(This op-ed by Paige MacPherson, Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, was published in the Edmonton Sun and Calgary Sun on Sunday, November 15, 2015.)
Life is good for staff of the taxpayer-funded Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA).
Documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation revealed big spending on staff gifts, flights between Calgary and Edmonton, international travel, hotel stays for staff living in that same city, events at upscale locales, and staff Easter egg hunts. Seriously.
ASBA members including former Edmonton Public Schools Board chair and current Health Minister Sarah Hoffman have raised expense concerns over the past several years.
To ensure tax dollars are being spent on students and not staff perks, it’s crucial that the ASBA posts its detailed expenses and receipts online for the past five years. The cash that could have been spent in classrooms instead funded staff perks that are completely out of touch with other Albertan workers.
For some perspective, let’s compare one working year of an ASBA staff member to that of an average employed Albertan.
Consider your year. It’s mostly work (hopefully work you enjoy), some chatting with co-workers and a couple small, inexpensive get-togethers.
Now consider a year as a staff member of the Alberta School Boards Association.
You get several presents each year, monthly “cake days” for birthdays, upscale annual staff events and Easter egg hunts.
In your year, holidays pass by: Easter is acknowledged by your coworkers chatting around the water cooler about their weekend plans. A few minutes go by and then it’s back to work. Cost: $0.00.
For ASBA staff members, it's time for a "Team Building" get-together and an Easter egg hunt for adults! Cost: Over $900 in 2014.
In your year, your birthday comes. Your co-workers and boss pass around a dollar store greeting card. But mostly, it’s just another day. Cost: $3.00 for a greeting card and maybe lunch, paid by your cubicle-mate.
Cha-ching! For their birthdays, ASBA staff members each get a $50 gift card on top of "cake days" celebrating birthdays that month. Cost: $4,850 over the past three years.
For you, your boss occasionally says a big thank you to staff for the hard work. You feel good about a job well done. Cost: $0.00.
For ASBA staff, recognition is a big deal.
They get pricey “Team Building/Staff Appreciation” lunches and are treated to Taste of Edmonton tickets. Cost: $2,696 for lunches over the past three years, plus Taste of Edmonton tickets costing $1,600 in 2014 and about $1,000 in each year prior.
At your office, you have semi-regular planning conference calls or boardroom meetings. Cost: $0.00.
Despite having "lovely" offices in Edmonton – at 20 times the rent they could be paying, according to Minister Hoffman – the ASBA’s annual staff planning events were held at upscale locales: the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald and the Royal Glenora. Cost: nearly $8,000 for each event.
At Christmas time, your office arranges an after-work party. It’s at the office, local bar, or your boss’s house. The boss springs for some finger foods and wine. Cost: a few hundred dollars.
The halls are fully decked for Christmas at the ASBA. Staff members are each treated to a $100 to $150 gift, on top of pricey staff Christmas dinners. Cost: $7,803 for Christmas gifts over the past three years, plus $5,000 for three years of staff Christmas dinners.
If money was spent frivolously at your workplace, it might be seen as questionable -– but it wouldn’t take money away from classrooms.
The $41,000 spent by the ASBA on staff gifts and events between 2012 and 2014 could be just the tip of the iceberg. We won’t know how the rest of taxpayers’ money is spent until the ASBA posts its retroactive detailed expenses and receipts online or until the province adds the ASBA to the Freedom of Information Act.
Easter egg hunts may be fun for adults – we’re not entirely sure – but being forced to hunt to find frivolous expenses is unacceptable from a taxpayer-funded organization that we expect to be focused on benefiting Alberta students.
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