10/25/2016 15:40 EDT | Updated 10/26/2017 01:12 EDT

Private school in Alberta closed; province says insufficient accountability

EDMONTON — A private school that oversees a large number of Alberta's home-schooled students has been shut down following an audit that found numerous financial and conflict-of-interest concerns.

Education Minister David Eggen announced Tuesday that the registration and accreditation for Trinity Christian School Association in Cold Lake had been cancelled, effective immediately.

"Trinity has failed to demonstrate accountability of funding received from the government of Alberta," Eggen told reporters at the legislature.

"Trinity, as they were structured, represented about 30 per cent of all the home schoolers in the whole province," he added.

"The scale of it is quite large."

Trinity oversees 3,500 home schooled students and another 13 in a classroom setting.

Eggen said parents have been contacted and arrangements will be made for the children's education.

Eggen said the decision follows a recent three-year audit into the association that found numerous spending irregularities.

He said Trinity receives $5.5 million in public money a year, and that much of it was redirected to the Wisdom Home Schooling Society.

The report alleged conflict of interest in lease and contract deals along with public money being spent to cover off ineligible expenses like babysitting and funeral expenses. There was also double-dipping on mileage.

Public funds were spent on food, alcohol, gifts, gift cards, groceries, theatre tickets and other staff functions, said the report.

The report stated Wisdom has retained $988,000 in unclaimed parent funding over the past three years.

"Trinity and Wisdom spent approximately 32 per cent of expenses on payments for staff and administration compared to a 3.4 to 5.6 per cent range in public boards," said the report.

It found the boards and administrations of Trinity and Wisdom are largely represented by two families, which the government didn't identify for privacy reasons.

The report found numerous cases of family members approving employment contracts for other family members.

"Over the last three years ... total compensation to all members of these two families exceeds $2.76 million," said the report.

The head of Wisdom, Ken Noster, is also the associate principal at Trinity Christian School Association, according to information on the school Web pages.

Noster could not be reached for comment.

Richard Schienbein, the principal and superintendent of Trinity Christian, also could not be immediately reached for comment.

Eggen said the province has notified the Canada Revenue Agency and the RCMP.

"(It's) for them to pursue the legal matter as to whether it's fraud," he said.

Eggen said it's critical to ensure public funds are spent properly.

"It (the decision) is a good way to provide some reset and some confidence for homeschooling families that we are watching carefully how these monies are spent," he said.