I have printed out the 39-page document entitled: Trinity Christian School Association – Review of Financial Management and Administration. It was issued by Alberta Education – Strategic Services and Governance.
(If you want to see the report, it’s on the Alberta Education website. This is the link: https://education.alberta.ca/media/3273210/trinity-christian-school-association-review.pdf )
I’m going to go through it with my little laptop beside me. By the time I’m done, we’ll have a little (“little”) blog post.
But before I begin, I will say that this investigation is not the work of a bad government trying to take down the good guys. It’s not about religion and it’s not about LGBTBLT or whatever.
This is about da hands in da cookie jar.
So let’s begin.
– On page 1, there’s a note that in 2015, Wisdom and/or Trinity got $50,000 from non-governmental sources. That’s interesting. I wonder where that came from. Private donations?
– On page 1, the report identifies the board members of Wisdom and the board members of Trinity.
The version that I have does not list everyone’s names on this page, but says “The boards and administration of both Trinity and Wisdom are largely represented by two families; the . . . family (Trinity) and the . . . family (Wisdom).”
– On page 2, it says that Trinity (Trinity is the school board that has the relationship with Alberta Education) gave the cash (5.4 million dollars for 2015-16, 5.3 million for 2014-15 are the exact amounts listed on page 8) over to a group of people calling themselves “Wisdom Home Schooling” and sometimes “Wisdom Home Schooling Society of Alberta.” And they referred to themselves often as WISDOM — all caps, for no reason. (Let’s just call them “Wisdom.”)
Trinity let Wisdom decide what to do with the moola. For instance, Wisdom decided how much its senior officials (family members) should be paid, or what benefits these senior officials should receive.
It’s not really surprising that Trinity was so gosh-golly generous in this way, because the head of Wisdom was also the associate principal of Trinity. How convenient.
– On page 2, it says that Trinity looked the other way when Wisdom agreed, year after year, to pay about $7,000 each month to rent 2,600 square feet in a nowhere town called Derwent. Yes, Wisdom agreed to pay this amount of money for office space in a rural setting. They made their payments to a corporation called Lone Spruce Farm.
That was stupid. Wisdom should have shopped around for a better deal, don’t you think? Or wait — I wonder who runs Lone Spruce? Who’s that ruthless bargainer that squeezed Wisdom out of so much cash, every month? Was it Franz Reuther? No, not this time. Oh look! It’s the head of Wisdom who runs Lone Spruce. How convenient. When you do business with yourself, you don’t even have to make a conference call.
– But that wasn’t the only rent money collected. Wisdom also contracted with a different organization. It rented some more space (6,602 square feet) in the same location, from Living Water Arts Foundation. How would you like an extra $11,000 in your pocket every year? That’s what Wisdom agreed to give this Living Water Arts Foundation. Oh but wait — aren’t you curious as to who runs that? Turn to page 3.
– On page 3, the report says that it’s also owned by someone whose name is blanked out. Lemme guess. Or wait, maybe I don’t have to. A quick internet search yields some familiar faces on Living Waters’ board of directors. The clothes are different, but the face is the same.
– On page 3, the report says that the rates were about ten times what would have been fair. Why such high rates? The auditors/investigators were told that the goal was to earn back the cost of the entire building over 8 or 10 years of collecting rent. Yeah, that would be pretty high rent. Imagine if you rented out your home so that after one decade or less, you were getting pure profit?
In one year, Lone Spruce Farm collected $105,000 for renting out a bit of rural office space. Wow.
– On page 3, you come across the contorted dealings between Wisdom and Living Water Foundation (LWF) and Trinity. The government gave Trinity $500,000 to build this facility. Then Trinity sold the building to Living Water Foundation for cheap. Living Water Foundation then goes into the landlord business, and rents it out to Wisdom. Fishy, hey?
– On page 3, it says that Trinity sold the building to LWF for $150,000. Boy, that’s quite the loss! A building that cost $500,000 or more to build is now worth only $150,000? What happened to it? Did it get torpedoed? Did a Really Big Tree fall on it and SQUISH it? Why the sale price, hmm?
– On page 4, things start to become Quite Humorous, and my dad would find it Highly Entertaining that Trinity didn’t have legal title to sell the building. (Details, details . . . ) As for the real owner of the building, his or her name is hidden but let me give you three guesses, and you’ll probably hit the jackpot.
Well, you won’t hit the jackpot the way some of these characters did, but you’ll hit it figuratively.
– On page 4, the investigators saw that the paperwork said the deal took place in 2006 or 2007, but really the transfer occurred in 2008. I see.
