Central Okanagan trustees give themselves 2.3% raise

School board grapples with idea of an indemnity increase during the COVID-19 economic downturn

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic gave some Central Okanagan school trustees cause to rethink adopting a resolution for a 2.3 per cent increase to their annual indemnity.

At the Okanagan Public Schools Board of Education meeting Wednesday evening, some trustees wrestled with the idea of giving themselves a raise when some school district staff have seen their wages frozen, and so many parents are suffering through financial hardship.

The initial recommendation from the finance committee, deferred from a school board meeting in April, called for a 2.3 per cent increase in accordance with the B.C. Consumer Price Index (BCCPI) as of April beginning for the period of July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

It would have set the indemnity stipends at $21,650 for trustees, $22,866 for the board vice-chair and $24,713 for the board chair.

Trustee Chantelle Desrosiers said she was in favour of deferring the raise issue until next year because some school district staff have seen their wages frozen.

Trustee Amy Geistlinger echoed Desrosiers’ sentiments, saying it wasn’t the right time to vote themselves a raise when the B.C. provincial budget deficit is expected to surpass $12 billion next year and 150,000 jobs have been lost since February.

Board chair Moyra Baxter said the indemnity raise is based on longstanding policy of increases tied to the BCCPI.

Baxter acknowledged it’s a bit awkward for trustees to be put in the position of voting themselves a raise.

“In many other school districts, that indemnity is built into the budget and it never comes up for discussion. In the interest of public transparency, we bring it up for discussion every year because it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

Trustee Norah Bowman argued in favour of the indemnity hike, saying serving on school boards or municipal councils should not be reserved only for those who can afford it.

“A single mother working two jobs should be able to afford to run for school board because working people need to be represented on the board. I feel the same way about city council and the regional district,” she said.

Ultimately, the school board amended the resolution to insert the current BCCPI as of Aug. 30, 1.3 per cent, which would have reduced the stipends to $21,439, $22,642 and $24,471 respectively.

The vote on the amendment passed, but the vote on the revised resolution failed.

So that left trustee Rollie Cacchioni, chair of the finance committee, to reintroduce the original motion for the 2.3 per cent raise, which was adopted by a 4-3 vote.

Cacchioni noted past policy should be respected as delaying the indemnity raise this year will only create catch-up issues in subsequent years.

“And I would remind trustees they are under no obligation to take the indemnity. I know I didn’t take it for two or three years in the past,” he said.

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