School district expenses under scrutiny

As school district prepares to balance impending deficit for upcoming budget year, school district staff expenses are also facing a review.

As the school district prepares to wrestle with balancing the impending deficit for the upcoming budget year, school district staff expenses are also facing a review.

School Board chair Bobbi Johnson says the school board took a close look at expense items in the previous budget deliberations, as trustees were looking at all areas of the budget in order to make reductions with the least impact on student services.

“It gets scrutinized quite carefully at the board office. We get reports so we can see and ask questions.”

Employee expenses are defined by the school district’s statement of financial information as including: “payments to or on behalf of, the employee for approved school district business expenditures such as travel, professional development, and association memberships, incurred in the normal course of activities as an employee of the board.”

Johnson says there were cuts made to expense budgets last year and this may happen again during the upcoming budget discussions.

“Those are spots we’ll be nailing down again this year, as we have to find the money for the budget from somewhere.”

Expense amounts vary widely across the district. The highest expenses are logged by school district upper management, all of whom claimed between $11,000 and $22,500 in 2014.

Brenda O’Dell, president of the North Okanagan Shuswap Teacher’s Association noted there are differences between expense accounts for teachers and management staff.

“It seems some of those expense accounts  are among the highest in the province,” she said.

Sterling Olson, secretary-treasurer, says there is accountability in the expense process. Each school or district department has an expense budget and all requests for reimbursement must have receipts and be approved by the staff member’s supervisor. This can also be scrutinized by the board and administration.

“There are layers of approval to ensure all expenses incurred are appropriate and valid,” says Olson.

The board can review expenses; however, Johnson says it is not the board’s job to micromanage each cost.

“We have staff who are very knowledgeable and we respect their judgment on what (professional development) expenses are a worthwhile investment.”

Johnson reiterated that professional development activities by teachers and staff often have direct educational pay-offs to student learning.

Olson also points out that teachers, for example, have a certain amount of professional development funds earmarked in their employment benefit contract with the government, and cannot simply be cut from the district’s budget.

A full report on expenses submitted by employees and school district trustees is available for those employees making a salary of greater than $75,000 per year.

Remuneration and expenses 2014

• Glenn Borthistle, superintendent of school – $143,766 remuneration/  $20,363 expenses;

• Sterling Olson, secretary-treasurer – $128,137/$21,694;

• Morag Asquith, director of special education – $123,115/$15,211;

• Kyle Cormier, director of human resources – $103,891/$11,139;

• Wendy Woodhurst, director of instruction – $124,800/$22,162.