June 30, 1995 PUBLIC ACCOUNTS COMMITTEE
The Committee met at 9:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn, Lewisporte.
MR. CHAIRMAN (Windsor): Order, please!
I will first of all welcome those who are here as witnesses and observers. I don't see anybody from the news media, I usually start off by welcoming the news media and giving them an opportunity to take some photographs. I don't see anybody in evidence this morning but we certainly want to welcome the witnesses from the Notre Dame Board and to tell you that we are here to gather evidence, not to act as judge and jury but simply to hear your side of the story, to give you an opportunity to respond to items in the Auditor General's report relating to your board, to give the Auditor General perhaps an opportunity to ask questions and members of the Committee, more particularly, to ask questions relating to the operation of the board and the issues referred to in the Auditor General's report but we are not restricted to that of course.
The Committee is quite free to carry on any questioning on the issue that they feel is appropriate and primarily within the ambit of the Financial Administration Act which is the mandate of this Committee, to deal with the financial affairs of the Province and to be the final step in the accountability process which is so often forgotten, that the House of Assembly is that final step in the accountability process. This Committee is charged with the responsibility of looking into matters that may be of concern, those matters referred to by the House of Assembly itself, matters referred to in the Auditor General's report or other matters that the Committee itself may feel are appropriate of the attention of this Committee. In this particular case we are here to examine the Notre Dame Integrated School Board and to concentrate largely on matters that were referenced in the Auditor General's report of last year, 1994.
So I would like to welcome the witnesses and advise you that these meetings are held in accordance with the rules of the House of Assembly, although slightly less formal but we are a committee of the House of Assembly, a standing committee and we operate under the House rules. You will be asked to take an oath momentarily as all the Auditor General's staff have already done in previous meetings so they will not be asked to go again. As I said, it is somewhat less formal so please feel free if a question is directed to one individual to refer it to somebody else or if it requires a detailed answer it is quite acceptable to provide that information at a later date in writing or whatever. So we will deal with that sort of thing as we go along.
I would like to welcome, first of all, the chairman of the board, Mr. William Sceviour and you have with you Mr. Kevin Manuel, the superintendent of the board and Mr. Shawn Brace, business manager. Perhaps I should ask you to introduce your staff, Ms. Marshall.
MS. MARSHALL: Okay, thank you. To my left is Mr. John Noseworthy and to his left is Mr. Claude Janes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I should introduce the Committee. My name is Neil Windsor, Member for Mount Pearl, the Chairperson of the Committee; Mr. Melvin Penney, who is well known in Lewisporte, is the Vice-Chair of the committee. Lewisporte takes over this Committee this year. Mr. Oliver Langdon, Fortune -Hermitage; Mr. Alvin Hewlett from Green Bay; to my left, Mr. Glen Tobin, Burin - Placentia; Mr. John Crane from Harbour Grace and Mr. Doug Oldford from Trinity North.
MR. PENNEY: Mr. Chairman, I would like to take -
MR. CHAIRMAN: By all means, Mr. Penney.
MR. PENNEY: - the opportunity to welcome the Chairman, who is one of my constituents, to the town of Lewisporte but also to welcome the Public Accounts Committee to my district and to Lewisporte. It has been a pleasure having you in the area for the last twenty-four hours or so and I would just like to extend a welcome.
MR. TOBIN: We have enjoyed it down here, I can assure you that.
MR. PENNEY: I got that impression.
MR. TOBIN: Neil and Melvin took us out on the Exploits and we thoroughly enjoyed it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. I would like to say, particularly to the witnesses, that the Committee enjoys getting away from Confederation Building. We think it is an important part of our whole mandate to take at least this aspect of the House of Assembly to the people rather than ask you people to come to St. John's and to the Confederation Building to conduct these hearings. Often we find it quite beneficial for the Committee to actually go to the area and meet the people in the area and sometimes to visit the facilities, maybe the institution or whatever the case may be, the Crown Corporation that we may be examining, so we think it is important to let people know as well that the Public Accounts Committee is alive and well, that it is an important part once again of the accountability process, and that somewhere down the road there may well be an opportunity to account for one's actions; so that is what we are here to do and first I guess, we will swear in the witnesses.
Miss Elizabeth Murphy is the Clerk of the Committee. I didn't introduce Mark Noseworthy, seated next to her, who is our research assistant and Mr. Jack Oates, who looks after all the recording for Hansard.
SWEARING OF WITNESSES
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
I was negligent in not recognizing Rev. Ranson who is here - I am not sure as a witness or as an interested observer and I have no doubt is very much involved with the board.
WITNESS: He is a member of our board.
MR. CHAIRMAN: A member of your board, and certainly welcome to participate in this meeting. If you want to ask him to respond to questions or he wants to make a comment, we would certainly welcome that.
Okay, I don't know if the Auditor General cares to make any kind of an opening statement by way of introduction of the items that are here today?
MS. MARSHALL: Yes. I didn't have a statement, Mr. Chairman, but I would like to make a few comments.
The auditing of the school boards came under the mandate of a new Auditor General's Act in 1991, and to date, we have audited approximately seven or eight school boards. We are hoping to have them all audited within a ten-year period. For this school board, we audited several areas with which we are familiar, the management practices, capital assets, purchasing and human resources which have appeared in other reports.
When we did this school board, we looked at a new area which is included on pages 5 and 6 of the material that was given to the Public Accounts Committee, and what we looked at, was how the board was monitoring, evaluating and addressing the academic performance of their students, and the rationale behind it was that that's really the primary objective of the school board, to educate their students, and we wanted to see how they were fulfilling this obligation.
What we found when we conducted our review was that, while they did have some procedures in place, we found that they were unstructured and we recommended to the school board that they put a more structured process in place. An audit of one other school board in this area indicated that similar problems existed in other school boards, so this area is being addressed I understand also by the Department of Education.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much.
Before I ask the minister if he wants to make an opening statement, let me say that, for the record everything is being taped for Hansard and will be transcribed verbatim by the people at Confederation Building, so to make their job a little easier, we ask that you speak clearly into the microphone; I will identify each speaker before he actually speaks but if I fail to do so, please identify yourself first so that the people at Confederation Building know who is speaking.
Mr. Sceviour, would you care to make any kind of an opening statement by way of introduction of this topic?
MR. SCEVIOUR: Thank you.
When I first heard the Auditor General was coming, I guess the thought went through my mind probably something that would have gone through the early Spanish mind when you are invited to the inquisition but, a little reflection and it seemed a very opportune time for us to have the Auditor General. We have been a board for about a quarter of a century, we have had one superintendent for that time. He was just retiring. It seemed an opportune time to have a look into the soul of the Integrated School Board. From that point on I think the Board welcomed everything that was done. It gave us an opportunity to look at where we stood. Not close the book but certainly end off a chapter and flesh out a new chapter.
We welcome the suggestions. We have attempted to take care of I guess most of the points that were brought up. Some of them we've been successful in handling; others are barely started, I suppose. There are some that are barely off the ground. All of them are moving somewhere from beginning to end of completion. We've still got work to do.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. We certainly appreciate that. Again let me say that we are here more to examine, we are not here to find fault, we are here to examine what may or may not have been done in the past and what perhaps might be done better in the future, and to offer advice and also to hear your views on issues affecting your Board but education generally, and how perhaps government might perhaps improve its role in the whole educational process as well.
We will start the questioning. Mr. Hewlett has to leave early, in about half an hour, less in fact. He has important engagements in his own district so he has to leave. I would ask him to be prepared to open questions this morning. Mr. Hewlett.
MR. HEWLETT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I thank the Committee for its indulgence. My question I suppose is to the school board and it is somewhat general. It is referenced in the reports that we have before us. In matters of certain areas in compliance and so on the Auditor General says this, that or the other thing needs to be done or to be improved and so on. There was a comment there in one of the responses from the Board that sort of fitted in with a comment I had from the - I spoke to the chairman of the Green Bay Integrated School Board there last week, as a matter of fact, on something relating to education in that district.