– And if you thought that $150,000 is a fabulous price for a building worth about $560,000, then you haven’t seen anything yet. On page 4, it says that someone swore on the Affidavit of Value that the land was worth only $24,000 (!) and the amount that was paid was one dollar.
Even if that was an American dollar, it’s an incredible deal for a building that was once worth $560,000.
– On page 4, there’s a discussion about payments for office and administration. They’ve blanked out the names, so you can’t tell which family received how much money, but the two families received, in total over three years, $2.76 million.
– And here I note that one of the family members from Wisdom justifies the salaries by saying that this figure is accurate, but that there were lots of them, and hey, if you did some division, and pretended that everyone got the same amount, then it starts to look pretty good. Uh, yeah. Why talk about that hypothetical? Let’s chat about how much the head of Wisdom took and how much his wife got.
– And furthermore, why so many people at the trough in the first place? Why fifteen or so staff members? If Wisdom were operating as a legitimate business, it would have been a much tighter ship. But if the money is there, then the fastest way to use it up is to call it wages.
– Page 5 points out that the legislation required the teachers to be paid by the school board. In this case, that would have been Trinity. However, Trinity didn’t make payments to the home schooling facilitators.
– Page 5 also notes that some of the cheques to the facilitators (who do the home visits) weren’t actually to the facilitators. Sometimes the facilitators asked for cheques to be made out to such-and-such business name, or such-and-such corporation. How interesting. Why?
– Page 5 goes over Wisdom’s treatment of the parents with respect to funding. Wisdom pretended that there was a government rule that if a parent didn’t send a Special Letter in to Wisdom by June 30th, then the parent would forfeit some of her funding. Let me explain. Let’s say Meaghan, who is allowed to receive $900 this year for the expenses associated with homeschooling her son, doesn’t spend $900 that year. Let’s say she spent $400. Wisdom made a rule that she had to send in a letter or a form saying that she didn’t want to forfeit her entitlement to the remaining $500, and that she wanted to collect that amount in the future, if she spent more in the following year.
Wisdom made it sound like this inconvenient rule was formulated by the Alberta government, and so it had parents on the run, stressed about whether they need to send in the form this year or not. If Meaghan sends her form in too late, guess what? She’s told that the deadline is inflexible. She’s lost the amount she didn’t claim.
But this rule was entirely made up by Wisdom! You can see why, can’t you? Using this rule, Wisdom was able to take for itself any money that was not ‘claimed’ by families in time. In other words, if a family failed to submit enough receipts for reimbursement, or failed to submit this Special Letter by the deadline, the parent was no longer able to access it.
Oh well. Too bad, so sad, hey?
Here’s the excerpt from page 5:
However, Wisdom provides inaccurate information to parents regarding this deadline by stating that this deadline is an Alberta Education requirement. In fact, this deadline is an in-house deadline and is not based on provincial legislation, regulation or policy. As a result, parents are limited in their ability to access the remaining funds they are entitled to and all unused parent portion goes to the general revenue of Wisdom. Based on our analysis, the total estimated amount of unclaimed parent portion of funding recorded in Wisdom’s general revenue exceeds $988,000 over three years.
The way things are supposed to go is this: the Alberta government designates about $1600 for each homeschooled child (a bargain for Alberta taxpayers compared to the funds spent on children in community schools) in a school year. However, instead of giving the money directly to the parents, the government gives this money to a school board. That’s probably not the most sensible idea, in the case of homeschooled children. What value does the school board add, in the case of a homeschooled child?
In any case, the school board helps itself to this cash. The Alberta government tells the school board not to take more than 50% of this cash. So school boards vary. Some take 30%, for instance, and give 70% to the parent. Wisdom was known as a school board which gave the parents the smallest sums. My guess is that they were giving their parents the minimum 50%.
But you see, this is where it gets interesting. With their policy of the Special Letter, Wisdom had devised a system that had parents such as Meaghan lose some of the money that was rightfully theirs. A less-organized parent, or even a parent who was organized September through May, but unorganized in June, might not realize that she should be sending in the Special Letter.
That means that in many cases, Wisdom would have scooped more than 50% of the Alberta government funding; sometimes it would have taken 100%.
– Page 6 describes how a certain person who was already collecting $300 each month as a vehicle allowance, accepted $303.85 for going to Derwent twice on September 26, 2012. That’s a lot of money for two trips. Where was the guy coming from? Mexico?
