Chilliwack school trustee Darrell Furgason called for a 29.6 per cent pay hike for trustees Tuesday, just 102 days after being elected.
“I think it’s not unreasonable,” he told fellow board members, to want their stipend to reflect the new income tax assessment, the cost of living, and the cost of using our own vehicles for district business. He then suggested their wages be raised from a “meagre $19,000” to $25,000 because, he said, “the current rate prejudices (the board) for a number of reasons,” including recent tax changes.
Besides, continued Furgason, “it’s up to this board to decide how to fairly and justly compensate its trustees.”
Beginning in January, the rules around the taxation of trustee salaries changed: previously, $6,000 – roughly a third of their wage – was nontaxable. Now the entire thing is subject to income tax.
On a local level, Furgason says trustees paid $693 in income tax and CPP contributions last year, but the new rules will see that amount raised to $2,301. Furthermore, he adds, if you extrapolate their current salary and compare it to what a full-time employee earns, “we’d be earning far less than a teacher in the district.
“So I maintain that it’s reasonable of us. It’s not greedy. I’m not committing suicide by suggesting that a raise from $19,000 to $25,000 is reasonable and fair.”
School board chair Dan Coulter pointed out the trustees have received raises in the past.
“For a long time we didn’t give ourselves a raise because staff didn’t get a raise,” he explained. “What we did then was tie our raises to CPI, so we have been getting raises every year, two per cent every year.”
However, “I’d like to (also) point out that four of the trustees are new,” commented vice-chair, Willow Reichelt, “so we’ll all be making far more this year than we did last year as trustees.
“But I think a possible argument could be made for increasing the trustee pay to account for just the tax change. The remuneration was obviously set in respect to taxation rules, but they’ve changed now, so by my calculations we’d need to increase our salaries by $2,292 to account for that.”
Trustee Furgason’s motion would see a $5,507 stipend increase, continued Reichelt, which would result in a salary nearly $3,400 more than it was before the tax change.
“If the board were to approve this motion, the cost to the district over this board’s term would be $148,274. For some perspective, that’s 6,178 EA hours. I personally can’t vote myself that much of raise that would take away from student learning.”
As the motion made its way around the table and trustees discussed its merit, it soon became apparent that most were uncomfortable with voting themselves a raise without any external recommendations.
“I would actually like to see a more fulsome report on (payment) options … and (their) repercussions,” said Trustee Heather Maahs.
“I like what Abbotsford does: they have an external ad hoc trustee indemnity committee, all the trustees are hands off, and that committee looks at the big picture. That would give a good assessment of the entire big picture, what that looks like, and what’s fair.”
“Perhaps an external committee to make a recommendation would be a good idea to go with,” agreed Trustee Barry Neufeld.
“I would not want to begrudge people who want to run for trustee but can’t afford to (on the current salary),” said Coulter. “I think we lose a lot of diversity on the board if people can’t afford (to run), so I’m open to giving ourselves a raise … but I don’t think I have all the information in front of us to make a decision.”
“Obviously we don’t do this for the money, that’s a given,” said Maahs, “but it does prevent us from doing other things that would generate income for us.”
In the end, the board followed Maahs’ suggestion and quickly agreed to strike an ad hoc committee of volunteers to “crunch some more numbers on this,” and the motion was deferred until the first meeting in March, when all trustees could be in attendance.