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Education Ontario school boards deny ignoring province's wage-freeze legislation

TDSB Director of Education Donna Quan attends a trustees public meeting at the Toronto District School Board building in Toronto, Wednesday December 17, 2014.

Mark Blinch

Toronto District School Board trustees who voted in favour of letting the top staff official keep her salary say they were following 21 other public boards in Ontario that were ignoring the province's wage-freeze legislation.

The list has prompted the Education Ministry to launch a review into whether school boards are complying with the legislation.

But closer scrutiny of the list of school boards presented to TDSB trustees at a meeting on Monday evening leaves their argument dramatically weakened. Eight of the 21 school boards that responded to messages from The Globe and Mail on Tuesday all said they have, in fact, complied with the legislation by freezing salaries for their directors. The boards that responded are at first glance among the most egregious examples of pay increases on the list, including a whopping 46-per-cent hike in 2013 for Bruce MacPherson, now-retired director of the Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board.

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Mr. MacPherson was paid $244,500 in 2013 for taking on the added responsibility of leading a now-aborted initiative to amalgamate Bruce-Grey with four other boards, said Catherine Montreuil, his successor as director. Ms. Montreuil said her salary is $172,000, "not a penny more" than what Mr. MacPherson received as director.

"We look way out of line," Ms. Montreuil told The Globe. "But we are in total compliance with the salary freeze."

At the Superior-Greenstone District School Board, a 7.4-per-cent increase for director David Tamblyn in 2013 consists of pay for unused vacation days. Mr. Tamblyn said his salary of $151,950 has been frozen since the provincial wage-freeze legislation was introduced in 2010.

"When you dig a little deeper, it shows I haven't received any increase on the [salary] grid," he said.

TDSB chair Shaun Chen said a group of TDSB trustees examining Ms. Quan's compensation requested the list of what other boards pay their directors, and it was one of "many pieces" they examined.

Sheila Cary-Meagher, the trustee who introduced the motion to leave Ms. Quan's salary intact at $289,000, said during the meeting the list shows that several other boards are ignoring the legislation. The motion passed, with 10 trustees voting in favour and seven against.

Ken Lister, a newly elected trustee who voted against the motion, said it's "irrelevant" to him whether other school boards comply with the legislation. "It's essential that we are following the law," he said.

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Education Minister Liz Sandals reiterated in a letter to Mr. Chen in December that Ms. Quan should be paid a salary of $272,000, the same as her predecessor, under the provincial wage-freeze legislation for public-sector employees.

"The Ministry is currently looking into the issue of executive compensation," said Nilani Logeswaran, a spokeswoman for Ms. Sandals. The minister has asked her staff to look into whether other boards are not complying with the legislation.

Mr. Chen told reporters on Monday that trustees were "stuck between a rock and a hard place" over their obligation to honour Ms. Quan's employment contract – former chair Chris Bolton negotiated her salary of $289,000 – and the minister's directive.

The vote came just days before Margaret Wilson, an education consultant appointed by Ms. Sandals to examine toxic relations between Ms. Quan and several trustees, is set to release a report later this week.

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