Auditor general condemns school capital spending decisions not always supported by evidence20 October 2020
FREDERICTON (GNB) – Auditor General Kim Adair-MacPherson tabled her report today assessing school infrastructure planning in the province, identifying several critical areas for improvement to achieve better asset management of the province’s 294 schools serving 97,000 students across the province.
The audit highlights that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and school districts invest significant effort in preparing the annual capital budget, yet funding decisions are not always evidence-based or objective.
“There are several instances where the department did not follow their own project assessment tool and process, and others where cabinet approved projects different than those put forward by the department for funding,” said Adair-MacPherson. She cited the situation for l’École de Moncton and the Hanwell School projects as examples in the report.
The audit also found that aging school infrastructure will require significant investments to maintain, and, if current processes continue, the department will likely face tough choices to either lower the quality standards for educational facilities or possibly shut down schools.
“What is most concerning is that the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development has no specific plan for aging school infrastructure, including no comprehensive strategy to address the $282.7 million in significant deferred maintenance issues,” Adair-MacPherson said. “This reactionary approach to planning and project funding creates continuous uncertainty in the education system.”
Another important issue to address for long-term infrastructure planning is the current deficiencies and incompleteness of existing facility condition data. Currently, there is no standard approach for school districts to follow to collect facility data across the province, making comparisons difficult in the planning and prioritization processes.
“I believe the department, as the asset owner, should exercise its role in a more proactive, all-encompassing manner when it comes to deciding the optimal allocation of capital budget dollars,” Adair-MacPherson said.
The auditor general expressed disappointment with the department’s responses to the 14 recommendations made in this chapter and said she “is not optimistic recommended improvements will be implemented.”
The full report is available online.20-10-20