The cash-strapped Okanagan Skaha School District has rehired a former administrator to help tap into new sources of revenue.
Former secretary-treasurer Ron Shongrunden was due to retire this summer after 33 years with the district. Instead, he signed on for another year in the newly created position of director of business development and technology.
Shongrunden is expected to leverage the district’s existing technology infrastructure, which includes a fibre optic network and data centre, to improve services for students, save money and generate additional revenue.
The creation of the new position is “an investment,” said superintendent Wendy Hyer.
“An example would be, if we could improve our infrastructure, we could provide (telecommunications) service to our outlying schools instead of having to pay Telus for service,” she explained.
The superintendent compared the addition of the new post to the district’s recent spending on efforts to recruit more international students, who pay $12,000 a year for tuition.
Hyer acknowledged, however, that the district has been criticized in the past for hiring back retired administrators who may also be collecting pensions.
“We’re sensitive to the fact that people say, ‘Hey, how come you hired someone who may or may not be getting a pension?” Hyer said.
But “when we interview someone for a position in this district, that’s not something we consider,” she continued, “and in fact, that’s not even something we’re allowed to ask them.”
Hyer noted Shongrunden helped create the existing technology business and, despite advertising the new job twice last year, the district was unable to find someone to fill it.
The school board balanced its 2013-14 budget partly through cuts, including elimination of staff positions and the gifted-student program in middle schools, and reductions to maintenance and custodial services.
Noting those cuts, Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union president Leslea Pryde said her members will want to know where the district found cash for Shongrunden’s new job.
“There’s always questions when there’s money being spent and we’re told there is no money,” said Pryde.
“I’ll be hearing a lot about it from teachers. They’ll be concerned.”
Hyer said privacy legislation prevented her from disclosing Shongrunden’s salary. Trustee Ginny Manning, who chairs the school board, said she didn’t have the figure available.
Shongrunden declined to reveal if he’s receiving a pension and what he’s being paid, but said it’s less than what he made as secretary-treasurer.
According to the most recent publicly available information, Shongrunden earned $131,244 in the 2012 fiscal year.
Manning said the position will be paid for out of the district’s technology budget, which is kept separate from regular operating accounts, although it’s been tapped before to help offset funding shortfalls. The technology system, which counts the regional district as a customer, turned a $188,000 profit last year.
Shongrunden hopes more business can be found to help add money to instructional budgets.
“Instead of cutting each year, we’re trying to generate some dollars so we don’t have to do those (budget) cuts,” he said.
At the moment, however, Shongrunden is still helping with secretary-treasurer duties.
His replacement, Bonnie Roller Routley, began in July but is recovering from an injury sustained outside of work, so they still haven’t completed the hand-over.
Shongrunden hopes to tie up those loose ends and set the technology business on a path to financial success before he finally walks away. His new contract expires in July 2014.
“We’ve got a combination of a lot of things going on at once,” he said, “and they just needed someone to help get through this.”