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Ontario colleges could increase executive pay by more than 50%

The college sector says the eventual increases for senior administrators may be smaller than the maximums proposed in the discussion documents.

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Senior administrators at Ontario's colleges could see pay raises of more than 50 per cent this year as the province lifts a salary freeze that it originally implemented in 2012 for non-unionized public-sector workers.

Colleges are currently consulting on "compensation frameworks" which set out the maximum pay that senior leaders in the public sector are eligible to receive under a new process the government introduced this fall. In some cases, the documents show, executives could be eligible for raises of more than $100,000 a year, with a portion of that money dependent on performance.

Colleges are the first sector to post the discussion papers. But under the legislation, hospitals, school boards, government agencies and universities will all have to make similar documents public and implement the new legislation by September. Once the governing boards of each institution approve a new framework, wage freezes are no longer in effect and salaries can be raised up to the maximum set out.

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"We believe in good public-sector pay, but the extent of the increases are just astounding," said RM Kennedy, chair of the college academic division of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents 12,000 college professors. The union has sent letters to the Treasury Board and the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, objecting to the proposed levels and how they were decided.

"We think the money should be redirected to the classroom," Mr. Kennedy said. The college sector says the eventual increases may be smaller than the maximums proposed in the discussion documents. "There are no salary decisions made at this point," said David Brook, the CEO of the non-profit College Employer Council, which bargains with faculty at the province's 24 colleges.

Governing boards at each college must consider feedback before approving the frameworks and before making any decisions on compensation, he said.

"It is premature and speculative to talk about salary levels. We don't know what the actual impacts will be," he said.

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The regulation was introduced to strike a balance between ensuring that the government is able to attract and retain top talent and the need for accountability for public dollars, the Ministry of Advanced Education said in a statement.

"Part of the reason the government created this framework was to correct unreasonably high salaries in colleges and universities. The government saw abuse in the system and took action to correct it," said Allison Buchan-Terrell, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Advanced Education.

Many of the college discussion papers argue that salaries have to be set high enough to recruit people from across other public sectors, such as universities and hospitals.

"We need to attract and retain skilled individuals to perform these complex jobs," Mr. Brook said.

The College Employer Council helped college governing boards come up with a group of comparable organizations on which to base salary expectations. The province's legislation says that pay and bonuses cannot be higher than the mid-point of at least eight "appropriate comparators."

Even small colleges, with fewer than 3,000 students, base their proposals on the pay levels of a group of mid-sized and large colleges and a basket of universities of various sizes. Larger colleges point to pay at the LBCO, MaRS and Pearson Airport.

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If the proposals do translate into pay hikes, some college administrators will end up with higher salaries than university executives. That could set off a spiral of raises in the postsecondary sector, stoking tensions with some faculty groups.

"We are following the process that has been outlined by the government," Mr. Brook said.

Frank Kelly, executive director of the Council of Ontario Directors of Education, a professional association that represents the heads of school boards, said the boards will be posting their discussion papers in the spring.

With a report from Caroline Alphonso

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