Vernon School District trustees are divided over their pay.
While some trustees feel a rise in annual indemnity is long overdue, others feel that paying themselves more sends the wrong message.
“I would like to have us stay at our current level,” said trustee Doris Squair.
The board is required, by motion, to establish the trustee indemnities for the period Dec. 1, 2015 to Nov. 30, 2016 and establish that one third of this sum be considered an allowance for expenses incidental to the discharge of trustees’ official duties.
Trustees approved an increase in annual indemnity, but the vote was not unanimous.
“I think the way this is set up right now is we compare ourselves with a cohort group of school districts across the province and so this way it gives us an average of the cohort, which is still less than the average in the province,” said trustee Robert Lee.
Earlier this year, the board established a group of school districts to compare trustee indemnities — New Westminster, West Vancouver, Sooke, Saanich, Comox Valley and Cowichan Valley. The average is $17,673 for chair, $15,883 for vice-chair and $14,958 for trustee. In Vernon, trustees earn an annual indemnity of $13,424, vice-chairperson earns $13,424 plus an extra $1,228 in expense allowance; chairperson earns $13,424 plus an extra $2,749 expense allowance. Expense allowance is non-taxable.
Trustees were asked to vote on a motion to increase the indemnity to $17,707 for chair, which includes $2,749 for allowance; $16,186 for vice-chair, which includes $1,228 for allowance; and $14,958 for trustees.
“I think the general public expects us to work for what we’re doing and this is not a salary because nobody would work for those wages,” said Lee.
Squair opposed the motion to increase the annual indemnity.
“I was not in favour of this motion last year and I am strongly not in favour this year because we have employees in our district that have not received a wage and I’m ashamed that I’m even asking for this, when people have gone for years without and they work 365 days a year, not a term of three or four years,” she said.
Kelly Smith, board chairperson, also spoke against the motion.
“I am agreeing with trustee Squair that we do have employee groups who still have not had a raise in many years and I must speak against it,” she said.
Supporting the motion, trustee Lisa De Boer says the board looked at what was fair
“I don’t think the compensation drives whether you become a trustee or not, but I think there is some level of value put on the time that’s put into this process and I believe it’s appropriate that we catch ourselves up,” she said. “While it’s painful at this current time, I believe it’s appropriate to even encourage down the road individuals in the community to maybe come forward and be a trustee.”
Lee said it’s important to remember that an indemnity is not a salary.
“I value school district staff — teachers and non-teachers — but I don’t think we can tie ourselves to the fact that just because they do not receive an increase, we shouldn’t. If you want to speak about how that is affecting us, all of us should take zero because therefore that would not be a problem at all.”
Squair said trustees all knew what they were getting into when they allowed their name to stand for election.
“Though I’m not going to change your mind, we didn’t come into this blindly, we all sacrificed our personal time and that was not the point of coming into this position, our point was to be there for the children first,” she said.