By Loreth Beswetherick
An ‘independent’ review into the funding Myrtle Philip elementary receives from School District 48 shows the school could have had a $100,000 operating budget surplus last year if it had hired one less teacher, operated with one less division and spent less on special education.
Myrtle Philip was, instead, struggling to meet a $25,000 to $30,000 shortfall, with parents chipping in to help with expenses for basics like school books.
The Myrtle Philip Parent Advisory Council said it is disappointed with the way the audit was handled and cannot validate the results due to the limited information provided.
"I don’t know if the conclusion reached is fair and accurate," said PAC treasurer Gary Pringle. "I wasn’t a part of the process and how they got there. My understanding was I was going to be a part of it and that I would have had the opportunity to ask questions and make sure we understood how it was being analysed but, that didn’t happen. We didn’t get the review we expected."
The audit was conducted for the Howe Sound School District by Tim Anderson and Stuart Hercus, the assistant superintendent and the secretary-treasurer of the Sunshine Coast School District which has operated under a site-based budgeting system for the last seven years. The audit itself was spurred by a PAC lobby to redress what appears to be funding formula inequities that left Myrtle Philip — the largest and fastest growing elementary school in the district — with the smallest operating budget after the district moved to a site-based management system.
The intent of the review was to discover if the district funding formula doesn’t pull through for a large and growing facility like Myrtle Philip or whether the school itself has an internal spending problem, as was suggested by District 48 superintendent Mike Fitzpatrick.
Principal Bob Daly and the PAC were initially optimistic about the independent review of its funding and spending. "We are very disappointed," Pringle told the PAC at their monthly meeting held March 9. "I was impressed with the way things started off but that was about it." Pringle said there was no follow-through with the PAC and Fitzpatrick did not report back as was expected.
Pringle said Anderson and Hercus met with Daly on a Friday last month, with a few hours notice, did a brief tour of the school and filed their report the following Monday. "To the best of my knowledge that was basically the end of the review." He said the audit may have been rushed because the Sunshine Coast District is heavily involved with CUPE negotiations.
The audit was tabled at the School District Board Meeting March 8.
The PAC was hoping Myrtle Philip would be compared to other schools within the district to see how they stacked up. "All they did was run our school through their models." said Pringle. "We don’t know how the other schools in this district would have rated."
The conclusion reached by the auditors is that the District 48 funding formula is equitable. "We are of the opinion that the lack of surplus at MPCS at June 30, 1999, was a result of spending decisions. This is evidenced by an overspending in special education and the decision to retain extra teaching staff. The school, in our opinion, could have been run with one less division. Had the special education expenses equalled the allocation and one less teacher been in place, MPCS would have enjoyed a $100,000 surplus. In this current year, the school could be operated with at least one less division."
The auditors said they reached their conclusion by:
o Reviewing the Howe Sound funding formula in relation to the funding allocation from the province;
o Comparing the formula to the one used on the Sunshine Coast;
o Examining the starting point to see if the results of the previous centralized system affected the implementation of site-based budgeting;
o Reviewing the spending levels at schools, particularly comparing MPCS with other facilities;
o Ascertaining there is a method of reviewing the allocation system;
o Examining the particular allocation of funds at MPCS;
o Reviewing the operation at MPCS to understand whether:- (a) external influences affected funding levels; (b) there are sufficient funds to operate the school and; (c) there are any obvious deficiencies not being addressed at school level.
The conclusion is there is enough money to run the school and that the funding formula is reasonable. The auditors also feel there is an adequate review system in place.
The report went on to say staffing decisions at Myrtle Philip are made by school administration without staff or parent consultation. "From our experience, involvement of other parties in these discussions alleviates concerns as the parties understand the decision made."
The auditors said Myrtle Philip has "enjoyed smaller class sizes than we would have experienced in our own school district. Maybe the value of this to the students is greater than having surplus funds left over at the end of the year."
The PAC had found, however, that compared to other schools in this district, Myrtle Philip was not richly staffed with the student-educator ratio being somewhere in the middle range.
Pringle said his indications are that if one less teacher had been hired, classes would have had to have been disrupted and split once, twice and maybe three times during the year as new students arrived and new divisions were created. He said spending less on help for special needs students will also impact on a teacher’s productivity in the classroom.
Pringle said the review calls on the school to make some tough decisions and parents will now have to decide whether they want to spend PAC cash to hire an independent auditor or whether they want to put that money toward supporting the school.
Daly, diplomatic on the issue, said simply that from his perspective, the audit has been done. It is now up to the PAC to chose what to do with it.
One parent said the audit smacks of a political manoeuvre to keep parents quiet. "This doesn’t satisfy anything. It just raises a lot more questions."
Parent Cathy Jewett asked if Myrtle Philip had been compared to other facilities with comparable growth rates. "That is the first of 3,000 questions," said Pringle. "I don’t know if we are prepared to spend more money on this or not. I am very frustrated."
Pringle said nothing can be changed for the next financial year and the most prudent move right now is for the PAC to see that it is involved with Daly in the budgeting process from the beginning. That process is currently underway for the next school year.
The PAC will be formulating an official response to the audit and Pringle will be meeting shortly with Whistler school trustee Andrée Janyk to discuss the review. Janyk said she has not had an in-depth look at the report but she said on the surface it seems reasonable. "The school made some spending decisions ... probably to the benefit of the children," said Janyk. "It was a difficult task last year," she said of the move to site-based budgeting. "We were all making new decisions. It was a new experience but we grow from those experiences."