The Okanagan Skaha School District is cutting more than a million dollars from this year’s budget, but the item that is causing the most controversy is a raise for Superintendent Wendy Hyer.
School board chair Linda van Alphen confirmed the budget that was introduced to the public on April 23 includes a $17,000 raise for Hyer, who is currently paid a $135,000 salary.
Van Alphen said a province-wide wage freeze continues for principals, vice principals and other administrative personnel, but that freeze was lifted in 2012 for school district superintendents. Hyer opted not to take a raise in 2013 and 2014, according to van Alphen, but the school board began considering it for the 2015 budget, when they thought the freeze was being lifted completely.
“When (the wage freeze) comes off, people are going to try to get to the same level as people in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan,” said van Alphen. “We are the second lowest (for salaries) in Canada for our administrators in the education system for the same jobs.”
Hyer said there are issues that will affect any public sector that finds itself with a management wage freeze. Compression, where different levels of responsibility have similar wages, and inversion, where an employee makes more than their manager.
“It makes it difficult to attract people to those positions and it also makes it difficult to retain people to this position. We’ve seen people leaving our sector to take up executive or administrative positions in other sectors,” said Hyer. “It creates a situation where at some point you need to address those compensation or inversion issues if you want to attract and retain good people.”
Hyer said she isn’t surprised by the controversy over her raise.
“Anytime you talk about salaries for administrators who make more than $100,000, I think the public is not very sympathetic to any of those folks getting a pay increase, whether it is appropriate or inappropriate,” said Hyer.
Van Alphen explains that Hyer’s raise, and ones for other administrators when the freeze is eventually removed, is necessary to provide appropriate separation and progression between levels of jobs and positions. She said the district can afford Hyer’s raise.
“The amount of money we spend on our administrators, in comparison to the rest of our staff, is not enormous,” said Van Alphen.
Van Alphen said the seven years Hyer has been superintendent for Okanagan Skaha exceeds the time most superintendents stay with a district.
“The superintendents have been bouncing from place to place to place,” said van Alphen, noting that recruiting new people is also an expensive and difficult process.
“You take a look at how much it is going to cost to go the other way and you may not get someone who is such a perfect fit as SD67 has gotten with Wendy,” she said.
Leslea Woodward, president of the Okanagan Skaha Teachers’ Union said the raise creates a bad perception for teachers and parents alike, pointing out that budgets includes cuts to special education and the loss of a a behavioural teacher.
“Nobody begrudges her a raise, but the amount of the raise, at a time when budget cuts are being made, is questionable,” she said. “Teachers are asked to do more and more with less and less resources and it is taxing on them. When you see teachers whose positions are being cut,that means programs those teachers provide are being cut. ”
Bonnie Rouler Routley, secretary-treasurer for the school district, said this year’s budget has the least amount of impact on classroom and jobs that we have had in the last number of years.
“Yes, we are not going to be refilling a couple of jobs, but that is less impact than it has been in prior years,” said Rouler Routley, noting this was the first raise Hyer had seen since 2009, equating to 2.1 per cent per year. “It was very clear that the superindent’s wage was, because it had not been addressed, far behind even her peers within the school district.
“It is the way that compensation freezes do have a tendency to bite you in the end. You have to catch up.”