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Saskatchewan bails out troubled First Nations U

$1.6 million will school fulfill collective agreement with faculty, but other problems persist


 

First Nations University of Canada is getting $1.6 million from the Saskatchewan government to help cover mounting costs, but provincial officials insist the funding is not a bailout for the struggling school.

“There was an acute financial situation,” Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris said Tuesday. “What this is, is a strategic investment and what it’s meant to do again is to ensure the sustainability of this institution, the accountability of this institution,” he said.

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Most of the money — $1.1 million — will help the Regina-based university finance a collective agreement with its faculty. School officials admit they haven’t been able to cover the contract which dates back to 2005.

About $500,000 of the funding will go toward operating costs at the school — but there are strings attached. Norris said there will be benchmarks that the university must reach before the money will be released. “We’re making it conditional because what we want to do is ensure the sustainability and accountability of the First Nations University,” said Norris.

The ministry has also allocated $400,000 from the funding for an operational review. Norris said a management team, working with the university’s board of governors, will look at the school’s finances, administration, and programming.

Tuesday’s announcement came after financial statements last month showed the university with a $1-million deficit for the 2007-2008 school year.

And there has been other trouble.

A former accounting officer has been charged with stealing from the institution. Janet Kurtz, 42, is charged with one count of theft over $5,000 and one count of fraud over $5,000 for alleged thefts between August 2004 and June 2005.

Earlier this year, former administrator Wes Stevenson was charged with defrauding the university of more than $5,000. In 2005, Stevenson and two other senior officials at the university were suspended and the university’s board of governors ordered a forensic audit of the school’s finances.

In the months that followed, several high-ranking officials were fired or suspended, while others resigned.

Last year, the university was placed on probation last year by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada after alleged political interference by the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations. The association lifted the probation earlier this year, saying the university had made progress at solving its problems.

Officials at the university said Tuesday they hoped the new funding would be a turning point for the school. “We’ve always had financial challenges over the years and I think over the last few years it’s become more challenging,” said president Charles Pratt. “The resources, like was outlined in the agreement, will help us in the short term. The strategic vision that’s being developed in partnership with the government of Saskatchewan is going to be able to look at the long term … and provide the university with a solid financial foundation.”

-with a report from CP 


 
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