You mentioned you have a board now that has been twenty-five years in existence but where you've just got a new superintendent. At the same time I guess the question on the whole board structure and whatnot in education certainly in rural areas of Newfoundland is very much up in the air, with a referendum and whatnot pending this fall. I'm just wondering, how does this sort of affect the day-to-day realities of the operation of the school board, knowing full well that you may or may not be in existence or whatever come Christmas.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Sceviour.
MR. SCEVIOUR: Thank you. I think two years ago the feeling was rather down. We thought the Board was going to be wiped out in a matter of months. That has changed dramatically over the last two years. One of the things we've been involved with is the hiring a year ago of an energetic new coordinator who has been promoting school improvement. It seems to be catching on throughout the schools. It is very positive. I think the general mood has been from thinking two years ago that we were going to be gone in a matter of months to today when that doesn't enter into discussion any more, it seems. We are full steam ahead with involvements. I don't know if that....
MR. HEWLETT: No, that's fair enough. This particular area, like the Notre Dame Bay Integrated School Board, does it basically cover the Lewisporte District per se, the electoral district, or is it a bit larger?
MR. SCEVIOUR: It covers down to Twillingate, Norris Arm, and communities in between.
MR. HEWLETT: When I drove down here I passed a Pentecostal high school. So basically there are two systems. Is there a Catholic system in this neck of the woods as such?
MR. SCEVIOUR: We do have a joint service school in Norris Arm with a Catholic school.
MR. HEWLETT: What is the sort of population split between these two? Is it roughly 50-50?
MR. SCEVIOUR: We have approximately 2,300, 2,400 students. The Pentecostal would have about 1,600, I believe.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Manuel.
MR. MANUEL: Within the boundaries of our district the Pentecostals themselves have a number of schools. I think it shows up in the Norpen transportation system there because we operate jointly, the bus system, about 1,600 or 1,700 Pentecostal students within the boundaries of our school district.
Just on that point by the way, we do share a number of facilities, a number of teacher units, specialists, a teacher for the hearing impaired, an education phycologist and some other people with the Pentecostal board.
MR. HEWLETT: I noticed as well from our notes that Norpen is a joint school busing system. Has that been working well? Has that been a positive experience from the point of view of this board?
MR. MANUEL: Well from our point of view there is a joint management committee that operates the system. Both boards are represented on that, the superintendent and the business manager. We think we are getting very good value for the dollar that we are putting into the bus system but of course it depends, in rural Newfoundland, on the milage. The distances that students are bused will vary, depending on where the school is situated and how the geography is distributed and so on. There are some routes that cost more than others and some of these are reflected in the report. Perhaps we could get to that a little later but we do monitor the system fairly closely. The committee meets on a fairly regular basis and so on and as I say, we think things are working very well.
MR. HEWLETT: Thank you. That's it for me Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Langdon would you like to continue.
MR. LANGDON: Thank you. I would like to follow up on the Norpen busing system of these twenty-seven in the report. The full transportation of Norpen was $2,129,854. I don't know how many students are in the whole district, in yours and in the Pentecostal, roughly 4,000 students?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Brace.
MR. BRACE: Yes, there are approximately 3,400 students being bused.
MR. LANGDON: 3,400 students being bused. In this situation of the $2 million do you have criss-crossing students? What I am asking is, okay you have a school up here, a Pentecostal school here in Lewisporte, are the students coming from other communities, where you people have schools, coming here?
MR. BRACE: Yes, most definitely.
MR. LANGDON: Can you probably put a dollar figure on what could be saved, if that was not happening, out of the $2 million?
MR. BRACE: We did our own little survey in looking at ways of saving money in the busing system. If certain things were to come about through changes in legislation and regulations - and we looked at it from a payroll point of view also, in saving money on buses in the total system - if these changes were brought about we could save approximately a couple of hundred thousand dollars.
MR. LANGDON: $200,000? $200,000 annually?
MR. BRACE: Yes and again that depends on certain regulations that need to be changed.
MR. MANUEL: This past winter we worked fairly closely with Dr. Crocker from the Royal Commission Secretariat doing a fairly detailed analysis of New World Island. On New World Island there are a number of schools, we have three elementary schools, the Pentecostal's have one. We have one high school, the Pentecostals have one high school and there is a lot of busing taking place because of the number of communities down there and so on, so we did some fairly close analysis of the figures and so on. As our business manager said, there is some overlapping and there are some dollars that can be saved, and we do this now, in some instances for example, students in both systems will travel on the same bus but as a general rule, it is not a widespread practice.
Also, there are some dollars that could be saved with some adjustments in the opening and closing times of schools, where, the buses could be used for the second trips and things like that and as I said, we have gone through the system. The Norpen Committee, our committee, we have gone through the system each September and in the spring again, to see this can be done, and I think in the past number of years there have been a number of buses taken out of service because of that and last September I think three buses were taken out of service, because we determined that we could do things in a little different manner, but there are savings there, yes, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Langdon.
MR. LANGDON: Mr. Manuel, are you saying then that the two school systems, their holiday structures, school openings and school closings are not co-ordinated, and each opens on different days and close on different days and so on?
MR. MANUEL: The holiday structure, for the past two or three years, we do use a similar holiday structure. The school calendar is circulated between our board and the Pentecostal Board and also the Exploits Valley Roman Catholic School Board because of the busing in Norris Arm.
We try, as much as possible to co-ordinate our school calendars and next year, as far as I know now, our board has accepted the calendar that was circulated and the other two boards, I have not heard officially but I would assume that they will do the same thing because there were discussions that went into the calendar before it was circulated.
This has happened for the past number of years, not saying that every holiday is exactly the same but as far as I know, next year I think with the exception possibly of one day, they will be, but it is in the opening and closing of schools, the times. Not many of the schools in our district for example, will have school cafeterias, and it is very difficult to get into what we call a continuous day in our schools where there is no noon-hour busing, with the exception of kindergarten, if we don't have the appropriate facilities in the schools for students to be accommodated during lunch hours. We do about 50 per cent of our twelve schools, now about six or seven are on a continuous day, the other five or six are not but we are working towards that objective, but it is just that we need to do some things along those lines.
There is one route referenced again in the report where school closing I think was thirty minutes, and that was leading to another bus route and so on, that one has been corrected; once it was highlighted, we did take another look at that and that route has been corrected. That was referenced there in the report.
MR. LANGDON: In the specialists that you have with your board, your education psychologists and so on, you were saying that they were sharing services with the Pentecostal Board and with your board, do these people live in Lewisporte?
MR. MANUEL: They work out of the general office in Lewisporte. Well, let me get into the specifics here. The education psychologists work out of the general office in Lewisporte although they don't live in Lewisporte themselves -
MR. LANGDON: (Inaudible).
MR. MANUEL: Yes. The itinerant for the hearing impaired works out of the office in Lewisporte; the itinerant for the visually impaired we share as well with the Nova Board, so it is a three-way split there. In September for the first time we will be hiring a speech therapist. It is very difficult to get these people in rural Newfoundland but we've been successful. When I say "we" I mean both boards.
MR. CHAIRMAN: It is hard to get them in St. John's (inaudible).
MR. MANUEL: I'm talking about the Pentecostal Board and our Board. We've hired a person who will be starting with us in September and that person again will work out of our office but will work within our schools and the Pentecostal schools within this district.
MR. LANGDON: Just one more question if I can. Your board office here, how many coordinators do you have in your office? Let me follow up before you answer that. I assume that the Pentecostal Board has its headquarters in Grand Falls. So for example their math consultants, their english consultants, would leave Grand Falls and do this area; whereas the math consultant that you have works out of your office and could possibly serve the whole, but that is not the way it is. How many consultants do you have?
MR. MANUEL: We have four consultants at the present time who work out of our district office. We have a consultant in math and science plus some other related fields, some work in computers; we have a consultant in language arts, K to XII, plus some other related duties - editor of the bulletin there you see in front of you and some other things; we have a consultant in student support services; and we have a consultant in the school improvement and some other related activities there.
