Education grant system was abused - Minister
Education Ministry cash was spent on programmes that weren't supposed to receive it as staff abused the Government grants system, Minister Dame Jennifer Smith said yesterday.
Dame Jennifer pledged to tighten up controls as she explained how Education will make do with a budget of $128 million in 2011-12, ten percent less than 2010-11.
Opening the Budget debate on the Ministry and Department of Education, the Minister told the House of Assembly: “You will recall that during the general debate I mentioned the lack of financial discipline, waste and in some cases abuse that was found upon review of the budget.
“Unfortunately, the allocation of grant monies was the area of concern when we reviewed the budget. Although all of our grant recipients provide a much-needed and appreciated service to our children, Ministry oversight of the money we were spending was severely lacking.
“There were far too many examples of unfunded programmes being paid for services that were not budgeted for. In other cases, we found programmes that were funded without any documents or signed contracts outlining the services being rendered.”
Dame Jennifer said Permanent Secretary Warren Jones has now contacted proposed grant recipients telling them signed contracts with agreed deliverables must be in place before they receive future payments.
She said Mr Jones will oversee grant allocations “to ensure there is appropriate oversight and accountability”.
The Ministry has allocated $904,000 on grants for the coming fiscal year, an increase of more than 50 percent from last year's $600,000. Recipients include the Adult Education School, Bermuda Broadcasting Company, the National Gallery, the School of Music, Bermuda Sloop Foundation and Bermuda Zoological Society.
Dame Jennifer told the House the Ministry had simplified its mission statement to state: “To raise the quality of teaching and learning so that public schools become the number one educational choice for parents and students.”
She reeled off figures showing how cash has been divided up among various items, but Shadow Minister Grant Gibbons later complained details were sparse on how that money would be spent to address Bermuda's education crisis. He also asked if the people responsible for not following financial instructions had been disciplined.
“I think the public is very tired of people who are not doing what they are supposed to do with public money,” he said.
The Minister also revealed her intention to crackdown on truancy despite a $62,000 decrease in the school attendance budget.
“I know that the public, particularly the bus-riding public, has concerns about the work of attendance officers, as they report seeing young people who are not in school during school hours,” she said.
“I am quite aware of the Ministerial responsibility dictated under the Education Act and I can assure members that I plan to ensure that both the letter, and the intent, of the law to ensure that students are in school is complied with.”
Although school attendance levels were reported at 86 percent or above in 2009-10, Dame Jennifer said: “The percentage of attendance would be more revealing if we could be assured that there was 100 percent reporting.
“The Ministry will ensure that attendance officers are used according to the letter and the intent of the Act to find those who are absent, or often late, and to work with schools to put in place appropriate interventions to ensure that they remain in school.”
She said the role of substitute teachers and paraprofessionals are being reviewed to ensure value for money.
And switching Ministry offices to Southside, from Dundonald Place and Covenant Place in Hamilton, would save on rent despite one-off costs incurred by the relocation, she said.
“In the long run, cost savings and efficiencies will be realised as Ministry staff, with the exception of Student Services, will all be located in one building,” she said.