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Trips to Las Vegas, New York pushed up school administrators' expenses

Okanagan Skaha School District board chairman Bruce Johnson - Submitted
Okanagan Skaha School District board chairman Bruce Johnson
— image credit: Submitted

News that three Okanagan Skaha School District administrators each had $20,000 in expenses last year did not come as a surprise to local teachers.

“A lot of members have commented to me that they’re very concerned that there’s a lot of international trips being made and money being spent when we’re being asked to do without in the classroom,” said Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union.

“It’s upsetting when you hear somebody’s gone on a big international trip at great expense and we don’t have the money to hire an extra teacher or put support in the classrooms.”

According to the district’s statement of financial information for 2013, facilities director Doug Gorcak, superintendent Wendy Hyer and retired secretary-treasurer Ron Shongrunden had combined expenses of $61,508.22, triple their total for 2012.

Details of the administrators’ expenses are laid out in documents obtained by the Western News through freedom of information legislation:

• Shongrunden, who retired last summer but was hired back as director of business development, attended two technology-related conferences in Las Vegas, one of which cost $2,107.91. He also went to New York for a leadership forum, plus received a $250-a-month vehicle allowance.

* Nearly half of Hyer’s expense total resulted from her $650 monthly vehicle allowance. She also attended the leadership forum in New York at a cost of $1,802.24, but spent just $350.74 on a trip to China to sign deals for the international student program. Hyer said previously the Chinese government covered most of her costs there.

* The bulk of Gorcak’s expenses were associated with attending conferences in B.C. He also receives a monthly vehicle allowance of $325 for travel within the district, but during one three-month period claimed $1,276.56 for out-of-town mileage at 54 cents a kilometre.

School board chairman Bruce Johnson said attendance at conferences and meetings is an important part of administrators’ jobs because “that’s how they learn and continue to grow.”

He explained the increased expenses as the result of the district’s efforts to have staff raise revenue by attracting more international students and selling technology services, and to cut costs through energy efficiency programs.

“Of course the board, when we see a $20,000 expenditure, it gets our attention, but we’re not concerned about it because we believe in our staff,” said Johnson.

“And this money, in all three of those cases, was an investment in the future and designed to generate revenue for our school district so we can balance our budget in these very difficult times.”

The international student program is expected to produce a $120,000 profit this year and the technology division should save the district $100,000, while energy improvements recently earned a $98,500 rebate from FortisBC, according to information supplied by the district.

Johnson is unsure if the expense amounts will continue rising in years ahead.

“I can’t predict if it will increase or decrease. Part of it will be to see how we will continue with the (revenue generation) initiatives, he said.

The district is facing a $1.2-million budget shortfall for 2014-15.

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