The New Westminster school district has hired a consultant to review last year's $2.8-million surprise deficit and help develop a plan to recover the hefty shortfall, despite criticism from a local parent over the cost of hiring yet another consultant.
Joan Axford, who has extensive experience in school finance at the district and provincial level, will assist with a review of the district's operating budget, said a media release. Axford currently serves on the board of trustees for the B.C. teachers' pension plan and was appointed to the board by the provincial government in 2001. Axford also provides consulting services to school districts and other organizations in the province, the release states.
"We are extremely fortunate to have Ms. Axford working with us as part of our deficit recovery process," board of education chair James Janzen said in the release. "Her depth of experience in the area of school finance, her background and expertise with budget processes, and her provincial reputation and experience in working with the Ministry of Education will assist us greatly in developing an effective budget development and management plan that will serve us well in the months and years to come."
The board had passed what it thought was a balanced budget last spring, including an extra $521,000 to pay off a previous deficit. By law, school districts have to present balanced budget to the Ministry of Education.
This isn't the first time the district has brought in a consultant to review its books. In 2008/09, when the district was dealing with a more than $3 million deficit, David Yuen, a former Vancouver school district secretary treasurer, was brought in and paid $40,000 for his services. At the time, Doug Wong was the secretary-treasurer. Wong's contract was not renewed after that year. In 2001, a consultant was also hired to review the budget when the district faced a $1.4-million deficit.
Rob Peregoodoff, district parent advisory council chair, told The Record last month that the board of education should refer to previous consultants' reports before it spends more money on another consultant. But board chair James Janzen said each year is different.
Janzen said the district plans to spend $15,000 for the consultant.
Axford will work with the district examine operations and determine factors for the deficit, determine the areas and amounts that led to the deficit and which of these are ongoing and which were one-time-only, the release said. She will also review this year's budget to determine if it is affected by any ongoing expenditures that led to the $2.8-million deficit, and recommending revisions, as needed.
She will also review the measures taken by the school district in 2008/09, when it also faced a multi-million-dollar deficit to determine which of these measures can be continued, the release said.
Axford will prepare a deficit repayment plan that is "manageable" and develop a stakeholder consultation process that provides information about the deficit and provides recovery options and their implications, the release said. The process will include hearing feedback from stakeholders on the options and their implications.
She will also review the district's overall budget structure and determine ways to improve it, the release noted.