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School district spending spurs outrage

No reprimand for Department of Education employee who got new tires for car at district’s expense

An internal investigation has seen no discipline or further investigation after an employee of the Department of Education was implicated in a scathing report from Auditor General Julia Mullaley.

Mullaley’s review, released on Wednesday, uncovered a raft of questionable purchases made through the facilities branch of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD), amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of missing equipment from the district, as well as potentially millions of dollars in misspent public funds.

The report found some of the 10 to 12 staff of the facilities branch were responsible for years of financial mismanagement, which could see a number of former school district employees facing criminal charges.

One incident cited in the report saw 67 tires purchased by the NLESD, only to turn up on the cars of employees of the NLESD and on at least one car owned by an employee of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

The department says it was made aware of the incident, but there was no reprimand for the departmental employee involved.

“When department officials were made aware of the situation, an internal process took place that included a thorough investigation by the Office of the Comptroller General,” reads a statement from the department.

“After this review, it was determined that no disciplinary action or further investigation was required.”

While a “handful” of people from the NLESD have been terminated and could face criminal charges as a result of their involvement in the spending scandal, no one from the Department of Education has faced a similar fate to date.

Procurement reviews underway

Sherry Gambin-Walsh, minister responsible for the Government Purchasing Agency, says she is unaware of any concerns in other government organizations about potential misuse of public funds.

Gambin-Walsh says new legislation governing public procurement, which came into effect in March, provides tools for the Government Purchasing Agency to stop any shady practices that may be happening on government’s watch.

“We do have full audit authority here. We can go in and we can ask for what we need,” said Gambin-Walsh.

Currently, three reviews of public procurement practices are underway: at Eastern Health, the City of St. John’s and the NLESD.

Gambin-Walsh says those three bodies were chosen to be reviewed first due to the large amount of public procurement each take part in.

There are no timelines for when the reviews will be completed, as they began only in recent weeks.

The audits — headed by chief procurement officer Heather Tizzard, who was appointed on Aug. 6 — will look at what’s happening with government procurement and make recommendations for further investigation by the auditor general, or even by police.

Under the new legislation, Nalcor is also eligible to be reviewed, though there are no plans for such a review at this time.

Eventually, all government agencies will be reviewed as part of the work of the legislation. The final reports will not automatically be released publicly, but they will be available to the public upon request.

Outrage from school councils

The Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils is “very upset” by the auditor general’s report, saying trust in the school district has been “shattered.”

In a news release issued Thursday afternoon, interim president Ruby Hoskins says the amount of potential fraud uncovered by the auditor general is “almost incomprehensible.”

“Schools are struggling with cuts to the student assistant allocation and classes that are far too overcrowded,” wrote Hoskins.

“There's a real need for increased remedial supports for students, and so much more. To know that money, which could have been used to help students and schools, has been thieved away in this manner has infuriated our membership and parents.”

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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