MR. LANGDON: Okay. I will come back a little bit later.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Hewlett.
MR. HEWLETT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. When you mention, gentlemen, that there is in the order of $200,000 possible savings in a busing system, is that presupposing again two separate school boards or that of one geographic school board for this region with more of a neighbourhood school concept and whatnot coming into effect. Is the $200,000 presupposing two separate school boards?
MR. MANUEL: I think it can go either way. I think really what we are presupposing is that there would be some cooperation, more cooperation than at the present time, and somebody with the authority to sit down and say: This is the times that schools will open and close, and operate the schedule that way.
MR. HEWLETT: So it is more of a daily schedule -
MR. MANUEL: Yes it is, than the other aspect of it.
MR. HEWLETT: Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Tobin.
MR. TOBIN: I would like to follow on something that was asked earlier, Mr. Chairman, if I could. I didn't get your final comments there on the busing service when Alvin asked the question about the $200,000 it could save. Would that mean that you would have to do rescheduling of your classes? That $200,000, if it was all put together, would there have to be rescheduling of classes? Like, would one community go in an hour earlier, fifteen minutes, or anything like that. Would that be the case? If it is the case, would there be a problem with the collective agreement of teachers to make the adjustment necessary?
MR. MANUEl: Most of it would require just some minor scheduling from the point of view of, say, within a range of thirty or thirty-five minutes, of opening and closing schools.
MR. TOBIN: Because I noticed that up in Marystown they just ran into some problem. They are proposing to make some changes to the scheduling in September, I guess, and the teachers felt that it contradicted their collective agreement.
MR. MANUEL: That is right. Within the education act itself of course, the minimum hours for K to III are not the same as for the senior high students. However, with the exception of two schools in our district, and these two schools were changed September 1994, the length of the school day is the same for all of the students in our district.
MR. TOBIN: There was no lengthening of your school day as there is (inaudible).
MR. MANUEL: No, although previous to September 1994 two of our schools did have a shorter day. That was done some years ago because of busing so the buses could double back and pick up the high school students as well. We've now changed that. We still of course have the problem of the kindergarten which is a half a day, as you know. If we got into full-day kindergarten then of course there would be no reason really to have noon hour busing, other than with the cafeteria facilities in our schools, and that could be taken care of I guess as well.
This is still an expensive proposition for a district. For example, on New World Island, our schools down there, together they serve about twenty-two different communities. With the kindergarten students of course, we don't have kindergartens, not necessarily, from all of these communities, but from a large number we would. It is the problem of getting the kindergartens home and so on.
MR. TOBIN: So there would have to be some adjustments made to accommodate that. Mr. Manuel, you said earlier that you had some sort of a shared service with Norris Arm, with the R.C. board. Would you mind explaining that a little bit?
MR. MANUEL: In September 1994, and this was negotiated a couple of years previous to that, we got into a joint service school in Norris Arm. Previous to that the Notre Dame Integrated School Board had a K to IX school, and the Exploits Valley Roman Catholic School Board had a K to XII community school. Most boards of course were losing students at a fairly rapid rate because of the declining enrolment. Negotiations were taking place over a two-year period to bring both systems together from the point of view of a joint service school.
The Roman Catholic board decided that their senior high school students would go to Bishop Falls to attend their school. It has been historical from the point of view of the Integrated students from Norris Arm, these students have been coming to Lewisporte to attend high school for the past twenty, twenty-five years. It is just a matter of history, and their parents before them. It has been taking place a long time.
Anyway, we started in September past a K to IX school and things have gone extremely well in the community. We closed out the building that was known as the Integrated building. We used the building, the Roman Catholic school, and housed the students there. That school was renamed Hillview Academy. There are a number of these joint services in the Island, of course, but around here there are slightly different arrangements, but we arrange the two-principal concept in the school - we have a principal who looks after certain arrangements within the school; there is also a principal there from the Roman Catholic school board.
MR. TOBIN: (Inaudible).
WITNESS: Yes, but we don't have a vice-principal, we have two principals, two-principal concept. This is done throughout the Province, it is not on a widespread basis but it is done and of course, you know, we respect each other's sensitivities from the point of view of the religious education aspect and so on, and there are actually no problems; we have had a marvellous year.
MR. TOBIN: Interesting, two principals in one school. I wouldn't want to be a student there.
I was interested in that because I notice that in the Burin Peninsula, both the R. C. and the Integrated system are getting together in September under one roof and I think everything is going well.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Langdon.
MR. LANGDON: I would like to ask just one question. The nine to twelve or the Levels I, II and III, the integrated kids still come here and the R. C. kids still go to Bishop Falls, and the reason for that is that you don't have sufficient numbers to offer the program?
MR. MANUEL: That's right.
I could just add a footnote to that. The Pentecostal students come to Lewisporte, all of them, from the community.
MR. LANGDON: So the Pentecostal kids in Norris Arm do not go to their community school?
MR. MANUEL: No.
MR. LANGDON: So you have a bus coming from there every day?
MR. MANUEL: Yes.
MR. TOBIN: My wife taught in Norris Arm one time.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Tobin.
MR. TOBIN: I said my wife taught in Norris Arm one time, twenty years ago. Mr. Manuel, getting back to the Auditor General's Report here again. I notice that the Auditor General's recommendation was to put in place a strategic plan for the operation of the school board and to include in that, such things as (inaudible) regulations for staff and board members. What have you done on that, so far?
MR. MANUEL: Specifically, from the point of view of the strategic plan - I will come back to that in the second part of my response -from the point of view of the conflict of interest regulations and legislations, I think you can see from the response there that we don't have these in place. What we have done however, is, had some discussions with the boards in Central, from the point of view of trying to come up with a sort of generic set of conflict of interest legislation because this would be true I think for our board and other boards really, throughout the Province.
It is my feeling that having talked to a large number of boards not many boards would have the specific defined conflict of interest rules and regulations. We are, of course, guided just by Section 9.2 of the act there, on those lines, however, it is the feeling of our board that they should be and we see no reason why there should not be some specific rules and regulations. We have also mentioned this at the provincial meetings of the School Trustees Association, because perhaps this is the agency that could sort of draw up, in conjunction with a number of boards, some things that could be used throughout the Province along those lines, because, as I said, I think there might be need for some slight modifications but basically, I think they would be true for most boards. We are working on it as the Chairman said, earlier in his response, it is one of the areas that we are working on but it has not been completed.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Penney.
MR. PENNEY: Mr. Chairman, if I may, I would like to ask the Auditor General if she would like to respond to what Mr. Manuel has said in regard to whether in fact if there are few or many conflict of interest guidelines throughout the Province and whether in fact Section 9, subsection 2, does cover the conflict?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Marshall.
MS. MARSHALL: Yes, but that section of the act that Mr. Manuel referred to is very basic and applies only to members of the school board. What it says is that a member of a school board shall not participate in a discussion or vote on a question of awarding a contract in which he/she has a direct or indirect interest and that is very narrow. We would be looking for something more comprehensive that would include staff and would include a variety of issues. For example, you deal with a number of suppliers, what is your policy on accepting gifts from suppliers? The provincial government has conflict of interest guidelines for both board members and public employees and I did suggest to the school boards that they could look to that for guidance.
The other area that came up for discussion was the Department of Justice was looking at revising conflict of interest guidelines for public employees and board members. They have already done the members of the House of Assembly which has its own conflict of interest commissionaire and at that time, when I had discussions with the Department of Justice, I asked them to consider including school boards within the development of new guidelines. I felt that all the programs are funded from the same public purse and probably a generic set of conflict of interest guidelines would be a good thing to look at.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Crane.
MR. CRANE: Yes, getting back to one thing, when you are talking about kindergarten going a full day, you would save some money in busing if you had kindergarten for a full day. What is your opinion on full day kindergarten classes and what do you think is the opinion of the people in the area? What do they think of such a move?
