KELOWNA - Central Okanagan school trustees are considering the politically delicate subject of giving themselves a pay raise next year and how exactly to calculate it.
Director of Finance Eileen Sadlowski, in a report to the school board, is recommending they choose one of three options; a raise that reflects the consumer price index, a weighted average of all employee increases within the district, or an average of trustee pay in similar sized districts throughout the province.
The dollar figures are not big, no matter which method is chosen. Even the most expensive calculator, the average of pay in other districts, would add not much more than $20,000 to the annual school board budget.
But the optics of giving themselves what amounts to a 15 per cent pay increase in a budget year where the district is cutting $1.5 million from its $220-million budget means trustees will hear about it from their constituents.
“It’s still going to be a problem, even if we put it off for another year,” school board chair Moyra Baxter says, adding trustees haven’t seen an increase since 2010.
Baxter says the problem arises when trustees, already acutely aware of the optics of setting their own pay increase, push the subject into future years.
“Last time we did this, we went for many years without a raise, then realized how far behind we were compared to similar sized districts and we had to make a big jump,” she recalls. “It didn’t go over well.”
She would much prefer trustee pay raises be built into the annual budget process, something Baxter says most school districts already do, using whichever formula is eventually chosen.
“It would give us continuity and the pay might even go down,” she adds.
Baxter says the subject of a calculating mechanism has come up over the last few years but always seems to get pushed to the side when budget deliberations begin.
“Until last year, we were waiting to see what would happen with the teachers,” she says, although she admits there was little political will to tackle the subject.
Baxter says trustees in the Central Okanagan School District have been conservative in their past pay increases. She points to the Coquitlam school district where pay is calculated based on the average pay of city council members in the four municipalities the district covers.
“They all make much more than us,” Baxter says.
According to a story published in the Tri-City News in October 2014, trustee base pay in the Coquitlam school district is $36,675. The board chair position tops out at $40,343.
Under current pay rates, Central Okanagan school trustees receive a base rate of $17,870, rising to $18,755 for the board vice-chair and $20,148 for the board chair.
The most expensive option being presented to the board, an average of trustee pay in similar sized districts, would see base pay rise to $20,462, vice-chair pay of $22,052 and $23,218 for the board chair.
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