Trustees to vote on raise

Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school trustees will vote tonight whether or not to  give their positions a raise.

They will choose one of four options, three of which would see the base trustee stipend increase from $364 to $3,643 per year.

Currently, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Board of Education trustees are paid $18,207 a year.

Trustees could also opt to defer the decision until Oct. 31 next year.

Per the board’s bylaw, an arms-length committee made up of secretary treasurer Wayne Jefferson and three citizen representatives, reviewed trustee stipends, comparing them to nine nearby school districts: Abbotsford, Langley, Surrey, Delta, New Westminster, Richmond, Burnaby, Coquitlam, and North Vancouver.

The committee’s first option would bring trustee stipends in line with the average pay for all nine districts – $21,850 a year.

However, all the districts used for comparison, with the exception of New Westminster, have larger student populations than the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District.

The second option proposed would see trustee pay increased to $19,555 annually. That figure is based on the average of trustee stipends in Abbotsford and Langley.

The third option would allow for cost of living increase of two per cent, raising the stipend to $18,571.

Any pay hike wouldn’t come into effect until after the Nov. 19 election.

However, incumbents Susan Carr, Dave Rempel, and board chair Ken Clarkson could be voting on their own salaries, should they be re-elected, as will Pitt Meadows trustee Eleanor Palis, who has already been re-elected by acclamation.

Outgoing trustee Mike Huber said any time a politician votes on their own pay, it raises flags with the public.

“Trustees really shouldn’t have a say,” he said. “It should be out of the hands of the politicians.”

Huber said that he will likely vote with the majority of the board on the issue, adding that he would refuse a wage increase if it affected him personally.

“I would refuse for that reason … I’ve never been in favour of dictating your own pay,” he said. “It should be determined by an outside body.”

However, Huber does believe trustees are underpaid for the work they do. He estimates that he spends 20 hours a week in his role as trustee, double that during budget talks or during the recent school closure process.

“A truly effective trustee is grossly under-compensated for the job they could do,” he said, adding that increasing the stipend could make the position more attractive. “You can do the job in less time, but you won’t be effective.”

The Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District has struggled to balance budgets in recent years due to falling student enrollment. Huber said voters will ultimately be able to hold trustees accountable for where they spend that funding.

“As a trustee, you are constantly on the soapbox about the lack of ministry  funding … but [by voting for a pay raise], fundamentally you are taking money out of the classroom,” he said.