MR. MANUEL: First of all I will relay, Mr. Crane, the opinion of some parents. Last fall this was a very lively topic in this area and I was invited to speak to any number of PTA groups on this particular issue. What the parents seem to be saying, from what I could gauge - and we have not done a formal assessment of this but through our principals and informally - what the parents seem to be saying is that they did not object to a full day of kindergarten as long as the school could provide reasonable noon hour lunch facilities for their students and if that were taken care of then there would be no problem.
Just as an aside here, if I may, I don't know if it is the thing in rural Newfoundland but at least in this area - and this is one of the things that came through in talking with a large number of parents at the PTA groups - but it is still kind of traditional in many outport Newfoundland communities that the main meal of the day is the noon meal. Now a lot of us I guess around this table have sort of changed that, our main meal is probably the supper meal but for a lot of these parents their main meal is still the noon meal. A lot of them I think operate on the assumption that unless their child has this main meal sometime between 12:00 and 1:00 o'clock that very dreadful things will happen before 4:00 or 5:00 o'clock and that seemed to be coming through in a number of instances. So I think that is why they still look upon the noon meal and the facilities as very important.
Putting that to one side, from the point of view of the educational benefits of a full day kindergarten, I don't think that many educators will argue against that, as long as the activities for the full day kindergarten are many and varied and so on. Along those lines the Department of Education has done I think an admirable job, in that they have published a curriculum, that our teachers have reviewed. While there have been some minor suggestions and criticisms of certain aspects of that curriculum, basically they are very pleased with what they see, and could take that, I think, and develop it into a quality educational program for full day kindergartens.
What we've done in this district, and it has proved very successful - we have a number of pre-school programs that we call P.A.C.T. programs. The acronym stands for Parents and Children Together. We have the child, the pre-schooler and the parent, come to the school at the same time. The child will go either into the kindergarten class for an orientation session or go to some sort of a pre-school thing that we would have arranged in the school. The parent would go with either the principal or one of our program coordinators and would go through the basics of the importance of beginning reading for students and how to go about it, the importance of math concepts, and so on. In fact, one of our schools got the Fortis award for this particular program, and two of our representatives just recently spoke at the national conference meetings in Moncton, New Brunswick on this particular program. So we have had some experiences along those fields.
Getting back to the full day kindergarten, as I said, I think it would be, with some minor things to take a look at here, really welcomed throughout the Province. In this district anyway.
MR. CRANE: Thank you. Looking at the balance sheet, in 1993 the Board ran a deficit of $79,800. In 1994 it changed that to a surplus of $43,700. What did the Board attribute that to, and have you made any further improvements?
MR. BRACE: First of all, that surplus, that is an accumulated deficit.
MR. CRANE: Accumulated deficit, yes.
MR. BRACE: It has been much built up over the years. There are a couple of reasons our financial situation improved in the following year. Number one is, that the new grant structure implemented by the Department of Education for allocating grants boards in rural areas came out well.
MR. CRANE: Oh yes.
MR. BRACE: In addition to that, of course, as indicated elsewhere in the report there, we sold off a number of our residential properties and things like that. The money just wasn't budgeted and spent before year-end.
MR. CRANE: You can't keep doing that very long, can you?
MR. BRACE: No. That financial situation will change, perhaps after this year, and then go back to a balanced budget.
MR. CRANE: How do you explain the substitute teachers? In 1993 they were paid $310,000 and in 1994 $240,000. What do you attribute that to? How did you get them to work more days and take less off? That would be something that would be interesting for a lot of departments of government.
MR. MANUEL: You recall, one of the things, Mr. Crane, was the strike.
MR. CRANE: That helped, did it?
MR. MANUEL: The shorter school year.
MR. MANUEL: We did approximately twenty days so therefore there were less substitute teachers hired, yes.
The substitute teacher issue is something that we are constantly monitoring. Of course as you know we are on a quota system. Really, school districts are on a quota system from the point of view of substitute teachers who we can hire. One of the difficulties with this is that out of the quota that we are given, the total number of days sort of block funded, out of that will come sick leave. But out of it also will come the in-service leave, and this is where the difficulty comes in. Because it is like having a bank account on which there are a couple of people writing accounts but really the only account you can control is your own yourself.
We can't control, we can't schedule sick leave for teachers, so really what we do, we have to leave a large block for sick leave and the days that are left over then we can do our in-service programs and so on. It would be much better if we were given a block of teaching days so that we could use it for in-service programming needs with our teachers.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Could I just interject here, Mr. Crane?
MR. CRANE: Yes, go ahead.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Do you see any abuse of sick leave here that is causing the cost of substitute teachers to rise? We see it in other areas of government so I ask the question (inaudible).
MR. MANUEL: Last year I monitored for our district fairly closely the sick leave policy with our Board. Basically, as I said, because we wanted to make sure that we could use the time that we had left over for the in-service needs of our teachers, and these are great. On the sick leave itself, I compared our district to the provincial average. The provincial average I think for teachers is something like 6.9 days, if I remember correctly now. Our per teacher was 6.8 days, so we were within the range there.
We don't see much abuse. I'm not aware of much abuse of the sick leave policy. Of course, under the collective agreement when teachers are sick they must bring notes from doctors and so on. One can't question the medical people on their judgement for these notes.
MR. LANGDON: Mr. Manuel, could I just interject? Do you need a doctor's note after three days or do you need it for the first day?
MR. MANUEL: No, you need it after three days; an accumulation of seven in a school year. What we are finding as a district - also out of this quota will come the things like compassionate leave. There is also a clause in the collective agreement, leave for home emergencies and things like that. That is the one that, since I look after the administration of that leave, is on an increase in our district. There are of course true emergencies that happen at home for any employee, it is true. The medical appointments, the dental appointments, things like that, seem to be on the increase quite a bit.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Penney, you wanted to ask something on this same topic?
MR. PENNEY: Yes. Mr. Manuel, on the same topic, sick leave abuse. As you just pointed out teachers require only a note from the doctor if they are off for the third day. I believe it was yesterday somebody used the expression that sick leave seems to increase when you get around moose hunting time, Christmas, selected periods of the year. Have you found that, that there is a higher incidence of sick leave when the moose season opens?
WITNESS: Or Mondays and Fridays?
MR. PENNEY: Yes, the Mondays and Fridays.
MR. MANUEL: One thing I monitored closely was the Friday-Monday syndrome. After a pattern has developed, this might get one thinking that you might want to get some other things in action from that point of view. I never looked at it largely from that point of view. There are some sick leave associated with holidays but periodically the teacher will call or I will see them and they would say well it took me awhile to get an appointment in St. John's and that is the time I could get it or something like that. We have, in the past, had teachers apply to the board for leave to go moose hunting.
MR. CRANE: If they did not get it they might take it. I guess in your budget there for everything - there is one thing going through this report that is really getting to me and that is - I guess you had a retirement party for somebody and I wonder how did you budget $2,800 worth of watches in your budget? Where would that come in, under what heading?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Manuel.
MR. MANUEL: Well perhaps I could explain a little bit about the retirement party and then the business manager can respond to how the watches were paid for. It has been traditional with the Notre Dame Integrated School Board - and I guess this grew out of the days of the school tax authorities when the board had some discretionary money that it could spend - it was traditional in the spring that the board would have a party for retiring employees, all retiring employees; teachers, janitors, bus drivers, secretaries and so on, if you are retiring you are invited to this little spring closing party. The board hires the Loon Bay Camp and the office staff - we try to do our best with the cooking and so on. So it is sort of done at a minimum amount of expenditure involved there. During the days of the school tax authorities the members of the school tax authority were also invited to the year end closing party as were the members of the school board, the district office staff and their spouses or guests. It has also been traditional that the retiring employees be given a little gift and that for the past number of years has been a watch that has been engraved. How this has been budgeted for, I will pass it over to the business manager.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Brace.
MR. BRACE: It is budgeted, as you can see from the invoices here, it is charged to our board meeting expenses.
MR. CRANE: Board meeting expenses.
MR. BRACE: It is an annual board dinner where school board members are recognized for their voluntary services throughout the year. If you look at the number of people involved, there was a total of seventeen watches for a total of $2,700, so it works out to about $150 per person.
