Opinion

BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Timing is everything

OK class, can you spell optics?

North Okanagan-Shuswap school trustees have found themselves under the spotlight after agreeing to increase their base remuneration from $9,855 to $11,710.

Now it should be pointed out that the decision was made after a review of trustee salaries around the province indicated North Okanagan-Shuswap officials are among the lowest paid (there hasn’t been a raise since 2010).

“We are just getting way too far behind and then we will never catch up,” said trustee Bob Fowler.

“We make far less than our municipal counterparts and we deal with 10 times the budget and 800 employees.”

It was pointed out that the district has a $69 million annual budget.

“This is a hard job, with hard decisions we have to make,” said trustee Chris Coers.

“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.”

And Coers raises a good point as the work of elected officials is taken for granted by the general public. The compensation doesn’t make up for the time away from family or careers, or the sleepless nights that come from decisions that impact families and district employees. There has to be a way to recognize the efforts of trustees and that can only be financial.

However, increasing remuneration must be put in context.

If government funding comes in as expected, the district will be short $1.8 million for 2014/15 and that means the budget axe will swing once again.

In fact, at the same meeting that saw trustees hike wages, they voted unanimously to scrap the adult continuing education program in Enderby, Armstrong, Salmon Arm and Sicamous.

Cancellation seems like a no-brainer as the program had an operating deficit of $119,108 but it will have a significant impact on those adults who are trying to upgrade their education so they can pursue careers and become productive members of society. Some will be able to access classes at Okanagan College but for others, especially in the smaller communities, they will likely fall through the cracks.

Trustees Barry Chafe and Holly Overgaard  were aware of the perception that would be created  and did not  join their colleagues in hiking wages.

“It is so hard for me to support any increase when we are looking at taking things out of the classroom,” said Overgaard, who just a few minutes earlier  defended the need to chop adult education courses.

“This is money we don’t have and it has to come from somewhere. We need to invest the limited funds we have into those programs that are going to help kids have a successful school career,” she said.

In the whole scheme of things, the additional $17,000 needed to bump up trustees’ salaries won’t eliminate the district’s financial shortfall or bring back adult education. But after years of sweeping budget cuts, that $17,000 may make the difference between a school having art supplies or a few more books in the library.

The trustees’ actions also come at the same time that many residents have had their pay frozen or jobs lost during the recession. It’s those families who pay taxes and keep schools running.

Ultimately, the public must ensure elected representatives are treated fairly, especially if new faces are to be encouraged into the democratic system.

However, politicians must understand the power of perception and increasing one’s salary within minutes of cutting programs may not go over well with some constituents.

 

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