School Board to have meetings regarding former NW cemetery and location of middle school

The school board will be holding two meetings just before the November civic election.
The first meeting will let residents know the history (recent and long-term) of the former New Westminster Cemetery. The first meeting will be held tomorrow, Saturday, October 23rd. The following Saturday, November 1st, there will be a meeting regarding a location for the much awaited West end middle school.
Click here to learn more.

Public has right to ask questions

Lisa Graham had the following letter published in the October 22nd Royal City Record.

Dear Editor:

The school board is all about community and community issues. It is entirely reasonable for the public to scrutinize the decisions that are made at the board table and, further, to raise questions on issues of concern, and this should happen without the consequence of being publicly rebuked by trustees.

Jim Goring’s astute questioning of the School District No. 40 business company finances is reminiscent of parent Kelvin Chao’s questions, which indicates that he is both informed and concerned; and, as a declared trustee candidate, he is only doing his homework.

On the issue of the business company audit, it needs to be acknowledged that the audit was done by a reputable firm, Grant and Thornton, and that the audit is legal and accurate. That being said, an audit is only a snapshot of the state of a company’s finances, as presented, on the date of review. Further, it is not uncommon to do a comprehensive post-audit analysis of a company in order to clarify anomalies and/or assess the ‘big-picture’ status of any said company.

What Mr. Goring presented was a big-picture analysis of the school district business company’s financial performance over the last couple of years, the result being that, compared to the losses accrued in the first four years of operation, over the last two years, the company has shown consecutive, but extremely modest, profits of $1,900 and $4,500.

That being clarified, of concern to myself as a “shareholder” is the fact that absolutely no monies from the company have been deposited into district coffers to benefit New Westminster students and staff – not in the form of any declared dividends and certainly not in the form of any repayment of the public education dollars that were used to start the company. Further, when I asked at the annual general meeting, I was told that the company directors had no current plans to address the loan.

If the school district business company is to continue, and it seems that it is the will of this board that it does continue, in terms of paying off the $1-million debt it owes to the district, I have long advocated that the business company recognize the loan for what it is: a legitimate business expense that is no different than any other business expense like salaries and lease costs, etc.

Currently, the business company’s debt is not calculated into its annual audit, but when I raise the issue of establishing a repayment schedule for the loan, a majority of my trustee colleagues defeat it.

Unfortunately, the school district has more “need” than it has “budget,” which is why, until it is paid in full, payment on the loan from the district should be a standing budget-item on the business company’s ledger.

No longer can the school district afford to be treated like the bank of Mom and Dad.

Lisa Graham, New Westminster school trustee, Voice New Westminster

Jim Goring Questions Biz Company Numbers

Voice trustee hopeful says company’s profit wasn’t as large as it appeared

By Niki Hope, published in The Record, Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Voice New Westminster board of education candidate says the school district’s business company didn’t actually make the $36,000 profit last year that’s been reported, and it should have been clarified in the company’s financial statements.

The district’s profit appeared larger than it was last year because the district gained back money it had lost the previous year, said Jim Goring.

“(The business company) is still the same break-even company that it was. To say that we may have turned a corner this year – we’re still not there, and whether or not we can remains to be seen,” Goring said.

After reviewing the statements with a friend, who’s a chartered accountant and business analyst, Goring said they determined that a bad debt expense in 2007 was conservatively estimated at a higher cost than it actually was and the money was recovered in 2008. That, along with refunded insurance costs, make the company’s gains appear larger than they actually were.

According to Goring, in 2006/07 the district’s 2006/07 loss of $30,216 is actually a profit of $1,914, making the 2007/08 profit not $36,000 but only $4,519.

The financial statements provide the wrong impression, said Goring.

Goring acknowledged the amount of time trustee Brent Atkinson, who is CEO of the business company which oversees a school in China, has put into the endeavour. He conceded that in the last two years – under Atkinson’s guidance – the company hasn’t lost money.

The business company has required working capital from the school district, and this shows that it is not able to stand on its own, Goring wrote in a release he gave The Record.

“I think the public needs to understand the real numbers,” said Goring, who was announced as a Voice candidate last month.

Voice members call their group an “electors’group” and not a political organization, yet many of the members share the same perspective on city and school district matters.

The business company has long been under scrutiny from a number of Voice members, and some unaffiliated parents, who say it pulls money and time out of local schools. The for-profit company oversees the Wenzhou Offshore School in China and offers English as a second language programs abroad.

The district has invested $1 million into the company – the only one of its kind in the province.

Spurred on by the economic success of international education, the district launched the company after B.C. Liberal-introduced legislation allowed school districts to go into business.

Atkinson, who co-owns a successful chain of insurance companies, has narrowed the business company’s focus and cut spending since he took over the operation.

Responding to Goring’s claims, Atkinson said the business company’s financial statements follow the auditor’s standard of practice, and he has no say on how they should be done.

Atkinsons wanted the financial statements to reflect that the company broke even in 2006/07, but the auditors said they wouldn’t make the adjustment because there was still an outstanding bill. At the time, he was mad because he thought the company had broken even, he said.

