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An order compelling all Ontario school boards to ensure the salaries of senior staff comply with the provincial wage freeze has uncovered a number of violations — and boards are now figuring out how to make the employees repay the money, expected to be several thousand dollars each.
The province told boards to review the pay of directors and senior staff, such as superintendents, after it was revealed Donna Quan, director of the Toronto District School Board, was earning $ 17,000 more than her predecessor, in violation of the public-sector wage freeze.
But boards say the situation was confusing because the ministry led them to believe — as did various legal opinions — that grid increases were fine, given teachers had also received raises in the same way.
Trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher, vice-chair of the Toronto board, said staff members have also been told that if they resign by a certain date, they can avoid repaying the money, which she believes could lead to instability at the top level.
Some 15 senior administrators were found to have salaries in violation of the freeze at the Toronto board.
“For some people, it’s a very large amount of money” to be repaid, she said, estimating $ 10,000 to $ 25,000. “They were operating under the assumption that the ministry okayed it. They didn’t see this coming and they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong.”
Mavroyannis, a lawyer, handles freedom-of-information requests and was the whistle-blower in a case of alleged trustee tampering of documents, a case Ontario’s privacy commissioner continues to investigate.
Cary-Meagher said the past month at the board — following the release of a scathing report about board management and operations — has been “hell” for staff as they worked to make sure the board complied with 13 directives from Sandals. “And on top of that, they get this news. They’ve been killing themselves to get things done.”
She said the recent retirements or resignations aren’t an indication of any loss of faith in Quan, who came under fire in Margaret Wilson’s report, in particular for micro-managing. Rather, she added, senior administrators are “losing faith in the system. There’s been a tsunami of stuff since last year and they are exhausted.”
Frank Kelly, who heads CODE, an organization representing directors of education across Ontario, said the salary clawback, and payback demand, has hit a number of boards. Several boards sought a legal opinion that determined the wage freeze legislation allowed for pay grid increases.
“There are a lot of ramifications,” including to pensions and with regard to income taxes, he said. He does not believe the province will go after retirees.
“There will be some people quite upset by this,” he said of the situation. “It is unusual.”
Nilani Logeswaran, a spokesperson for Sandals, said the ministry has not as yet heard from any boards about pay freeze violations.
As for individuals who have or are retiring, “the ministry is currently engaged in discussions with boards on how to fairly treat (them).”
When asked about boards’ claims that ministry staff okayed salary grid increases, Logeswaran said they “(continue) to work with school boards to address compliance” with salary legislation.