It’s a direction we had to go, and I’m hoping it’s a process that at the conclusion will make several recommendations in terms of process and organizational structure.”

The deficit is the third the district has experienced in the last 11 years, and the consultant will also be the third it has hired.

“It’s the will of the board to hire a consultant. I hear the concerns of the community that we have hired consultants in the past, and they don’t know which we followed and which we didn’t. I hope this occasion is different,” said trustee MaryAnn Mortensen, who is in her first year on the board.

District parent advisory council president Rob Peregoodoff said parents were expecting more from the board Tuesday. He said the consultant’s hiring increases the expectation of disclosure and transparency, and noted no timeline came with the board’s action.

“That was quite disappointing,” said Peregoodoff.

“What that means is many stakeholders are going to be spending time monitoring the situation instead of the job at hand which is pursuing excellence in education. The longer this cloud hangs over us the worse it gets. However, they do need to make sure they get it right, because there is no next time. This is the next time.”

He is also disappointed with the silence from the ministry.

“We assume they are monitoring the situation. Unfortunately I have heard nothing at all from the ministry about this, and that’s disconcerting. Parents and media should not be the only ones monitoring the situation,” said Peregoodoff.

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