McNeil calls 24 per cent salary jump for school board members 'unacceptable'

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil is calling a 24 per cent stipend increase for elected school board members "unacceptable" and "alarming." He's promising to change the law so that the minister of education would have the final say on salaries and expenses if his party forms government again.

Liberal leader is promising to change the law to give education minister final say on salaries

Nova Scotia Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil says school boards are using funding meant for schools to increase their stipends. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil is calling a 24 per cent salary increase for elected school-board members "unacceptable" and "alarming," but says there was nothing he could do to block it.

Instead, McNeil has promised to change the law so that the minister of education would have the final say on salaries, stipends and expenses if his party forms government again. 

Every school board in Nova Scotia except the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board has accepted the recommendations of a report last June that called for substantial increases to stipends. Chignecto-Central has not yet dealt with the report. 

Report recommendations

The stipend review was done by Ambrose White, a retired superintendent of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional School Board. It recommended:

  • Board members stipends increase to $13,000 from $10,500
  • Vice chairs stipends increase to $15,800 from $12,800
  • Board chair stipends increase to $21,300 from $17,300

The report also recommended meal per diems increase by $10 a day to $60 from $50. It suggested keeping the car-travel rate at 42 cents per kilometre.

The amount paid or reimbursed to elected school board members is reviewed every four years. 

Education minister called raises 'unreasonable'

When the report was first sent to board members last October, Education Minister Karen Casey pleaded with them to not simply rubber-stamp the recommendations.

Education Minister Karen Casey asked school boards not to follow through on a report's recommendation that they increase their stipends. (Patrick Callaghan/CBC)

In a letter to the president of the Nova Scotia School Boards Association, Casey wrote: "I know that school board members are motivated by a sense of volunteerism and a commitment to make a difference for children. However, it is unreasonable to ask Nova Scotians to support a 24 per cent increase, particularly at a time when many who work in the public and private sector are seeing limited increases, if any increases at all.

"I would therefore urge you to limit increases at this time."

So far, not a single board has heeded her advice.

Previous reviews recommending substantial increases garnered similar pleas from former New Democrat education minister Ramona Jennex in 2012 and Casey when she was the PC minister of education in 2008.

No increase in school board budgets

The Liberal government refused to increase the budget for school boards to cover the new stipends, which means the boards have to find money to cover off their salary increases from other sources.

In the 2016-17 budget, the province set aside $1.2 million to pay board members their stipends. That leaves the province's eight boards with a roughly $300,000 shortfall to make up for the 24 per cent increase.

McNeil said it was up to board members to explain where the money would come from.

The changes will see board members' stipends and meal per diems go up. (CBC)

"They're making a decision, in my view, to take funding that we've provided to go directly into schools, to increase their stipends," he said.

"And I hope parents across the province [would] ask their school board members why they believe it's appropriate at this time, where we're putting a major amount of investment in classrooms, [that] salaries for school board members would increase by 24 per cent.

"When we're making commitments in the classroom, the last thing we want to see is this funding used for school board stipends or increased administration."

'A minimal amount' 

Lavinia Parrish-Zwicker, chair of the Annapolis Valley Regional School Board, said McNeil was entitled to his opinion as were members of her board who approved the increase last February.

"The governing school board had an opportunity to review the information that was presented to them through an independent consultant under a process that is laid out in the Education Act," she said.

Parrish-Zwicker pointed to the fact the stipend and expenses of the board make up a tiny fraction of the overall budget.

"School board governance is 0.28 per cent. It is a very minimal amount to ensure that there is a public voice at the table for education." 

About the Author

Jean Laroche

Reporter

Jean Laroche has been a CBC reporter for 32 years. He's been covering Nova Scotia politics since 1995 and has been at Province House longer than any sitting member.

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