09/25/2013 03:00 EDT | Updated 11/25/2013 05:12 EST

University of Regina overpaid 2 staff $380,000; didn't tell province for a year

REGINA - The University of Regina says it knew a year ago that two employees had been overpaid nearly $380,000, but the school's administration didn't tell the Saskatchewan government or the provincial auditor until this month when the story came out in the media.

University president Vianne Timmons said Wednesday that the faculty of education approved the overtime payments for two IT staff members. It was an effort to keep the workers in a competitive market, she said.

The workers were only authorized to get the overtime for one year.

But they kept claiming unearned overtime and getting it for 11 years until another employee tipped off the administration.

"Payments arrangements like this were not and are not common practice at the University of Regina and steps have been taken to ensure that a situation like this cannot and will not take place at our university again," said Timmons.

The president said the payments were discovered in September 2012 and immediately halted.

There was no need to tell the Ministry of Advanced Education "because we had dealt with it, we felt, to a satisfaction level at the university level through our board...and the board was confident that we'd put mitigation strategies in and dealt with this," said Timmons.

Advanced Education Minister Rob Norris called the situation "unacceptable."

Norris had sent a letter to the university Sept. 17 demanding answers. He appeared unhappy with the response Wednesday.

"I have a number of questions that remain," he said. "Those questions all continue to be framed around accountability and I think that's really important on issues of post-secondary education. These dollars are very, very precious.

"The outstanding questions relate to the recovery of dollars. I've asked Justice to inform me of what options I may have."

Norris also said he had heard different reports over the last 10 days of the amounts involved.

"To see it, in black and white, as everyone else has, I'm very troubled," he said.

One employee got $186,745.30 and the other got $191,067.33 over the 11 years.

Timmons said the university can't get the money back.

"The legal advice we received held that the prospect of successful recovery of these funds was remote as it had been authorized in writing by the then-dean of education," she said.

"In addition over the 11 years, most of the people directly involved in approving these overtime claims had either retired or left the university."

In fact, the school says the two employees disputed the university's decision to discontinue the overtime payments. Their union filed a grievance on their behalf. The university denied the grievance and it was subsequently withdrawn.

The two employees continue to work at the university.

Tom Chase, provost and vice-president of academic, wouldn't speculate on whether the payments would have been discovered without the tip.

"Without that information, we would have not been able to act when we did," said Chase.

"It may have turned up in another way. It may have turned up in a check that would have been done, but we just don't know, quite frankly."

News of the overtime comes just days before the University of Regina council holds a special meeting to consider a motion of non-confidence against Timmons and Chase.

Some faculty have started a petition calling for action, saying non-academic positions have increased while teaching jobs have been cut, that education is being hurt and that donor funds are being mismanaged. The faculty members also say there are questions of transparency over how money is spent.

The special meeting is scheduled for Friday. If the university council passes the motion, a non-confidence vote could be held by secret ballot.

Lee Elliot, chairman of the university's board of governors, said in a written statement in August that the board has confidence in the school's administration.