As reported by Lucie Edwardson of Metro News, October 25, 2016 (links in original):
An Alberta home-schooling association has been ousted for allegedly pocketing nearly $1 million taxpayer dollars from Alberta Education that was meant to fund the education of thousands of students.As reported by Lucie Edwardson of Metro News, October 26, 2016 (bold in original, links inserted by blogger):
According to the ministry of education, Trinity Christian School Association is suspected siphoning government funds for years.
Effective immediately, the ministry has cancelled their registration and accreditation as a private school operator.
Minister of Education David Eggen said the decision to close the school comes after an audit of Trinity’s financials, which found numerous issues and determined that public funding was directed to a third party, Wisdom Home Schooling Society.
“The decision to cancel accreditation and registration from Trinity Christian School Association was made out of respect for taxpayers and the many families who entrusted this school to properly account for the funding granted for the purposes of their children’s education,” Eggen said.
Alberta Education said they will provide the findings of their review to both the Canada Revenue Agency and the RCMP to allow them to determine if further investigation is warranted.
According to Alberta Education, issues include conflict of interest involving senior management and related-party transactions, including terms of employment contracts and terms of leases with related parties.
They said inappropriate expenses were also found for things not limited to babysitting, funeral expenses and “double dipping” of mileage.
The financial audit also found that Wisdom — who is not the grant recipient — had retained $988,000 in “unclaimed parent funding” for the last three years.
“Our government is committed to supporting Alberta’s students and to ensuring that as much public funding as possible is being directed to the classroom, whether that classroom is in a home or in a bricks-and-mortar school,” Eggen said.
Alberta Education said they have also determined that Trinity hasn’t demonstrated appropriate accountability for the supervision of its home-education program or for public funds.
They said this is due to issues including the transfer of responsibility and supervision of their home-education program and accountability for government funding to Wisdom Home Schooling Society of Alberta.
Wisdom responded directly to many of the allegations on its website.
It claims that it has always overseen Trinity's operations for 21 years, that it has undergone routine financial audits, and that it retained the $988,000 in unclaimed funding because it is supposed to hold onto those funds as per Alberta Education mandates.
There are currently 13 in-school students and almost 3,500 home-education students registered with TCSA for the current school year.
Alberta Education said their staff will be made available to help students register in an alternative public or private school.
Further information for affected families is available on Alberta Education’s website.
The principal and superintendent of an Alberta school association that was stripped of their registration and accreditation Tuesday said they were blindsided by the closure.And Wisdom's response:
Richard Scheinbein, principal and superintendent of the Trinity Christian School Association which was shut down by Alberta Education due to alleged “financial impropriety,” was shocked by the ministry’s decision.
The comment comes after a government review alleges that nearly $1 million in funds supposed to be returned to parents is apparently listed as revenue for Wisdom Home Schooling Society, which is contracted by Trinity to run their home-education program.
“To tell you the truth I don’t know what’s going on—if we have an enemy there or not—but for the last 10-15 years, every year we’ve had this kind of stuff, and every year it passes,” Scheinbein said.
Education Minister David Eggen announced the decision to close the school citing a financial review of the last three years.
“These are very concerning financial practices,” Eggen said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Edmonton.
According to Alberta Education, 3,500 of the 11,000 home-educated students in the province were registered to TCSA’s home-schooling program with Wisdom—which has no legal relationship with the ministry. An additional 13 students attend Trinity in a classroom setting.
“The scale is quite large,” said Eggen.
The minister said familial relationships within the school and positions of power were also concerning.
According to the websites of both Trinity and Wisdom, members of the Noster and Bekolay families serve on both boards and are also employed by Wisdom.
The websites indicate that husband and wife Kenneth and Marlane Noster are on the Wisdom board, while Kenneth sits on both boards.
Their son, Saul Noster, is listed as Wisdom’s financial services administrator since 2012.
Metro tried various methods to reach the aforementioned members of the Noster family, but no calls were returned by print deadline.
