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Indigenous leaders call for forensic audit of School District 57

Lheidli T’enneh Chief Clay Pountney and McLeod Lake Indian Band Chief Harley Chingee.

Two local chiefs don’t feel students are getting value for the money sent to School District 57 for indigenous students and are calling for a forensic audit of the district’s finances.

Lheidli T’enneh Chief Dayi Clay Pountney and McLeod Lake Indian Band Chief Harley Chingee sent a letter to the district week requesting the audit.

“It has been noticeably clear to us that transparency and trust needs to improve between School District 57 and First Nations,” said Pountney, in a news release. “The forensic audit will show in detail where the dollars have been spent. While we would like to look back at the past 20 years, we feel that an audit of spending of our dollars during the past seven years is reasonable.”

The First Nations say the district has not adequately divulged, through local education agreements, where federal funding for education, which flows through the communities to the school district, has been spent.

“Each year, the district’s annual financial statements are subject to an audit and are submitted to the Ministry of Education,” said Trent Derrick, board chair. “In the past few years additional reporting has been prepared and submitted to the Ministry of Education specifically in relation to the targeted Indigenous funding received by the district. At this time, the district is working to determine the scope and nature of the request as well as to establish who will cover the expenses attached to this endeavor.”

One of the reasons the nations are calling for a forensic audit is the gap in educational outcomes between Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students. The nations believe that concerted efforts and proactive measures are required to eliminate this gap and contribute to reconciliation in education.

The band claim that over the last five years, the graduation rate for Indigenous students has ranged from 39-52, according to the two bands while graduation rate for non-Indigenous students has ranged from 67-79 per cent.

The district’s numbers, which uses six-year graduation rates (the percentage of Grade 8 students who graduate within six years of starting high school), are somewhat different.

The six–year completion rate for Indigenous learners has been as high as 66 per cent and continues to be within that range, according to Cindy Heitman, acting superintendent of schools.

“We know we need to do better, thus we focus our initiatives and planning on specific goals aimed towards improving the results of our Indigenous learners at all levels,” Heitman said. “We acknowledge that increasing graduation rates depends on working collaboratively with our local First Nations and greater Indigenous communities.”

The chiefs also want to know more about how core funding for off-reserve students is being used, along with special program funds such as targeted dollars, English Language Learning (ELL), and others.

“Our education teams keep asking for details about how the funds we send each year are spent, and all we have received so far is correspondence in ‘Draft’ form,” said Deputy Chief of the McLeod Lake Indian Band, Jayde Duranleau. “All we want to know is where and how the dollars we send to school district each year are being spent. We do not feel that we are asking too much. Our communities together have sent millions of dollars to SD57 in the past 20 years. When our members ask how these dollars are being spent and we cannot answer their questions, we feel that we are letting them down as council members and staff. At this point we feel that only a forensic audit will produce the answers our members deserve and help restore the relationship with SD57.”

According to the district’s 2021 budget, adopted last week, it will receive $390,454 in ‘funding from First Nations’ this year. Last week the board approved a $181 million budget. It received an aboriginal education grant of $5.4 million.

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