$150M in sketchy “risk” needed to prop up rent-a-schools

P3 schools to be built based on controversial John Black Lean

Building and owning schools the straightforward way would save $50 million according to the government’s own numbers. But in order to justify using a pricey P3 rent-a-school scheme, a government report released Monday tacks $150 million in “risk” to its calculation on the cost of public schools.

“Risk” numbers have been panned by auditors across the country as unjustified, largely made-up numbers to make P3 projects look better than they are.

On Monday, the Sask. Party promoted a so-called value-for-money report on nine joint-use P3 schools. It concludes that the P3 schools will cost $635 million; and that the straightforward built-and-owned schools would cost $433 million, plus maintenance and “risk.”

“The government’s own report shows that if they built this the straightforward way, and managed to be even close to on time and on budget, it would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars,” said NDP deputy leader Trent Wotherspoon. “Instead, the Sask. Party insists it has to ship hundreds of millions of dollars to corporations from outside Saskatchewan to manage the project because it just doesn’t believe Saskatchewan people can get the job done well. I disagree completely – of course Saskatchewan people can manage this.”

Monday’s report also showed a disturbing lack of transparency. The Sask. Party is now hiding the breakdown on the P3 costs, saying that the construction costs, maintenance costs, rehabilitation costs and even the annual payment schedule taxpayers are on the hook for are commercially sensitive material and must be hidden.

A backgrounder in August claimed the public schools construction costs would be $408 million, but Monday that number changed to $433.5 million. The August backgrounder also showed a P3 construction cost – a number the Sask. Party now says has to be kept secret.

“Inadequate transparency and the obvious fast-and-loose game they’re playing with the numbers are giant red flags that this deal isn’t right,” said Wotherspoon, who noted that the additional $5 million planned to pay out-of-province P3 lawyers and consultants is frustrating to taxpayers.

Convoluting the process and tacking on even more cost, the Sask. Party is using the John Black Lean method to design the schools.

“Lean has been largely disastrous in health care – in terms of the money wasted, the disrespect shown to health care professionals and the negative effect on patients, which Lean sees as parts on an assembly line,” said Wotherspoon. “For the Sask. Party to plow ahead with that same approach in schools and with our students is not right for taxpayers who will be paying for this, or for students that have to live with the results.”

The schools are not purpose-designed for their communities. As part of its P3 deal, the Sask. Party has invited an American firm to come into the schools to manage maintenance in them all, and nearly 60 portables will have to be added when they open because the cookie-cutter design doesn’t work for the communities they’re going into.