MR. CRANE: Per watch yes, but how much would the total bill be?
MR. BRACE: The total bill would be about $3,000 for the dinner or $4,000 for the dinner and the watches. The watches would be included in that $4,000 figure.
MR. CRANE: I asked another school board the same question and at least you didn't give me the same answer they did. They were doing it as a morale booster. I could not figure why you would have to boost someone's morale to take a pension.
But in the meantime you see, really it is better if you budgeted that under a heading that you wouldn't be sort of blindfolding them in the dark. I mean, even though that is a customary thing to do, really, you can call it a meeting, you can call anything a meeting. I can go down to the club and invite twenty-five people in and we can all get drunk and it could be a meeting, right, but it wouldn't be budgeted in your expenditure that way I am sure, so if you are going to do something, I am sure the Auditor General would feel better if you would set up something legitimate, you know, that is really not trying to cover up some thing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think I would ask the Auditor General what her view is on these kinds of retirement parties and what sort of gratuities are to be given to people on retirement; is there provision for that and is your concern simply that there was no budgetary provision for that fund?
MS. MARSHALL: Yes, my primary concern was for the schools that do not make any provisions for that type of expenditure. The other issue, which I have raised with the Department of Education is that, school boards are funded from the public purse the same as other departments and other Crown agencies, and that type of benefit, if you can call it that, is not provided for within government departments and other agencies therefore there are inconsistencies.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You mean I am not going to get a watch when I retire?
MS. MARSHALL: I believe you get a hundred-dollar gift certificate I think that's what it is.
MR. CRANE: Neil, there will be one for you.
MS. MARSHALL: We had some discussions with the Department of Education on this issue and my understanding is that they have either issued some direction or some correspondence or some discussion with the school boards on that matter. I don't know if Mr. Manuel can comment on that or not.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Manuel.
MR. MANUEL: Nothing has come out of the department that I am aware of right now formally on this particular topic.
MS. MARSHALL: We were advised that there was, and probably, I can just ask Mr. Noseworthy to comment because he had a similar discussion with officials of the Department of Education this morning.
MR. NOSEWORTHY: I was talking with officials this morning and they indicated that there was information provided to the school boards on remuneration for members and also on allowable expenditures. I don't have copies of the documentation.
MR. MANUEL: There is information on the remuneration to school boards -
MS. MARSHALL: They informed us that there was also information provided on the dinners, so in the absence of officials of the Department of Education, we can't shed any light except to say that, that is what was relayed to myself and to Mr. Noseworthy on two different occasions.
MR. MANUEL: Just to reiterate on that particular aspect. This particular school board up to this point in time has had some supplementary income from the rental of apartment buildings and of course, there was income from that source.
MR. CHAIRMAN: How were they constructed initially?
MR. MANUEL: Well the apartment buildings were built in the early 60s before integration by the Lewisporte School Board as it was then known, as a means of sort of enticing qualified teachers to come to Lewisporte and spend some time here and the rent for these apartments was very reasonable. I can speak from first-hand knowledge because I was one of those who came back to Lewisporte after teaching in St. John's for a while because of that arrangement. That was one of the things certainly in the mix, and as teachers retired here we came to Lewisporte and became involved in the school systems and sort of enjoyed the community and I guess all the other factors that go into that. Many of them of course, moved out and built their own homes and so on. Once the demand from the point of view of the school board was not great, and I think it is in the report as well, for awhile these were rented to people who were not teachers. Although they were always rented from the point of view that if a teacher wanted the apartment then they had first choice to them and the other person will be expected to move out. Rather than let these apartments lie vacant of course they were rented. The income was used then to, as I said, complement and supplement the education program in the district.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay. Are we ready for coffee now, Mark, coffee is ready? It is probably a good time to break for ten minutes. We will have a coffee and then we will come back.
MR. TOBIN: Mr. Chairman, I've also got to leave, but I will be coming back after the coffee break. One thing I want to say before I go. I want to compliment the school board on this bulletin. I had a chance to skip through it. I think as a parent it is very important that you can get an indication of what your child is doing in school, or what the schools are doing. You can compare them to other schools within the school board district. It is something I've never seen before and I think it is something that should be (inaudible).
MR. MANUEL: We publish these four times a year and we try to highlight our schools in all of them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We adjourn for ten minutes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Order, please!
There is still coffee there. Please feel free to help yourself to the coffee as we continue the second half of the meeting here.
Mr. Crane, you were finished with your questioning, sir?
MR. CRANE: Yes, I'm finished.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Mr. Oldford?
MR. OLDFORD: Mr. Crane stole my thunder and -
MR. CHAIRMAN: He stole all your thunder.
MR. OLDFORD: All my thunder and all my questions, he beat -
MR. CRANE: I'm sorry (inaudible).
MR. OLDFORD: - it to death. On the issue of the retirement party and the watches. I remember there was quite a controversy when a school board back in St. John's was audited some time ago and it caused quite a fuss on the open line shows. People called in and talked about the fact that kids were out selling chocolate bars and all that sort of thing, and yet school boards were using what were considered to be public finds. I think Mr. Crane alluded to the fact that somebody at the school board, the other school board, indicated that it was for staff morale.
I have a real concern with that. It is only a small amount of money, I know, but the perception of the general public out there who we represent is that kids shouldn't be selling chocolate bars and supplementing board funds when at the same time boards are using public money. I don't know if there is a way around it. Obviously Ms. Marshall says there is no authority under the schools act. I've retired twice already. I'm wearing a watch that was engraved back in 1981. It didn't come from company funds, it came from a staff account that we had. Every payday we would put $2 in the kitty. I wonder if there is some other way, because as I said, perception sometimes can be reality, and perception when it comes to politicians is such that we are accountable. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee obviously we are accountable to the people of the Province even more so, I suppose.
I don't know. I just wanted to make that comment. I wonder if there is some way around this. That you can provide a retirement party and whatever, but it could be done from a collection of funds over the year from individual members - not the school board if necessary, but I suppose from teachers and from a teachers' fund. This issue won't go away. Every school board we go to visit I'm sure that it will come up again. It just doesn't look good in the general public's eye. I just wanted to make that comment.
Other than that I don't have any questions because they've asked all the questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Oldford.
MR. CRANE: I'm sorry I did that, Mr. Oldford.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Penney, I haven't given you an opportunity yet. Would you like to carry on?
MR. PENNEY: Thank you.
There have been a number of questions asked about the recommendations of the Auditor General, but they have been fairly general, generic almost. I would like to go back to some of them specifically just to get some kind of an update, a status. I don't want you to get the impression that I am interrogating. It is just simply being asked to get an update to see what has changed since the time the Auditor General made the recommendations and today, so I will direct your attention to the recommendations in this hand-out that you have by page number.
The first one, page 9, the bottom paragraph, left column, it says a sample of sixteen purchases over $5,000 was chosen to determine if there was compliance with the section of the Public Tender Act. Our review noted one instance where the contract was awarded without a tender call. I must compliment your board. Of all the commissions and boards that we have reviewed since I have been on the Public Accounts Committee, that is the best performance that I have seen. Normally out of a sample of sixteen we would expect eight, nine, ten or twelve, but you are to be commended.
On page 5, left column, bottom sentence there, the Auditor General recommends that the board should ensure all schools comply with the board's school budget policy, and you say the recommendations are noted and will continue to be worked on. What has happened since?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Brace.
MR. BRACE: (Inaudible) better communications to our principals. To the best of my knowledge all schools are complying with our school budget policies.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Manuel.
MR. MANUEL: I think it was in early fall - I am not exactly sure of the date - there was a new schools budget policy that was accepted by our school board, and that has been followed. It was sort of an updating and a refinement of the previous policy that was in existence and, as far as we know, in the meetings that we have of the finance committee of the board and the monitoring that both the business manager and myself - the frequent meetings that we have on these topics - it seems, like the business manager has stated, that the policy is being followed.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Penney.
