Surrey school trustees up their pay

Surrey Board of Education votes to increase the base rate by 4% per year.

Surrey Board of Education

Surrey school trustees have voted themselves a four per cent raise – a pay hike they say is justified considering the workload involved in helping run the largest school district in the province.

The increase in the Surrey Board of Education’s annual remuneration brings the seven trustees’ base pay rate to $32,000 apiece per year, up from $30,800 during the past year. The increase – voted on after a motion that was deferred in March was re-introduced and passed unanimously at Thursday’s public board meeting – amounts to about $100 more per month and is effective July 1.

“If you took the total governance cost divided by the number of students and worked it out on a per-student cost, we’re extremely low – probably the lowest,” said board of education chairperson Shawn Wilson.

“In reality, more students means more schools, more employees, bigger budgets, more activities and more workload for seven trustees.”

Both the Vancouver and Coquitlam school districts, which are smaller than Surrey, have nine trustees. Vancouver pays their trustees less, but has two more, so their total wage payout equals Surrey’s at about $230,000 per year.

Trustees in Coquitlam are the highest paid in the Lower Mainland. With student enrolment of about 31,000 (Surrey’s is close to 70,000), the nine Coquitlam board members are each paid a base rate of $40,000, totalling more than $368,000 per year.

“We were willing to do the extra workload for seven trustees rather than add two more trustees,” Wilson said. “The trustees all felt it was warranted and justified…”

The Surrey board also changed the way it compensates the chair and vice-chair.

It used to be the chairperson and vice-chair would get an additional $3,000 and $1,500, respectively, on top of the annual base rate. However, Thursday’s motion says the chair will now receive an additional 15 per cent (amounting to $4,800 this year), while the vice-chair will get an extra seven-and-a-half per cent (amounting to $2,400).

Wilson said the formula should always have been percentage-based rather than a set amount, because as the base rate grew over the years, the top-up remained stagnant.

The Surrey board reviews its remuneration each year, usually basing the rate on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for Vancouver. According to Statistics Canada, between May 2014 and May 2015, Vancouver’s CPI rose one per cent.

Trustees had an assessment of trustee pay and responsibilities across the country done a few years ago to guage trustee pay in comparable school districts, but hadn’t acted on the recommendations until this week.

“They felt that $32,000 for a trustee for the workload in Surrey was reasonable compensation,” said Wilson.

The Surrey board actually cut its pay by $200 per year in 2013, but last year, increased it by $600 annually. Then-trustee Charlene Dobie protested the raise in 2014, calling it a “slap in the face” to teachers who were in the midst of a strike. At Thursday’s meeting, she questioned this year’s raise and took to Twitter to voice her disapproval, saying trustees “gave themselves a big pay raise tonight? Verbal only! Transparency? Not!”