The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District violated its own policy when it hired a consultant at a price tag of more than $10,000 earlier this year, a local parent alleged at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
Karen Georgi accused trustees and staff of ignoring the district’s own purchasing policy, which states that suppliers of goods and services costing more than $5,000 are to be selected through a formal bid process, with at least three firms being contacted for bids.
The district decided not to follow that process in hiring Horizon Research and Evaluation earlier this year to research the district’s proposed move to a common timetable for students.
“No where in this policy does it say that consultants are exempt and that consulting is not a service,” Georgi told trustees Wednesday night. “There is no definition of what a service is in your policy and it does not list any exemptions. Therefore, all uses of public money for services should follow your policy with no exemptions.”
The consultant was hired by superintendent Jan Unwin through her discretionary spending budget of $40,000 annually.
Georgi filed a freedom of information request with the district to find out how much the consultant’s work cost the district after staff initially refused to divulge that information
The district’s response referred to the work as “contract services,” which Georgi sees as proof the district should have followed its own purchasing procedure.
By hand picking their own consultant, Georgi believes the district could influence the outcome of the research, which recommended switching to a common timetable and extending spring break to two weeks.
Trustee Stepan Vdovine said the district handpicks consultants when there is a time constraint or if specialized expertise is required, as was the case with Horizon. “This has been the practice of the district for many years.”
Gary Doi was formerly the superintendent of the Okanagan-Skaha school district, and since retiring two and a half years ago, has worked as a consultant with school districts across the province.
Doi said it is common practice for school districts to forego a formal request for proposal for consulting work.
“It depends on the nature and the extent of what the work is,” Doi said. “If the work is on the operations side, or engineering, tendering is quite common.”
However, for consultants whose work focusses on education and research, in Doi’s experience, districts often forgo the bidding process to select a firm with the most relevant experience.
“Some consultants have very specific expertise,” he said.
However, Georgi said if the district is going to ignore its own purchasing procedure, it needs a new policy stating when and how it should do so.
“If that is going to be their policy, it has to be in writing,” she said.