– Page 6 is actually quite amusing, because it shows that the Wisdom clan was able to find lots of ways to spend the funds intended to pay for its work as a school board. Anybody want pizza? We’ll call it an expense. Or what about groceries? We’ll call this lettuce an expense. Do you want to go to the theater with me? I know the prices are high, but don’t worry — we’ll call it an expense. Babysitter? Oh that’s no problem; we’ll call that an expense too. It’ll be a blast and if you want drinks, they’re on me — or wait, I mean — they’ll be expensed through Wisdom.
– A funeral — so sad. But not quite so sad when Wisdom’s paying the tab.
– Page 6 says that “gifts” and “gift cards” were expensed through Wisdom. How nice. Do they still have some? Maybe I’ll get one in the mail.
– But the most amusing one is this. Some of the family members collected cheques for um, “public relations expenses.” Ha ha ha! Oh puh-leeze. Public relations expense? What on earth does that mean? Is that where Wisdom people schmooze with home schooling families so that the home schooling families contentedly accept being given the lowest per-student rates in the province? No? Well then what does it mean, please?
– And if certain people travelled, they would be allowed to collect $280 for each night that they didn’t sleep at home. It didn’t matter if the hotel cost only $140 — it was theoretically possible to collect the full $280 because you never needed to produce any receipts. Scandals are made of this kind of stuff.
– Page 6 really is amusing. At one point, one person was paid to attend board meetings even though he wasn’t a board member! Ha ha ha.
I tell you, these documents might seem dry at first glance, but when you realize what is being described, in very dry and low-key lawyerish ways, you realize that the investigators’ eyes would have been popping out of their heads. How many WTFs would you have heard, if you had been able to read their minds!
– On page 12, we read that Wisdom said that they no longer have certain key documents. The excuse was that the transactions regarding the acquiring and improvements to an office building occurred more than seven years ago. Seven years is a long time to keep a grocery store receipt, but it is not a long time to keep a receipt for buying an entire building.
– But it seems that quite a few critical documents are just, um, missing. Check this out from page 12:
Records older than seven years ago relating to the building sold to Living Water in 2006-07 no longer exists and Trinity is unable to provide. Records requested which were unavailable are the executed sale agreement and evidence of disbursement of funds totalling $150 thousand. As a result we are unable to determine the source of the funds and any receipt of funds by Trinity.
– On page 12, things look pretty fishy, because they’ve got page 12 (interesting coincidence, hey?) but they don’t have pages 1 to 11. But they have an explanation at the ready: it’s been a long time. Yeah? How come page 12 is sticking around but pages 1 to 11 have bitten the dust? Just askin’.
– Page 14 provides a list of board members, but my version has some of the names blanked out.
– Page 15 gives us a peek into some wonky board meetings. Imagine being the person to second a motion that your salary should be 15% above everyone else’s? Ha ha ha!
– Page 16 has an unusual appearance, because it’s the page that has so many names blanked out. These are the people who were hired by Wisdom, and they are, for the most part, family members, either through blood or marriage.
Here’s an example:
We noted remuneration for . . . ( . . . ) and . . . in excess of the contract amount. . . . was paid . . . /month in 2014-15 but . . . contract was for . . . /month. . . . was paid . . . / hour in 2013-14 but . . . contract was for . . ./hour, and . . ./hour in 2014/15 but . . . contract was for . . . /hour.
You may not know exactly what’s going on, but you can tell that it’s a little bit smelly.
– Page 16 and 17 show that it was not very difficult to be paid. Cheques are signed by only one person, and hourly employees record their own hours. The investigators noted that all the payroll payments were approved “with no additional review, verification or oversight.”
– Page 17 contains other examples of very weak or sloppy accounting practices, but I won’t bore you with those.
– Page 18 shows that Wisdom money was taken to pay for many upgrades to the office building. The most entertaining entry is this:
Expanded parking lot twice (Note: We observed the office building and the parking for the building appeared to be vehicles on the grass with no paved parking lot.)
Ha ha ha!
Oh man! You people kill me!
So let me get this straight: Wisdom took money TWICE for expanding their “parking lot,” and when the investigators looked at it, they saw grass?
Ha ha ha!
So the ‘expansion’ was done with a lawn mower?
Ha ha ha!
Hey, go ahead and park here, buddy — I mowed it for ya.
Page 20 shows that Wisdom paid $900 per month in rent for a building all year, even though it was ‘needed’ only periodically.
Page 20 also shows that Wisdom paid $1,700 per month for office space in order to deliver “Mediated Learning and Instrumental Enrichment Programs” (whatever that is) and student assessments and facilitator use. That’s pretty expensive office space, even for Edmonton. And lest you think that the “Mediated Learning” program was offered to the homeschooling families as a free service, I will say that the report shows that the families registered with Wisdom had to pay for these programs out of their own 50% of the government funding, which is also against the rules.
