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Deficit prompts Greater Victoria school trustees to wait on pay increases

Greater Victoria school trustees might wait until after the next municipal election before deciding whether to give themselves a pay increase. Trustee Tom Ferris initially proposed a raise for trustees last month.
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The Greater Victoria school board building on Boleskine Road in Saanich.

Greater Victoria school trustees might wait until after the next municipal election before deciding whether to give themselves a pay increase.

Trustee Tom Ferris initially proposed a raise for trustees last month. But he said Saturday that he has changed his mind given the massive deficit facing the district.

“It’s totally crummy,” he said. “We’re totally going to get kicked in the face this year.”

Board chairwoman Peg Orcherton said in a recent letter to Education Minister Peter Fassbender that the district is looking at an $11-million shortfall due to rising medical, pension, employment insurance and utility costs that the province refuses to cover.

Ferris said it’s always awkward for trustees to boost their own salaries. That’s why a previous board decided in 2005 to review trustees’ pay automatically every three years and compare it with the average of five similar districts: Central Okanagan, Abbotsford, Langley, Richmond and Burnaby.

Based on that formula, trustees’ annual salary would have jumped more than 10 per cent to $19,270 a year from $17,424 in January 2012.

Greater Victoria trustees refused to take the raise over the past two years as teachers and support staff faced a wage freeze.

But with support staff poised to accept a 3.5 per cent increase, Ferris had suggested the board re-establish the trustees’ pay formula.

Others objected, saying the timing was bad given the district’s financial situation.

Ferris has now recommended that the board table the matter until after the municipal elections in November 2014. Trustees will vote on his new motion Monday night.

Ferris said trustees may also want to think about adopting a new mechanism for adjusting their own salaries that eliminates some of the controversy.

“It’s hard for trustees to make that decision to give themselves a raise,” he said. “It has always been an issue. It’s never been easy.”

The formula established in 2005 was supposed to take it out of trustees’ hands, but that hasn’t always worked, he said.

“You have to do something. Every year that you put it off, the increase that you’re getting looks bigger, right? So what are you doing?” Ferris said.

“There has to be some compensation, because you’re going to give up time. So if you want to attract people … you have to make it doable.”

The trustees’ last raise was a 25 per cent increase approved on Dec. 8, 2008, when their pay jumped from $13,932 a year to the current $17,424. The stipends for the board’s chairperson and vice-chairperson are $3,000 and $1,500 annually.

Meanwhile, the union representing outside support workers in the Greater Victoria district ratified their contract Saturday. Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Local 382, which represents about 230 painters, custodians, carpenters, plumbers and other skilled tradespeople, voted overwhelmingly in favour of the deal, president Gilles Larose said.

CUPE Local 947, which represents more than 800 education assistants, clerks and information technology workers, has wrapped up local bargaining and will hold its ratification vote Dec. 4.

lkines@timescolonist.com