When Goring raised the issue at the Oct. 8 board of education meeting, Atkinson said he had a lengthy discussion with the auditor about the financial statements and was told that they had to perform the audit as it was presented, with the $36,000 profit shown last year and a loss shown the previous year.

“In terms of the business company, they’re the ones who have to sign off as auditors,” he said.

“I’m just telling you what happened. I’m not saying I agree or disagree with how it should be done.”

Atkinson told The Record that he stands by the audited financial statements.

“If he (Goring) doesn’t agree with them, maybe he should take up accounting,” he said.

He also noted Goring asked at the business company’s annual general meeting what it would cost for the business company to shut down.

“I think I pointed out to him that I’ve seen probably thousands of financial statements in my business career, and I’ve never seen one that had anything to do with the wind-up costs of a company,” he said.

If Goring disagrees with the audited financial statements, Atkinson said he should talk to the auditors at Grant Thornton.

Atkinson noted that Goring is running as a school trustee and suggested he’s looking for a political issue that will get his name in the paper.

“Why does he call a reporter, and you know what the answer to that is: it’s election time.

“And so Voice and other people are interested … in getting their name printed in the paper.

“(They) come up with what I would consider partial red-herrings like this, trying to build some sort of profile.

“But I wish they’d endeavour to build a positive profile instead of a negative profile,” he said.

He also noted that Goring himself pointed out at the business company’s general meeting that revenue had doubled in the last year.

“Even though he wishes to be negative about the modest return, and maybe he’s somewhat disappointed or embarrassed by the company being in the black instead of in the red, which would give him more of a campaign platform, I suppose, the fact is the company is in the black,” Atkinson said.

“The business company’s broken even for the last two years, and it’s trending in the right direction, and I perceive that to be positive.”

Top ten list of Voice positives

VOICE school trustee candidate, Shelley Waldie, and her husband, Brian, ran out of fingers while listing all of the positives VOICE New Westminster represents for them.

Shelley and Brian narrowed their list of positives down to 10 that they want to share. Here is their top ten list in reverse order:

10…. Voice represents positive change

9…. Voice seeks out and values public input

8…. Voice is committed to transparency, integrity and full disclosure

7…. All Voice members and candidates live in New Westminster (see #4)

6…. Voice members and candidates have a diversity of viewpoints (entrepreneurs alongside union members….)

5…. Voice has no baggage or affiliation to any political group

4…. Voice has representation and membership from all New Westminster neighbourhoods (Victory-Massey Heights, Moody Park/Uptown, Queensborough, Glenbrook North, Queens Park, Connaught Heights, Brow of the Hill, West End, McBride-Sapperton, Downtown and Quayside).

3…. Voice has diversity in terms of age, gender and ethnicity, household income….

2…. Voice has a mix of seasoned experience blended with fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm

1…. And the number 1 thing that Voice brings to the table that no one else can: cooperation and collaboration between the city and the school district. With Voice this is a given: The next city council, mayor and school board are already meeting as a group.

Thanks, Shelley and Brian, for sharing your list with us.

Air Quality Monitoring coming to Sapperton and 6th and Front Streets

On Monday, September 29th, I spoke at city hall and thanked City council for the support they had given the McBride Sapperton Residents’ Association’s request to Metro Vancouver for an air quality monitoring station in Sapperton.

Sapperton, and indeed all of New Westminster, has many issues impacting our air quality. We have certain industries in the Braid Industrial area that are allowed to discharge into the atmosphere and we have the diesel particulate from the many trains and traffic that traverses our fair City. As president of the association I have spoken at City Hall over the last many years about some of the other issues faced by Sappertonians. I have asked for E.8th Avenue, E. Columbia and Braid Streets to no longer be truck routes so that we don’t have diesel particulate being spewed through our neighbourhoods.

I’ve also tried to alert people to the implications of the additional traffic that will result from the province’s Gateway Project. Twinning the Port Mann bridge (which will make it that much more appealing for people to live in the sprawling communities south of the Fraser) will not ease traffic and pollution in our neighbourhoods. By encouraging people to live in communities where land is being removed from the Agricultural Land Reserve and then have them drive 30-40 kilometres to work will not help our air quality. We presently have the Port Mann operating as a natural traffic control valve into our communities. As we remove this valve we encourage people who have been carpooling or taking alternatives to get back into their cars and race across the new lanes of the Port Mann and then through our neighbourhood streets.

I’ve also spoken about our concerns regarding Metro Vancouver’s attempted expropriation of the Canfor lands and the increased truck traffic and emissions an incinerator would bring. Presently Metro Vancouver and Port Metro Vancouver are battling over ownership of this site. Either of these authorities will bring a serious increase in regional truck traffic to our city.

It was due to these concerns, and in particular the Canfor expropriation, that I wrote a letter on behalf of the McBride Sapperton Residents’ Association and asked the City and the Fraser Health Authority to back our request to Metro Vancouver to have an air monitoring station in Sapperton. I was very happy to hear that over the next year Metro Vancouver will be having an air monitoring station in the Sapperton Park area. When I spoke before council I was also delighted to hear that council had requested that some mobile testing be included. The data Metro Vancouver gathers on air pollutants, ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and particulate matter can be used as a baseline for New Westminster to consider when approving any future developments in the area.

– Neil Powell