They explain that the Mediated Learning program is intended to assist the parents, and so I agree that funds should not be deducted from the students’ funds for such a program.
On page 22, we see that the building constructed with government funds was built on land owned by a person, and not by Trinity: “therefore government funds were used to construct an asset personally owned by . . . “
Page 23 shows that when Wisdom was asked for job descriptions of the employees, they did not have them. They “developed them after they were requested.”
Page 23 says that Wisdom staff members are entitled to five weeks of paid vacation. How nice!
Page 23 also has this rather interesting statement:
“. . . [So-and-so’s] salary increased 100 per cent in 2014-15 over . . . [his/her] . . . 2013-14 salary from . . . to . . . . in 2015 without any board approval.”
That would be startling, if we hadn’t read about everything else that was highly abnormal about Wisdom and Trinity. People don’t usually find that their salaries double while working at the same place.
Page 24 discusses bonuses.
Are you ready? Let me see.
Okay. So it says that January of 2014 was a good month. Staff shared $15,961. Hey, that’s even better than a gift card from Subway!
Oh my. Check this out. On page 24, it says that the meal allowance per day was $80. That’s pretty steep! How do you manage that? Eat at a swanky place twice a day? More than one person collected money for this expense, but it says that one person collected, in the 2014-15 school year, $25,000 and another person collected $18,000, JUST FOR EATING OUT!
When you consider that many of the homeschooling families that are “served” by Wisdom are single-income families (usually mother stays home to teach), it is appalling to think of such lavish spending.
At this point in the report, the writer of the report is getting rather excited, and wants to tell you the Government of Alberta rates for food.
He tells you that he gets $9.20 for breakfast.
He gets $11.60 for lunch.
He gets $20.75 for dinner.
That sounds more reasonable.
He also tells you that government employees are reimbursed for their actual spending, provided that they stay at certain (reasonably-priced) establishments.
Page 27 shows that Wisdom was struggling with its answers to the investigators.
Page 28 shows the different types of services that Wisdom sold to its homeschooling families. “Wisdom charges fees to parents when home education students take online courses and participate in workshops and events provided by Wisdom.” You would think that Wisdom, having all of that cash, could have offered these for free, but they did not. Alternatively, you would think that because Wisdom received funding to develop its online courses (page 29), Wisdom could have offered these courses for free, but they did not.
Page 29 shows that Wisdom overcharged the parents for the things that it offered to the parents. In 2014-15, for example, they paid parents $2,196,175 but they recorded that they paid out $2,298,097 — that’s a difference of $101,922. And the other years were even worse.
Page 29 says that Wisdom charged parents for performing student assessments, but notes that the Wisdom staff were trained “using funds provided by Alberta Education through Alberta Initiative for School Improvement (AISI) funding.” It’s the same way with the Mediated Learning courses — Wisdom collected money to develop the programs but then charged the parents when they took them.
Page 30 shows that someone likes using her Wisdom Visa card. The auditor found an instance where she collected the $280 accommodation allowance, even though she had rung through her Visa for $267.68.
Page 31 sounds like a fun time was had by all. There was a staff meeting at the Varscona Hotel on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue, from October 16th to 18th, 2014. Two people collected the $80 per day for meals, even though the banquet food was already on the hotel bill.
Guess how much they spent for their food? Well, it was $1,103.50.
Oh, and someone claimed $280 for accommodations, even though the expense was $225, but by now, you are hardly surprised.
Page 31 has a goofy explanation from someone whose name is blanked-out as to why Wisdom should pay for another organization (Living Water Arts Foundation) to maintain tax-free status.
Page 31 also shows that people were having a good ol’ time at the Red Deer Lodge. $8,073.18 went to pay for “banquet and accommodation costs.” This happened in April of 2015, and in October of 2014 you had another staff banquet at the Varscona, for which you spent $2,000.62. You partied down, did you?
Thank God your party’s over.
Page 34 and some following pages describe the GST irregularities. On page 37, it shows that Wisdom claimed the GST credit on purchases made by parents.
Page 38 refers to at least one instance where a Wisdom staff member did not report the car allowance on his taxes and one instance where the T4 slips (statement of income for the year) did not match the Wisdom ledger.
As you know, the conclusion of the report is that Trinity’s accreditation and registration should be cancelled:
We recommend that the Deputy Minister cancel Trinity’s accreditation and registration over failures to comply with legislation such as its failure to supervise the home education program including the employment of teachers and facilitators, its failure to properly manage its finances and spend Alberta Education funds for the purposes intended as required under section 7 of the Education Grants Regulation.