School board votes themselves a pay raise

One trustee said he would rather see money donated than give Okanagan Skaha school board a raise.

School District 67 Okanagan Skaha.

School District 67 Okanagan Skaha.

Trustee Bruce Johnson said that if the Okanagan Skaha school board does go ahead with voting themselves a raise, he would rather see it donated to support the district’s bursary funds.

Johnson was one of three trustees to argue against the proposed raise at the board’s business meeting on May 26, giving three reasons for his opposition, starting with the administrative cuts the Ministry of Education has ordered all school boards to make.

Also, Johnson said the board has streamlined their meeting process, resulting in fewer meetings the trustees are required to attend each month.

“Now we only have two, which I think is really smart. We can do all the business on one day and all the education items on the other,” said Johnson. “The work is still the same, but it is not as onerous or time consuming.”

Johnson was also concerned the board was giving itself a raise ahead of its employees. Most of the district’s administrative staff, from vice principals up, is still stuck in a wage freeze mandated by the province.

“They haven’t had a raise now for maybe six, seven years,” said Johnson. “In my opinion it is just not right to take the raise for the trustees until the people that are out there on the front lines, just doing an amazing job, get some kind of raise themselves.

“We take care of them first, and then we can take care of ourselves is my philosophy.”

The raise still needs to be approved with a vote at the board’s regular monthly meeting on June 11, and Johnson said that if the majority of trustees support it, he will suggest individual trustees could divert the money to help cover the costs of administering the bursary foundations.

Administering these groups, which provide about $200,000 yearly in bursaries to graduating students, was handled by school staff, but given increasing workloads and budget cuts the extra work is becoming harder for school secretaries to handle.

“They’ve done yeoman work for years, but they can’t do that anymore,” said Johnson. “I could see our raises going to the foundations and earmarked directly for the administrative costs and clerical time that we need to keep those foundations going. If those foundations were to collapse, that would be a tragedy.”

Despite recent public controversy about a substantial raise given to Superintendent Wendy Hyer, school board chair Linda Van Alphen supports the trustees’ raise.

“It is never a good time, but we have to be fair,” said Van Alphen, adding that if she considered the optics of every decision, she would constantly find herself in a dilemma.

“If we leave it for another couple of years, are we going to be looking at a 13 per cent hike all at once. I just don’t want to go through that again,” said Van Alphen. “We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.”

The 1.1 per cent increase is part of a district policy, which directs the board to consider it on an annual basis. In previous years, the trustees have voted not to take the increase.

“We deserve to be fairly compensated. In SD67 we have chosen not to be for quite a long time,” said Van Alphen, noting that the board is falling behind those of other school districts.

The current rate of pay for a trustee is $10,620 and $13,290 for the board chair, based on a September to June year. Van Alphen said the raise amounts to an $15/month increase for her, and about $12/month for trustees.

According to the Vernon school district’s latest statement of financial information, their trustees were paid $10,600 in 2014, while the chair received $13,600. The Okanagan Similkameen’s financial report showed their trustees receiving $11,332 and $14,712 for the chair.