01/13/2015 01:30 EST | Updated 03/15/2015 05:59 EDT

Many Ontario school boards hike pay for education directors despite wage freeze

TORONTO - At least 21 of Ontario's 75 school boards ignored the public sector wage freeze in 2013 and gave pay increases to their directors of education, according to figures compiled from the sunshine list of public sector workers paid over $100,000 a year.

The issue came to light after the Toronto District School Board voted Monday night to allow its director of education, Donna Quan, to keep her $289,000 salary even though her predecessor was paid $17,000 less.

Education Minister Liz Sandals sent the TDSB a letter in December saying Quan's salary should be $272,000, but trustees voted for the increased rate after hearing that 20 other school boards also gave their directors of education pay hikes despite the wage freeze ordered by the Liberal government.

Most of them received salary increases of less than five per cent, but some of the pay hikes went into double digits.

Sandals' office said Tuesday that the government was looking to see if all the school boards were in compliance with the rules on executive compensation during the period when wages were supposed to be frozen.

"It is important to note that the locally elected board of trustees are responsible for negotiating contracts with the director of education," said Sandals' press secretary Nilani Logeswaran.

The Progressive Conservatives said the Liberal government has never stuck to its vow to impose a real wage freeze, especially in the education sector.

"It's going to be very difficult for the public to swallow when they see people getting handsome increases when there is still a jobs crisis in the province," said PC education critic Lisa MacLeod. "It is the wrong signal to Ontarians, who believed the Liberals in the last election when they said they'd meet their deficit reduction targets."

The Liberals' attempts to impose a wage freeze on more than one million public sector employees to help eliminate a $12.5-billion deficit ran into strong opposition in the education sector, with teachers withdrawing from extracurricular activities, engaging in work-to-rule campaigns and protesting in the streets.

Premier Kathleen Wynne eventually reopened the contracts for public school teachers, which the auditor general said cost Ontario taxpayers $468 million.

"Kathleen Wynne and Liz Sandals have never demonstrated an ounce of discipline when it comes to deficit-reduction targets within the education envelope or within the broader government," said MacLeod.

A report from an independent review of the TDSB ordered by the Ontario government after some very public fights between some trustees and Quan is expected to be released within days.

"We are expecting the report later this week from Margaret Wilson that will have examined operational issues, including the director's contract," said Logeswaran.

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