No wonder eyebrows were raised over school boards in Nova Scotia voting themselves a hike in their stipend. It might even have made it under the radar, except that it was a whopping 24 per cent. How often do you see that generous an offer?
In a response we can interpret as not necessarily electioneering, Liberal leader Stephen McNeil called it “unreasonable.” He describes it that way particularly in view of the extra money his government recently put into education – for the classrooms, not for administration, he reminded Nova Scotians this week.
The Chignecto-Central board has yet to deliberate on it, but the other in the province voted to accept the 24 per cent, a figure arrived at by a routine review – by a school board official – ordinarily done every four years. Although levels can vary, a member with a $10,000 honorarium, for example, would now receive $12,400.
Treating themselves so generously – which at this point the province can’t overrule – also comes in contrast to a contract imposed on teachers this past year after a long labour standoff. The irony must sting for educators.
As some board reps have said in response, the money paid in those stipends is a tiny, tiny percentage of the overall cost of operating the schools in any region. They can afford it.
But that argument carries only so much weight. Compare that attitude to the actions of a provincial government, for example. When they’re in the middle of sticking with austere budgets, the last thing they want to do is vote themselves a raise. Again, their salaries might represent a small portion of the cost of government, but there’s such a thing as setting an example.
This move by the boards will also have the public taking a long, hard look at just what exactly they do. Is there any perception left that they stick up for local interests? Or do they just shuffle along an agenda as set out before them by the Education Department?
Members might also remember the spirit of the task. A bit like serving in municipal government, it’s largely in the interest of volunteerism within your community, for the students’ sake. Stipends are there as some acknowledgment of the time and effort spent, not to be confused with a paycheque.
Although this comes up during an election campaign, the other two parties haven’t said much on the subject, possibly waiting to see whether it takes on life in the public arena.
McNeil has said if the Liberals are re-elected they’ll change the rule that allowed this kind of latitude in self-reward for an elected body. Given these circumstances, and short of any value-added role for boards serving the public’s interests, that’s a reasonable response.