Audit documents provided by Alberta Education show that Trinity and Wisdom spent approximately 32 per cent of expenses on payments and administration compared to 3.4 to 5.6 per cent range in public school boards.
Although names have been redacted, the document indicated the majority of administration salaries went to members of two families—with total compensation to all members of the two families exceeding $2.76 million over three years.
Eggen said the review of Trinity financials took place after the school got a new auditor who raised red flags with the ministry.
The minister said through the audit it became obvious that money wasn’t being spent efficiently and that third party contractor—Wisdom—was handling most of the money.
Eggen said their review found inappropriate leases between Trinity and Wisdom, where they were leasing their own properties to themselves at 10 times the market rate, as well as spending money on alcohol, parties and gift-certificates.
“There’s a whole long litany of improprieties,” Eggen said. “They weren’t doing bank reconciliations on a monthly basis—which is the most basic thing you need to do to ensure transparency—so we felt a call to act.”
The audit also noted that in reviewing Trinity and Wisdom’s records they found Trinity’s practices were inconsistent with legislation.
The 13 certificated teachers referred by Wisdom as ‘facilitators’ are paid by Wisdom as independent contractors and aren’t employees at either organization— and Trinity didn’t pay any of the home education facilitators in the periods under review, according to the audit.
Further, the one certified teacher paid by Trinity for the 13 in-school students has no employment contract—all of which goes against the School Act, according to the government.
Wisdom parents question government motives for closure
Members of the Wisdom Home Schooling Society’s parent advisory council said not even Wisdom saw the closure of Trinity Christian School Association coming.
Susanne and David Knoch said they were waiting to hear from Alberta Education at a telephone conference town hall, Tuesday evening, about the closure before making any decisions.
“It’s a total shock. It’s an absolute shock. This is like a sideswipe, not even Wisdom saw it coming,” said David.
But, the couple said they question the government’s objectives.
“We know the NDP government hasn’t been especially welcoming—we’ve just questioned their motives,” said Susanne, when asked if she was referring to Bill 10.
They said throughout the audit Wisdom has fully cooperated with the government.
“The Alberta government has been speaking very favourably to Wisdom,” said Susanne. “Wisdom has been so cooperative, they’ve responded to all their demands, and the government even said thank you.”
She added that the closure of the school in this fashion is “just so unethical based on what the communication has been up until now.”
WISDOM Shutdown - Statement
October 25, 2016
WISDOM/Trinity has been shut down by AB Education. They announced this with a press release filled with partial truths amounting to calumny.
You are being told to give notification to another school for this year, but we are encouraging you not to do anything yet. Over the next few days the WISDOM Parent Advisory Council will communicate suggestions regarding your options.
Here is a brief overview of the AB Education allegations and our responses.
AB Education has shut down our school. They make untrue claims:
Trinity Christian School has neglected to adequately supervise home schooling.
Response: WISDOM has been Trinity’s home education administration for 21 years. In fact, in 1997 AB Education mandated the establishment of WISDOM Home Schooling Society. Through its WISDOM office, Trinity has administrated home schooling in an exemplary manner.
Alberta Education will be providing the findings of its review to both Canada Revenue Agency and the RCMP so those agencies can determine whether further investigation is warranted….
Response: There has been a transparent financial audit of Trinity/WISDOM every year, and AB Education has conducted many additional audits. Every income and expense is meticulously recorded and accounted for.
The review also uncovered that Wisdom – which is not the grant recipient – had retained $988,000 in unclaimed parent funding over the past three years.
Response: AB Education mandates that unclaimed funding stay with the school. Since WISDOM is Trinity’s home education administration, it is logical that WISDOM retained unspent funds and used them on home education programing.
Alberta Education also determined that Trinity has not demonstrated sufficient accountability for the supervision of its home-education program or for public funds, including transferring its responsibility for supervision of its home-education program — and accountability for government funding — to Wisdom Home Schooling Society of Alberta.
Response: AB Education has arbitrarily determined that the work of WISDOM is not the work of Trinity. All allegations are based upon this false assumption.