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School contracts renewed before vote

Dec 15 2011

The outgoing Greater Victoria school board renewed the contracts of its superintendent and secretary-treasurer at a private meeting before the Nov. 19 election, new chairwoman Peg Orcherton confirmed Wednesday.

Orcherton, a veteran trustee, said there was a "timing issue" because the contracts for superintendent John Gaiptman and secretary-treasurer George Ambeault had to be signed by Jan. 1. The incoming board was sworn in Dec. 5 and had no time to discuss the contracts before the deadline, she said.

"It's a struggle for anybody," she said. "You try not to do anything that's going to tie any future board's hands, but sometimes there's a timing issue and you just have to deal with it."

Orcherton acknowledged that the looming election did factor in the old board's decision in October to renew the executive contracts.

"We didn't know how the election was going to go, but if there was going to be a substantive change on the board, we felt it was important for the district to have stability with a senior administration," she said.

The entire board sought re-election Nov. 19, but three incumbents lost their seats to candidates backed by the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association. The new trustees — Deborah Nohr, Edith Loring-Kuhanga and Diane McNally — ran campaigns that promised greater transparency and criticized the incumbent board for being too secretive.

None of the new trustees could be reached for comment Wednesday. But teachers' association president Tara Ehrcke raised concerns about the contract renewal.

"I think it is problematic that the board would make such significant decisions at the last meeting of a three-year term," she said in an email.

"I don't know the details of the contract, but I find it difficult to believe that there was not time for the new board to consider this decision. It will be the new board working with the superintendent and secretary-treasurer for the next three years."

Ehrcke also called it "ironic" that while teacher evaluation has been cited by trustees as an issue in current contract negotiations, the union was given no opportunity to have input into renewing the contracts of the two most senior staff.

"I was not even aware it was taking place," she said.

Orcherton said the contract decision was made in private because it involved a personnel issue. She said the decision, which was leaked to Postmedia News Wednesday, would have been reported publicly at the board's next meeting in January.

"Once it's been discussed and once it's been agreed upon by the secretary-treasurer and the superintendent, it will be reported out to the public that the contracts have been renewed," she said. "It's not a secret thing."

She said the new contracts are shorter than the old ones. "Three years rather than five, and it's just the same contract," she said. "No raises. No increase in benefits. It's just sort of a roll-over contract."

Gaiptman earned a base salary of $175,000 in 2010-2011 and received total compensation of $233,042 including benefits, pension contributions and vacation payouts, according to the district's executive compensation report. Ambeault's base salary was $149,745 and he received total compensation of $187,370.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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