The top 38 administrators at Nova Scotia's seven elected regional school boards now on the province's chopping block made nearly $5 million combined in salaries last year.

The size of school board bureaucracy came under scrutiny in this week's report by consultant Avis Glaze, who said money saved by dissolving the seven boards should be poured back into the classroom.

Figures collected by CBC News show while senior administrative salaries are roughly equal provincewide, the number of students each board serves varies wildly.

For instance, the Halifax Regional School Board educated 48,618 students in 2017, where superintendent Elwin LeRoux earned $160,270.

By contrast, the Strait Regional School Board served just 6,287 students that year, and superintendent Ford Rice earned $161,523.

Most staff should be helping teachers

Glaze's report, commissioned by the province and released Tuesday, makes at times contentious recommendations to change the administration of education in Nova Scotia

A day after its release, Education Minister Zach Churchill said all 22 recommendations will be implemented, including the charge to replace regional school boards with a single provincial advisory council. The francophone school board, Conseil scolaire acadien provincial, will remain in tact. 

NS school board costs - graphic

CBC requested and calculated salary information from each of Nova Scotia's seven regional school boards.

In an interview with CBC News, Glaze said eliminating elected school boards is an opportunity to shrink board administration. Examples include unified payroll, facilities, finance, and human resources operations.

"That is an area that can definitely be streamlined," she said. "You want most of your staff to be helping teachers. So administration can be much smaller than we see them in many places."

Savings could boost achievement

In 2017, the seven regional school board superintendents earned a total of $1,030,622. And the salaries of 38 senior administrators in the seven boards last year totalled $4,783,554.

"I do not think every board needs a payroll department, or human resources, or facilities," Glaze said. "That's why I think those can be shared services without any serious impact on student learning or achievement."

NS School Governance Review 20180123

Avis Glaze's report was embraced by the government, but got mixed reviews from school board members. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Glaze said the focus of her report is on improving education for Nova Scotia students, not finding financial savings. But she said financial investments in the classroom can encourage student achievement.

"Wouldn't it be great if every child had a laptop, you know? Any resources that we have I think can help with student achievement," she said.

On Wednesday, Churchill said adopting all Glaze's recommendations will change the education system "for the better." He said school board administration will remain in place for the moment, but eventually there could be cuts through attrition.

"We will not be issuing layoff notices as a result of this. We will be redeploying resources that are in those central offices back into the classrooms," he said.

Churchill also said the government is prioritizing students, not finances.

"I do want to say first that this process is not about savings," he said. "It's about changing a system to better meet the needs of kids, to help us modernize, and to help us adapt to the ever-changing needs of our schools and our students within them."

The recommendation in Glaze's report to consolidate "eight non-core systems to one," she wrote, "should mean faster service, unified policies and procedures, reduced administrative costs, and a more nimble system."

With files from Jean Laroche