Will the comptroller general get more troops?

The provincial government has said it will be reviewing health authorities, school boards and Crown corporations to ensure public funding isn't subsidizing "unreasonably high compensation levels or administrative costs." But who will those reviews be conducted by? Finance Minister Colin Hansen didn't have an answer to that question yesterday. And, when contacted by Public Eye, government declined to say whether those reviews would necessitate an increase in comptroller general Cheryl Wenezenki-Yolland's budget if her office is assigned that task.

But the government pointed out the terms of reference for the reviews presently being undertaken by Ms. Wenezenki-Yolland allows her to "retain technical experts and conduct studies, research and analysis (e.g. financial review including debt management) as deemed appropriate."

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Last time the Liberals examined remuneration of politicians, they paid three supporters $225,000 for three months of part-time examination.

There must be plenty of party folks lining up for the new review. Or, are they looking for an honest answer this time?

The highest paid executives in the local Education sector (superintendents of BC's 2 largest school districts - Vancouver & Surrey) earned under 200K last year (just over that if you include all benefits). They're each responsible for half-billion-dollar budgets, 50,000+ students, 100+ school properties worth billions, over 5,000 employees, etc. In short, mandates almost 10 times larger than some provincial ministries whose top execs are paid far more.

School Board executive compensation pales next to that of CEOs for most crown corps, universities & health boards. They're on par with the "superintendents of achievement," four newly-created Education Ministry roles with salaries up to $145K, though no one has yet explained why we need these new Ministry Supers or what they actually do.

Elected Board trustees receive minimal compensation. The Vancouver Board Chair, who serves 500,000 constituents and is on call 24/7, earns just $26,000, with no staff, office, expense allowances or pension plan. In contrast, the Minister for Healthy Living earned over $150,000 in pay & allowances to lead a $70 million portfolio and serve some 50,000 constituents. Taxpayers also funded her Constituency and Ministerial offices, 2 sets of staff and the 'Set for Life' pension, none of which school trustees get.

Vancouver's District admin costs are $15 million - 3% of the total budget and half the Board's direct revenues from fees and rentals. Vancouver therefore fully subsidizes its own admin costs and more, at no cost to taxpayers.

I cite all this to illustrate that BC's school boards are already extremely lean, after the Province negotiated then failed to fully fund several major staff pay increases since 2001, forcing Boards to repeatedly trim costs and front-line services. BC's student/ educator ratio is the highest in Canada. Vancouver, for example, employs just one (1) communications staffer, compared to the small army at the Province and each Ministry.

The expressed hope of finding significant savings by reviewing School Board compensation levels and admin costs is therefore a faint one - and many believe, simply a diversionary tactic.

Alternately, the BC Liberals may be planning to eliminate or consolidate local school boards to cut admin costs. Premier Campbell specifically cited this as a key education goal in a campaign kick-off rally for the BC Liberal faithful, though there was no public mention of this goal anywhere during the election campaign.

We shall see if this was indeed another secret campaign goal. But I'll bet that if the school board review is not purely diversionary, this is indeed what the Premier has in mind.

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