Divisions on the board of education were evident at Tuesday's committee meeting, where Voice New Westminster trustees continued their ongoing call for more financial information and the immediate intervention of the auditor general to help the district deal with a looming $2.2-million deficit for this year.
Voice trustees MaryAnn Mortensen, Casey Cook and Lisa Graham have been calling on staff to provide a line-by-line account of the district's spending since the district first noted a $2.8-million surprise deficit from last year. A consultant hired by the district to look at the books also projected a hefty multi-million dollar deficit for this year if the district doesn't start making cuts.
"I want to know who manages what budget, how much they were budgeted, how much they spent and the difference between the two and all of the categories," said Mortensen. "Really, what we want to look at is where we can make cuts, where there is over-expenditures. We need to know what those are. Without having that knowledge, I'm hard pressed to give an answer."
Mortensen told The Record that district administration told her there isn't time for one or more people to focus specifically on providing that information.
Labour-endorsed trustee Jonina Campbell said she agrees detailed information is needed for next year's budget, but noted there is a tight time crunch to get the budget under control this year.
"I think what you are looking at is more of a financial oversight, which won't necessarily help in this situation, but it's a good idea down the road," said Campbell.
Superintendent John Woudzia also emphasized the tight timeline.
"Time is of the essence," he said. "We have 20 weeks to retire $2.2 million."
In response to the deficit situation, the board previously passed a motion to have the auditor general come in and review its finances.
At Tuesday's board meeting, labour-endorsed trustees James Janzen and Michael Ewen said they believed that motion meant to have the auditor general oversee the district's repayment plan for last year's $2.8 million deficit.
"My sense of the motion that we passed was that the auditor general would monitor our repayment plan to the provincial government," said Janzen, who warned that trustees must understand motions before they vote.
"We have asked the auditor general to monitor our deficit recovery," Ewen said.
But Cook said the motion stated the auditor general would monitor the implementation of this year's budget. When the actual motion was read out, Ewen said he and Janzen's interpretation was wrong. (The motion was the board "request the office of the auditor general monitor the implementation of the 2012/13 amended budget and the board's deficit repayment plan" for last year's deficit.)
Cook said he wanted the auditor general to help the board understand how the cuts will impact the district down the road.
"What really frightens me, by the moves we are making short-term, are we are actually doing ourselves more harm?" Cook asked. "We have to pay the piper some day."
Labour-endorsed trustee David Phelan agreed with Cook's call for the board to be cautious with cuts, despite time restraints.
"We are rushed for time ... but at the same time we have to make sure we are making the right decision for the district for the next four or five years," he said.
The district is currently in contact with the auditor general's office.
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