North Okanagan-Shuswap School District trustees voted to increase their salaries in July, citing the impending November election as a catalyst for upping their base wage from $9,855 to $11,710.
The move will see the board chair’s salary move to $14,286 and the vice-chair’s set at $12,998. It will result in an overall increase of about $17,000 to the school district’s budget annually.
The decision was made following a report from Kyle Cormier, director of human resources, who reviewed trustee salaries around the province and noted North Okanagan-Shuswap trustees are among the lowest paid in the province.
“In some cases, trustees are making less than half the salary of their colleagues,” said Cormier, who recommended the increased based on the median amount between the four school districts outside of the Lower Mainland that had the most comparable enrolment figures.
Trustees noted the perceptions that can result when elected officials vote themselves a raise, but many of them said the idea was to put an increase in place prior to the next election. The November election will also see trustees voted in for four-year terms, rather than the current three.
The last time School District #83 trustees increased remuneration was in September 2010.
“There’s not ever a good time for this discussion, which is why it has gotten to this point,” said Chris Coers, the Enderby trustee, who pointed out that the board administers a budget of $69 million, which is larger than the budgets of the five cities in the region combined.
“This is a hard job, with hard decisions we’ve had to make… This isn’t a hike to put us up at the top, it’s an increase to put us in the middle. It’s time to be realistic.”
Armstrong trustee Bob Fowler, who has not voted in favour of any salary increase for trustees in more than 15 years, told the board he would vote in favour this time.
“We are just getting way too far behind and then we will never catch up… We make far less than most of our municipal counterparts and we deal with 10 times the budget and 800 employees.”
Trustee Laurie Myers told the board it was not about the increase this year, but about supporting and attracting future trustees.
“We deserve wage increases just like everyone else does.”
But while six of the trustees voted in favour of the increase, not everyone was in support.
Holly Overgaard said she found the situation difficult, especially after just voting to cut adult continuing education programs a few minutes earlier.
“It is so hard for me to support any increase when we are looking at taking things out of the classroom,” said Overgaard, joined by trustee Barry Chafe.
did not vote to support the remuneration increase.