MR. PENNEY: Page 6, the item that is marked number 6, compliance with legislation, it says that the board has adopted a policy to reimburse members a maximum of $100 per day for wages lost to attend board business. It also goes on to state there is no indication that this has happened since June of 1992. Has it been happening since 1992?
I make reference as well to a legal opinion that is included in this on page 62, in which Michael Harrington is sort of suggesting that maybe what you were doing was okay anyway. Now that is a very simplified interpretation of that letter; I will ask the Auditor General to comment on that in a minute, but what is your policy as of today?
MR. MANUEL: Mr. Chairman, the policy is still officially on the books of the Notre Dame Integrated School Board, although as the report states it has not been actioned since 1992.
The policy itself, I think, is stated in the materials that we sent in, although historically from what I can recall - I was not superintendent at the time - but I was assistant superintendent with the board for a number of years and attended board meetings. I think really the purpose for the policy itself, the historical reason for it, was not so much for the individual as for the business or the employer of the individual.
If they had to replace the individual school member while they were away on school business then the original policy, or the original intent, is that - that is why it was on the books. It is that if an employer had to hire somebody in place of a school board member who was away on official school board business then they would qualify for up to $100 a day, although I realize that the policy, reading it, I think goes beyond that. But at least that was the discussion that took place and gave rise to it at the time. The policy hasn't been used. Nobody has claimed anything going back now a number of years.
With respect to the legal opinion, we did not ask for that as you can see from the information there. That was sent out by the school trustees. A couple of boards in the Province did request some legal opinion on that. It has never formed much discussion at our Board meetings on that legal opinion, or really on the policy itself.
MR. PENNEY: Would the Auditor General like to comment on that legal opinion?
MS. MARSHALL: Yes, and I'm relaying information second-hand in the absence of Department of Education officials. Discussions that we had with them indicate that they have a legal opinion which doesn't exactly agree with the legal opinion received from Mr. Harrington. My understanding is that their interpretation is that the reimbursement would only be for out of pocket expenses.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I just might interject here the fact that the Department of Education people aren't here, and were asked to be here, and normally would be here. We expect them to be here to respond to these types of things. I will be writing on behalf of the Committee, with your concurrence, to the minister in pointing out that they did not show up and requesting that in future they will comply with our request to come, or we will issue subpoenas to them.
MS. MARSHALL: My understanding, and again it is based on discussions that I've had with them, was that the school boards had been written regarding a policy for board members, but - -
MR. TOBIN: You know if there is a problem there that contravenes the act, somebody should correct it. Because it is a common practice for municipalities. For example, I know in the town of Marystown the mayor happens to work in the Shipyard. Whenever he has to go on council business the Shipyard pays his salary but the Shipyard is reimbursed by the council for his time. No employee or employer should be expected to have people on their payroll who are earning a salary if they go to travel in St. John's or other places and not be reimbursed for it. I think that if it is contrary to the act then the act should be changed to accommodate what is happening.
MS. MARSHALL: Department of Education officials have indicated that these boards are supposed to be voluntary and therefore -
MR. TOBIN: It is great to say it is voluntary, but if somebody out there has a small business and has one employee and the employee happens to be on the school board, I mean, he can't afford to shut down his supermarket or his small store while that person travels to St. John's. He has to be reimbursed for the salary that he is paying his employee. Or the other thing is to limit it to people who are retired or people who are wealthy, because an ordinary individual can't serve, according to that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think we are into an area here that is really a policy area, outside of the responsibility of either this Committee or the Auditor General or the Board to - the discussion is quite appropriate and interesting, and the points of view are important. I think it would be important for the Committee - the Clerk would make a note - that in our deliberations on this issue the Committee have further discussions on this in our in camera meeting and make formal recommendation to the House of Assembly.
We've had this issue with school boards and with municipalities and other Crown corporations. The points are valid from both sides that you are using public funds; on the other side, members of boards and agencies are volunteers. They aren't being reimbursed, they are not being paid a salary, but if there is direct out of pocket loss of funds that is compensable. As Mr. Tobin points out, if an employer has to replace somebody, if a school board has to replace a teacher because that teacher is a member of a board and sustaining a board here and it is a direct cost there, in that case it is in one hand and out the other, and is not a good example, but if a hospital has to replace a nurse or a doctor or some other medical person because that person is voluntarily serving on a school board and attending meetings, this needs to be dealt with, it is a problem we have had in these hearings on several occasions and it has become irritating to deal with the same issue over and over again, so I think this Committee should make a formal recommendation to the House of Assembly and we will leave it at that.
MR. PENNEY: Mr. Chairman, the reality is that if we have legislation that states something must be done, then we have two choices; we either adhere to the legislation or we have the legislation repaired, amended, corrected.
Page 7, item No. 7, says: "the Superintendent is receiving an augmentation payment such that his salary will be 120 per cent of the salary of the highest paid member of the Teachers' Bargaining Unit." It goes on to state: "A contract between the Board and the Superintendent outlining the terms and conditions of employment, however indicates that the augmentation payment shall be equal to 120 per cent of the highest bonus paid to a member of the Teachers' Bargaining Unit."
Now, I am not absolutely certain I understand the distinction. One, correct me where I go wrong, is that, there was to be a bonus paid that would have been 20 per cent higher than any bonus paid anybody else who was in the teachers' bargaining unit, but what in fact was happening, is, the bonus was being paid in such that the superintendent's total salary was 20 per cent higher than anybody else's income in the teachers' bargaining unit. Am I understanding this correctly?
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Manuel.
MR. MANUEL: There were some differences I think in the wording and in the actual practice, but that has now been corrected and in the package of materials that was sent, I think the business manager did the calculation there about how the thing was calculated and I think it is on Page 65 of the report and I think this is in line with what was originally intended, and as I said, when I came into the position of superintendent with the board, March 1, 1994, I really took over with the same salary and working conditions as the previous superintendent who had been there since 1969, and you can see on Page 65 how the thing is calculated, so the amount of the augmentation as you can see there is approximately $4,091.
MR. BRACE: The motion that was made in March of 1994, I think there is a problem with the word `bonus'. I think the intent was what's there on this Page 65 for the motion made on June 27. It should have been 120 per cent of the highest paid position of the person in the system.
MR. PENNEY: Okay, so -
WITNESS: That's the salary scale.
MR. PENNEY: Yes. - so on one hand what we had was the contract between the Board and the superintendent which said one thing, and what was happening in fact, was another, so what you did to correct it, was, change the contract.
MR. BRACE: No, what they did to the contract was to -
MR. PENNEY: Change the wording?
MR. BRACE: - change the motion for that.
MR. PENNEY: So instead of correcting the problem, you just changed the wording so it wasn't a problem?
MR. BRACE: Well, as Mr. Manuel indicated, he just carried on with the same contract as the former superintendent, so the problem came about with the word `bonus'.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I am not sure I am clear on `bonus'. What would the `bonus' be? Could you tell me what that is?
MR. MANUEL: Mr. Chairman, just a little bit of background here. In the NLTA collective agreement the highest paid individual there would be a program coordinator who would receive the appropriate teaching grade - most of these people would have Grade VII - plus the bonus for a program coordinator. It is on that calculation then that the bonus for the superintendent is calculated as well. Really when it is calculated - because the working year of the superintendent is 260 days. The working year of a program coordinator is 190 days. That is why the difference.
MR. CHAIRMAN: So the wording should have been that the salary would be 120 per cent of the base salary of that person, not the base salary plus bonus. That was the discrepancy. You've corrected it now to include both, is that what...?
MR. CHAIRMAN: The motion now is that the contract is (inaudible) and that the original resolution has been changed.
MR. MANUEL: Yes. My understanding is it has been corrected to the satisfaction of the Auditor General?
MS. MARSHALL: Yes.
MR. CHAIRMAN: The concern simply was that there was a discrepancy between the contract and the motion on the books.
MS. MARSHALL: Yes. Actually, if you had complied with the original wording you would have received a bigger salary, but because they changed the terminology and the contract then you see the lesser salary.
