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Former treasurer still collects salary

Former New Westminster school district secretary-treasurer Brian Sommerfeldt made more money during the 2012-13 school year than he did the previous one despite being on the job for less than eight months.

According to the district’s annual statement of financial information (SOFI) issued to the board Tuesday, Sommerfeldt was paid $143,098, although he went on sick leave in February and left the district in March after four years on the job.

When he departed Sommefeldt, who made $137,600 in 2011-12, received an 18-month severance package, which based on the SOFI report would work out to an approximate total of $214,500.

Instead of being paid in a lump sum, Sommerfeldt will continue to receive his salary on a regular basis until the 18 months are up.

“The provincial government has set the bar at 18 months [for severance packages] so we continue to pay for 18 months,” said board vice-chair Michael Ewen.

The district has been reeling in recent years from deficits, some during Sommerfeldt’s tenure, that have accumulated to more than $5 million.

Sommerfeldt’s salary was second only to superintendent John Woudzia, who will be departing at the end of January. Woudzia received a salary of just under $160,000 and another $3,848 in expenses.

They were followed by assistant superintendent Al Balaniuk, who also assumed Sommerfeldt’s duties, at $134,000. The top five were rounded out by human resources director Phil Cookson ($125,405) and New Westminster secondary principal Mary Bushman ($124,337). Bushman retired at the end of the school year with Cookson taking her place.

The provincial government requires districts to include in the SOFI report the salaries of all employees making $75,000 or more. New Westminster reported 225 employees received that much salary, 17 more than in 2011-12. Those employees accounted for $19.5 million of the $48.7 million paid in salaries. The district’s $100K club also jumped from 23 to 27.

Ewen said a big reason the $75,000-club membership increased is because many teachers and administrators are upgrading their education which automatically kicks in raises the provincial government doesn’t fund. He’s anticipating the cycle will eventually work in New Westminster’s favour in a few years as teachers retire and younger ones replace them at a lower wage scale.

SOFI also reported Ewen, who was board chair at the time, received $3,168 in expenses. The next highest was Jonina Campbell, who was vice chair but is now the board chair, at $696.

Ewen said his expenses were higher, for one, because he had to go to Victoria multiple times to meet with Ministry of Education officials about the district’s deficits. He said he needed to talk to them “eyeball to eyeball” to tell them the deficits were not acceptable to the board, and the trustees were not making a political statement.

(Ewen is connected to the NDP and a majority of trustees are backed by the New Westminster and District Labour Council. The ministry fired the Cowichan board of education in July 2012 for purposely submitting a deficit budget.)

Secondly, said Ewen, his expenses included a trip to the B.C. School Trustees Association annual general meeting in Kelowna.

He pointed out because the AGM was out of town the board decided, as board chair and because he is a lifetime BCSTA member and wouldn’t have to pay registration fees, he would be the only one to go.

After Campbell, the next highest expenses claimed was $151 by James Janzen followed by MaryAnn Mortensen ($20), David Phelan ($13), Casey Cook ($8) and Lisa Graham ($0).

As chair, Ewen received the highest remuneration at $23,888.

The basic trustee salary was $21,513 which the board recently voted not to increase for 2014.

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