Alberta’s Auditor General Merwan Saher today released the results of his audit of the systems used by the departments of Education and Infrastructure to manage the province’s school-building program. There are nine recommendations to the two departments in Systems to Manage the School-Building Program.
Why we did the work and our audit scope
In October 2015, the government announced delays to about 100 phase 2 and 3 schools originally set for completion between September 2016 and September 2017. It requested the Auditor General to examine the processes used to plan phases 2 and 3 of the program. In addition to assessing whether the two departments had adequate systems to plan, deliver and report on phases 2 and 3 of the school-building program, we set out to answer three questions:
- Were the publicly announced original timelines for completion of schools reasonable?
- Was adequate funding included in the government’s March 2015 capital plan to match the announced completion dates of the schools?
- Why has it been necessary to revise school opening dates since the first announcement?
Our overall conclusion
School jurisdictions and Infrastructure are currently building phase 2 and 3 schools. Some schools will open within the originally announced completion dates, but many will not. The size and complexity of the school-building program grew quickly, and the systems to support the program did not keep pace. Neither Education nor Infrastructure has adequate systems to plan, deliver and report on the school-building program. Education has not established adequate systems to oversee the school-building program. It needs to work with Infrastructure to improve operational processes to ensure that accountability for the results of the program is clear.
What we found
The announced school completion dates were not reasonable because they were not based on evidence from sufficient project planning.
The ministers of Education and Infrastructure announced new schools and modernizations and publicly committed to completion dates before sufficient planning was complete. Although the projects have common features, each is unique, with its own challenges. Each requires proper planning to set a reasonably attainable completion date.
Neither department had project schedules before announcing the estimated completion dates. For some projects, neither department sufficiently understood project scope or the status of the school site. School jurisdictions decide when a school will open, but neither department confirmed the completion dates with them before publicly announcing the dates.
We were unable to find written evidence that department staff communicated to the ministers their concerns over estimated project completion dates.
For phase 2, the departments were unable to provide us with documentation of the assumptions used to estimate the funding included in the March 2015 capital plan. Therefore, we cannot conclude whether the March 2015 capital plan had sufficient funding for phase 2. For phase 3, the government’s March 2015 capital plan did not include sufficient funding in 2015–2016 to match the construction spending required for the projects to meet the publicly announced completion dates. In October 2014, Infrastructure estimated that 70 of the 75 phase 3 schools would start construction during the 2015–2016 fiscal year. However, no construction funding was included in the March 2015 capital plan for the 2015–2016 fiscal year—except for eight starter schools. In other words, construction needed to occur in 2015–2016 to meet the published completion dates, but there was no funding in the 2015–2016 capital plan to pay for the construction.
Revised school opening dates
School jurisdictions and Infrastructure are building the approved schools. Some of the schools will be completed by the originally announced timeline, but many will not. The system failed in two ways. First, ministers made public commitments and announced completion dates without evidence those dates were reasonably attainable. These announcements created false public expectations. Second, department staff did not tell the ministers that the completion dates were not attainable, because they did not have the program oversight and project management systems in place to provide the ministers with supportable evidence that the previously announced dates were not attainable.