Province not budging on non-unionized school district staff wage freeze

The Coast Mountains School District board wants to be able to give its staff and management a raise

Premier Christy Clark listens as Finance Minister Mike de Jong delivers his budget speech at the B.C. legislature Tuesday

The provincial government says it has no plans to lift the wage freeze for non-unionized school district staff and management, despite pressure from the Coast Mountain School District (CMSD) board and other boards across the province to do just that.

In a letter sent to education minister Peter Fassbender and finance minister Mike Dejong Jan. 5 and signed by school board chair Art Erasmus, the board writes that it “echoes the concerns of boards province wide regarding what is a serious injustice for our management and staff. Successful settlements were reached with teachers and support staff, you must now complete compensation for the public education sector by addressing exempt staff.”

Exempt staff includes superintendents, secretary-treasurers, senior school district managers, principals, and vice-principals.

The board, aligned with a BC School Trustee Association resolution passed in April of last year, says in the letter it wants government to withdraw the wage freeze and provide money for any wage increases that may result.

It writes that public school management and staff haven’t been given a wage increase since 2009 because of a long-standing wage freeze on some public sector wages.

And the board argues that it was management and exempt staff who kept the district running during various levels of job action and financially strained times and they should be compensated in line with other employee groups who have been seen their wages increase.

“Instability within the education system, accompanied by the withdrawal of services and work stoppages, has required effort above and beyond the call of duty for our management and exempt staff,” reads the letter. “We need to translate this respect into a meaningful and tangible recognition through increased compensation.”

But in a response dated Jan. 21, Public Sector Employers’ Council Secretariat interim president and CEO Christina Zacharuk, writing on behalf of the government, says the wage freeze will “continue to be in effect for the time being.”

The wage freeze was put in place “to help respond to the global economic crisis. While the fiscal outlook is improving, measures such as the compensation freeze continue to be necessary to protect the province’s fiscal situation,” reads the letter.

The province “acknowledges the challenges of wage freezes, including the impacts of unionized agreements, but has been clear that one of its highest priorities is balancing the budget, which means continued fiscal restraint is necessary if public sector employees across B.C.’s public sector, including K-12, are going to be able to receive modest wage increases.”

In the budget tabled earlier this week, the province projected a surplus of $879 million this year, and further surpluses for the next three years. The government increased K-12 education spending by $564 million over three years to meet collective agreement obligations.

And it also called on school districts to find $29 million dollars in administrative savings over the 2015/2016 year and another $25 million the year after.

The district is required to post the salaries of all employees who make more than $75,000. According to those financial disclosure documents for the year ending June 2014, secretary-treasurer Alanna Cameron was the highest paid person in the district with a salary of $129,742. Past superintendent Nancy Wells received payment of $136,911, which would include lodging and travel expenses, through contract payments to N.V. Wells and Associates. Wells was not full-time staff. Remuneration for vice-principals and principals wages range from around $90,000 to $115,000 and senior district staff hover around $80,000 to $110,000. The salaries of exempt staff who make $75,000 or less are not posted.