MR. MANUEL: That was not the intent. The intent was to receive the salary of the former superintendent.
MR. PENNEY: That is interesting. My next question -
MR. CHAIRMAN: You missed your chance.
MR. PENNEY: Mr. Manuel, my next question was going to be - before I heard the explanation - now that you've changed it from what you were getting to what you should have been getting, how much of a saving was it for the Board.
MS. MARSHALL: Sorry.
MR. PENNEY: I have one other question but I will defer to anybody else on the Committee.
MR. LANGDON: I just have one more question.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Langdon.
MR. LANGDON: On page 5 of the report, the Canadian Tests of Basic Skills. The province back in 1992, as the report indicates, was lower than the Canadian average. Your district was lower than the provincial average in reading, vocabulary, and word study. Also on page 6, I think it is, on the top of the page, it says that one of the schools in your area was appreciably lower than the provincial average in all but one area.
My question, and I think I might know the answer but I'm just pre-supposing that I do, let's say for example then that Lewisporte is the urban part of your school district and all the outlying communities are the rural part, for matter of clarification. How would these students in Lewisporte compare on a Canadian test of basic skills with those in the outlying region?
MR. MANUEL: It is a rather interesting question that has been asked on the Canadian Tests of Basic Skills. Perhaps I could sort of answer it in this manner. The Canadian Tests of Basic Skills have been conducted on our students and other students in the Province at various grade levels for a number of years. I think in all honesty we can say that as a school district we probably didn't take the Canadian Tests of Basic Skills in a serious manner. We conducted them in our schools and they were sent away to be marked and the results came back. We looked at them and planned some strategies but not in as intensive a manner perhaps as we should have.
Right now of course we are into the age of accountability and we are into the age of student outcome much more than we've been in the past. I might say that we have put into effect a number of measures reflecting the changes. We for example have a program coordinator. Our program coordinator for student support services has the responsibility for making sure on a district basis that the tests are administered as they should be. That is meeting with our principals and our teachers and outlining for example, the nature in which these tests should be conducted.
One thing that's happened in the Province for a past number of years and I guess it happens in all districts is, who should write these exams? For example, if an exam is being given at a Grade IV level, we have a lot of students in our schools who, perhaps have been in school five years but may not be what we would call a legitimate Grade IV student, so it is always a question of when you are being examined by an outside authority, who do you let write? Well, we have never had any restrictions. If anybody has been in a Grade IV classroom, they have always written the exams, that has been our philosophy and that will continue, with the younger children particularly. So as a philosophy, we do not get into a sort of formal testing much later than say Grade IV; we do now like other districts, have practice runs, say for example, exams of shading the blocks and things like that; they are just the procedures to go through from that point of view.
We have done that but also, when the results come back, we now have a more formal process in place where these exam results are given to the schools, we arrange meetings between our people at the district office and the school people; we expect that there will be a staff meeting in the school to discuss the exam results and of course, that measures will be taken at the school level to remediate these and so on.
From the point of view of the school that scored very low, that was a school where there were only five students in the grade, so statistically of course, we know that when there is a small sample then you know, one or two can give you a great variation and that was A. R. Scammell Academy in Change Islands; so that was really the result from that point of view, but getting back to the general question about the students in say, the more rural of our centres versus the students in the small schools, it varies. We have students in small schools in multigrade situations who consistently perform or outperform students in our larger schools, we find that.
A school for example, I don't mind mentioning is Moreton's Harbour. Moreton's Harbour is a school, over the years that had performed and continues to perform very well on any measure that you want to put into the school testing. I am sure you people know as well as I do, if you take the time to think about it and ask the question why will this happen - and I don't know, I don't have all the answers but it seems like it has to do with the community leadership over the years with the role perhaps the churches have played over the years in the community, with the culture of the community perhaps, you know, there are any numbers of factors I guess one could use, certainly with the teaching and the expectation of the teachers and the principals and so on. Schools have personalities just like people and I think the personality of the school is reflected certainly in the principal and the teaching staff there, and of course, you know the district and so on; so the Canadian Tests of Basic Skills as I said, we have put a number of measures in place to take a look at this.
One other thing I should mention along those lines as well, is what the Chairman mentioned in the introduction. This year we feel that there have been a number of exciting things happening in our district through the school improvement measures that we have in place.
In school improvement of course is where the principal and staff, along with the parents, student committees and some outside people from the board and district office -would actually sit down and take a look at the school and draw up a profile of the school, administer questionnaires to the clientele of the school - to the parents, the students and other stakeholder's in the community - get a profile of the school and sit down then, when they get responses back, and take a look at it and plan a course of action from there, in conjunction with the broad guidelines of course that the school district and the school board approve.
When we started the year, the program coordinator for school improvement and the people at the office, including myself - we said that if we can get, I think it was five of our twelve schools on school improvement, then we thought we would have a fairly successful year. Well I think in the report there - probably in the bulletin I circulated - we have eight of our schools on school improvement. Some are at various stages of school improvement. Some of them have finished their school profile. They were instrumental in presenting to the board a (inaudible) statement because we also have a coordinating committee of the district coordinating the activities of the school improvement teams. That was presented to the board there a while ago and of course it will take some time for the board to have some input into that but there is a board representative on the district improvement team. So there are a number of things happening and of course it is the school improvement now that will take the results of the Canadian Test of Basic Skills as well, take a look at the school and decide in conjunction with the district office staff and so on where they will go and what areas need improvement and so on.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Langdon.
MR. LANGDON: In your bulletin, and I just had a chance to run through some of the points, I taught language and literature in Point Leamington for twenty years so I did not have a chance to peruse them all, just a few of them. In one you made an interesting comment about the TAGS program and some of the kids in some of the outlying areas, Change Islands or whatever, you see running through the underlying thought is the fact of the uncertainty of the future. I am wondering, from your boards perspective - I know you identified them so therefore you are on top of it - do you have any plans for extra counselling for those kids to help them in the uncertain times that they have in the outlying areas?
MR. MANUEL: Partly because of that and partly because we have been working on the problem for some time. I have been looking at counselling services for all of our schools but more particularly for the primary elementary aspect of education in our district. We have had fairly adequate guidance services at the high school level for a number of years in most of our high schools - not all of them but most - but we were not satisfied with the guidance services provided to the primary and elementary areas. So what we did in September '94, we got into a more formalized procedure for guidance services and certainly that has worked very well from the assessment that we just completed.
I mentioned earlier, one of the big question marks facing school districts in rural Newfoundland now, many aspects of the question is what will happen perhaps to our population if there are changes? There probably will be changes coming in the TAGS program and certainly fishing as a viable industry. One of the things we are trying to get a handle on is what might happen to our school population. We keep statistics projected for five years, as a school district, that we get in statistics on births from the public health nurses and from the clergy in the area, from our principals and teachers who live in these communities and know the smaller children and from the PACT programs that we have had in operation where the pre-schoolers will come to our schools and so on. So we try to keep statistics projected for five years.
In discussions we have had with the Department of Education - in fact, in our own statistics we are not sure what is happening but we can determine that some things are happening. In fact, it seems to be that the school population is probably declining faster than we projected. I think this is in line with the conversations I have had with people in the department who keep and follow these trends in a much more formal way perhaps then we do. If that is happening then of course there are some big problems facing educators in school districts in the rural part of the Province.
We know the student population is declining anyway, but it is slipping perhaps even faster than we were planning for, then it is something that we will have to come to grips with. There are many other aspects of that particular problem other than that particular one.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Langdon.
MR. LANGDON: I know that ten or fifteen years ago we had thirty-six kids per 1,000 population, and today the population is twelve students to 1,000 population. My contention is, and I have done a fair bit of reading and research, and I am keenly interested in it, regardless of TAGS, regardless of the fishery or whatever, you are going to see a tremendous change in rural Newfoundland because the children are not there any more, and over the next fifteen or twenty years a lot of the communities will just disappear, having nothing to do with resettlement, just on the decline in normal birth rate; it is just drastically reducing.
