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School board to salute quick-thinking teachers

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The teachers of St. Michael’s School here will be recognized by the Northwest Catholic District School Board for their quick action to secure student safety during a Jan. 15 gas leak nearby.

At the board’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday night, trustee Harold Huntley proposed the board draft a letter to the staff and students for their efforts.

“I just wanted some kind of recognition for staff and students for a potentially very dangerous situation,” said Huntley. “I think it brought staff together in terms of teamwork. T

“They handled it in a way that was very safe for our students.”

The board agreed the staff and students should be commended for their efforts, though chair Gerry Rousseau raised the concern that, in hindsight, the students ended up moving closer to the gas leak—and actually walked by it—when the school was evacuated to the Memorial Sports Centre.

“My concern, that maybe needs to be addressed [by the board], is that they moved closer to the leak,” he said tentatively, not wanting to put any blame on the teachers.

Chris Howarth, the board’s superintendent of business, explained the students were moved on the recommendation of the gas company before the exact origin of the leak had been determined.

“When we moved them, the gas smell was coming through the storm sewer and getting into the school,” Howarth said. “The gas company said the leak was close to the school.”

It is school evacuation policy to move to the arena. “We can’t fault them,” Howarth concluded.

Trustees also discussed the audited financial statements of the board for the fiscal year ending Aug. 31, 2002. Arising from the financial statements, the board approved the transfer of $280,731 on Aug. 31, 2002 from the revenue fund to the reserve for working funds.

Howarth explained that on a budget of more than $11 million, it is quite good to be in the $250,000 range.

He also noted the money was moved to the reserve for working funds because the board can access those dollars down the road and transfer them elsewhere (i.e., they aren’t locked in that fund).

One place they could be transferred in future is the Retirement Gratuities and Other Non-Capital Reserve Fund, which presently stands at $286,972 (this fund is used to pay out retirement benefits).

The financial report stated the contingent liability for future retirement costs is about $476,000.

Howarth explained that, at present, this isn’t an issue since the amount in the fund easily will cover projected costs in the short term, however, in seven-eight years time, the board may be “looking at significant payouts” due to retirements.

The board also discussed the letter submitted by the auditors, BDO Dunwoody of Dryden, that contained two recommendations. One had to do with the board’s general ledger and several unreconciled accounts that held up the audit.

The second dealt with the issue of missing dual signatures on cheques for board expenditures.

Howarth noted board policy requires the signature of either the chair or vice-chair and one other signature for amounts greater than $7,500. He explained they missed stamping a couple of cheques and took full responsibility.

Measures have been enacted to curb this in the future.

The board then discussed the issue of appointing a new auditor. After reviewing six potential firms and putting them through a weighted selection process, long-time firm BDO Dunwoody edged out the competition.

The proposal from the firm was for a five-year contract as requested by administration, and being the maximum allowable contract length by the ministry. But several trustees felt the auditor should be chosen annually.

“I think having an annual appointment is a good matter of policy for the board,” said vice-chair Wade Petranik. “The RFP discussed financial arrangements but not performance.”

He explained that if the board and the auditor had a parting of the ways, it wouldn’t be stuck with the same auditor for five years.

The consensus from trustees was that most businesses choose an auditor on an annual basis, or at least approve the choice annually, and that they should go that route.

The only concern was that the RFP had been requested for five years and this might change BDO Dunwoody’s position.

“I’m totally okay with it,” said Howarth. “I think it is a great idea and I don’t think it will be a problem on their end at all.”

The board also decided Tuesday night to draft a letter to send to the Ministry of Education calling for equality of access to the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION).

Seven other northern boards are planning to do the same.

The network is designed to bring leading-edge network capability to Ontario’s publicly-funded research and education community. It links post secondary schools, research institutions, and other groups.

The board was concerned the cost to link to the network for e-learning purposes was not the same for northern boards as it is for southern ones. The nearest point of the network to here is Thunder Bay.

“It comes to Lakehead University and there it stops,” said Education Director John Madigan. “[To the ministry], it looks like Ontario is well served.”

He reported that costs were estimated at $700,000 a year to run a T1 optical fibre line from Thunder Bay to Dryden, and that it was “financially out of reach.”

“What looks like equitable access is not really equitable access,” Madigan said.

The board also discussed the ongoing draft of a board self-evaluation form, which all trustees seemed to have positive comments about. No further action is planned at this time.

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