That is it for me, Sir.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Langdon. Anybody else? Mr. Penney, do you have some questions?
MR. PENNEY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just have one question. You pointed out in your introductory comments, Mr. Chairman, that we were not restricted to asking questions directly related to the Auditor General's Report, so I have a question directly for Mr. Sceviour that is not related to that report. I recognize that I will have to be somewhat cautious in my wording, and I am in your hands, Sir, as far as ruling on whether this is in order.
Mr. Sceviour, April 17, 1995, report from a review committee on Notre Dame Integrated School Board administration, I will not get into the comments made, the findings, or any of that sort of thing; I will just ask you to comment on the recommendation that a facilitator be engaged who can work with the staff on a renewal process. I quote only that sentence. My question: Has that facilitator been engaged? If so, who is it? And, if that is the case, how is that individual or individuals being paid?
MR. SCEVIOUR: No.
MR. PENNEY: Well, in that case my question is, why not?
MR. SCEVIOUR: The board accepted the report of the review committee and has debated that and other things over a dozen meetings since that time. Generally it was felt that perhaps that was not the route to follow.
MR. PENNEY: Okay. The recommendations were not binding, they were just recommendations, and you consider this was one that should not have been acted upon?
MR. SCEVIOUR: Yes.
MR. PENNEY: Okay, I accept that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Penney. Any further questions?
WITNESS: Mr. Chairman, if I may...
MR. CHAIRMAN: Reverend Ranson, by all means, Sir. Would you come to a microphone, though, so we will have a record in Hansard? There is a vacant chair over here.
REV. RANSON: I would just like to know how Mr. Penney got a hold of the report.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Penney.
MR. PENNEY: It was a report that was sent to me in the mail.
REV. RANSON: By whom?
MR. PENNEY: I would prefer not to disclose that.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Let me, if I could just interject, is this an internal report, or is this a public document?
REV. RANSON: No, it is internal. There are only two people with regard to the district who have a copy of that, plus the review committee and the board. I find that very disturbing.
MR. CHAIRMAN: If that is the case then it is not something we should really be discussing here at this meeting -
REV. RANSON: That is right.
MR. CHAIRMAN: - if it is not a public document. I was not aware of that; I thought it was a public document.
MR. PENNEY: So did I. I was of the impression it was, too, until you just raised that question.
REV. RANSON: The other thing is, I thought that we were talking about a time frame that did not include 1995.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We are not restricted here to anything, Reverend Ranson. The Committee can bring up any issue that it feels is appropriate within its mandate. The mandate of the Committee is financially tied into the Financial Administration Act, and the examination of issues that are dealt with or that are under that purview, but we are not restricted to that. We can deal with any issues, as I mentioned, that are either referred to in the Auditor General's Report or referred to us by the House of Assembly, or that the Committee members themselves feel is an issue that is interesting and appropriate for the Committee to examine.
We've had occasion when we've had correspondence from individuals or groups from around the Province saying: I have a concern about this, and there are financial implications here, and would the Committee examine that? In some cases we will refer them to departments of government to deal with if it is outside our mandate, and other cases we actually have dealt with them, investigated, and had some hearings on it.
So we are not restricted. In this case, if this is an internal report that we are talking about here that has not been made public then this Committee would not entertain any discussion of it. I was not aware of that -
MR. PENNEY: Nor was I.
MR. CHAIRMAN: - and I don't think the vice-chair was aware of it when he raised the question.
MR. PENNEY: No, I was not. But I would like for the record to note that my question dealt with the ramifications of the expenditure.
MR. CRANE: You have a leak in your caucus.
REV. RANSON: Then my other question would be, are you at liberty to say that it was a board member who sent the report to you?
MR. PENNEY: Under the circumstances now, realizing that this was not a public document and I assumed it was, I would prefer not to do that.
REV. RANSON: Okay.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps we will leave that there, if you will agree.
MR. PENNEY: In that regard, I would also for the record state again that I was of the impression when this was given me that it was public information. I am prepared now for the record to show that I apologize for having raised it. It was not done with that intent. I very carefully just isolated that one sentence to ask only to see where this would be paid for, or how it would be paid for, through what source. That was my only reason for asking.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, thank you, Mr. Penney. Unless there is any other comment anybody wishes to make I think that disposes of that issue. Does the Auditor General have any closing remarks or any comments she wishes to make?
MS. MARSHALL: No, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Sceviour, do you or any other member have any final comments you would like to make?
MR. SCEVIOUR: No. I've enjoyed the whole process, really. It has given us an opportunity to have somebody come in at no expense to us to delve into where we've been going or not going, and hopefully some direction for the future. I've enjoyed it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much. It has been the observation of this Committee I think over the years in holding these meetings, as I indicated in my opening comments, that we've found some of the meetings outside of the Confederation Building sometimes better than what (inaudible). Self-examination is always good.
To have this final step in the accountability process is also very valuable from three points of view, really. From the Committee's point of view in having an opportunity to hear first-hand, from the people who are out there on the firing line administering our educational system and delivering the system to our young people, your views on the various issues that are involved. Not only those things that are commented on by the Auditor General from a purely technical, financial point of view and the Financial Administration Act, but also some of the policies and procedures that you've outlined for us. It has been most informative for the Committee, as have been all of our hearings.
Hopefully it has been informative for you people as well to have some insight into where the Committee comes into this, where the House of Assembly comes into it, being the final arbiters I guess of taxpayers' dollars and accountable to the taxpayers, and you in turn accountable to us, and others accountable to you and so forth through that whole accountability process.
One thing that is missing here today, and the vice-chair and I have discussed this, is making the public aware of what is taking place here. We are most disappointed that the local press for example is not here today. I would think that this is probably the first time that any standing committee of the House of Assembly, let alone the Public Accounts Committee which is considered the most senior committee of the House of Assembly, has ever held public hearings here in this community, in this district, dealing with a very important matter, that being the education of the large percentage of the population of young people in this community.
The vice-chair and I, and if the other Committee members will agree, we've already discussed and agreed to issue a joint letter to the Lewisporte Pilot expressing our displeasure that they did not see fit to be here today and to convey to the people of this district some of the very important points that were discussed here today. We will see next Wednesday's Pilot splashed with photographs of people having pies thrown in their face and stuffing their face with mussels and dancing jigs and all the rest of it as the Mussel Bed Soiree goes through, which is extremely important. But I doubt very much that there is another issue that will take place in this area this week that is as important as what is taking place here this morning. The vice-chair and I, and if the Committee members will concur, we will express that displeasure to the Pilot.
Because I think it is an important thing that takes place. There was a lot of good information here. I have no doubt that there are a lot of people out there who would be very interested in hearing some of the answers to some of the questions from both sides. No doubt those people, those parents, have the same questions in mind and would like to hear the answers and the clarifications of these issues and the polices put forth and so forth, and how their money is being spent. They also have a stake in how educational dollars are spent on their children. So we will do that.
I want to comment on your bulletin. As Mr. Tobin said earlier it is a tremendous idea. I particularly like the humourous side (inaudible).
MR. CHAIRMAN: Perhaps you will convey my congratulations to them for their wisdom.
MR. CRANE: Do you know what I said to Melvin? I said: Melvin, I know why you get so few votes on Change Islands.
MR. CHAIRMAN: With that, let me thank all of you for being here. It has been most informative. I think the Committee will agree that the hearings we held yesterday in Gander and here today have been two of the best meetings that we've had. They've been very informative, very worthwhile, and it makes us as Committee members feel at least that we are accomplishing something and that we do play a role. Be assured that the comments you've made today will not go unnoticed. Everything will be recorded of course in Hansard. The Committee reports to the House of Assembly with recommendations. We will be deliberating what has taken place here today and making a formal recommendation to the House of Assembly in our annual report.
I thank you all for being here: The Auditor General and her staff, members of the Committee, and our staff of the House of Assembly. Reverend Ranson, sir, as a board member, we are certainly pleased that you took the time to be here today. Thank you all. This meeting stands adjourned.
The Committee adjourned.