In his final days on the job, outgoing Auditor General John Doyle cleared off his desk by issuing five important audits. Some, like the scathing report on the thoroughly discredited Pacific Carbon Trust, received a lot of public attention. Others, like one on school board governance, did not.
But buried in that school board audit was a Doyle nugget that should send chills down taxpayers' spines. The auditor general looked into three school districts - the massive Surrey School District, which is responsible for nearly 70,000 students, Mission School District, with more than 6,000 children, andCariboo-Chilcotin School District, with 5,200 students.
Doyle discovered that none of the three school boards were properly evaluating their performances - or the work of their superintendents, the district's top staffer.
"Consistent with good practices, boards should evaluate their own performance and that of the superintendent," Doyle wrote. "None of the boards we reviewed has been evaluating its own performance in fulfilling its governance responsibilities, or conducting annual evaluations of superintendent performance."
One can extrapolate that most school boards across the province work the same way, without annual performance reviews for their chief executive and avoiding any independent look at their own job performance.
This is not in the best interests of the employee, students, taxpayers or the board itself. Performance reviews are an important opportunity for trustees and the superintendent to chart progress, set goals, identify challenges and clarify expectations. It is a vital and standard human resources tool.
Mission superintendent of schools Frank Dunham was on a leave of absence from his $175,000 a year job for several months before being fired in January. He is now suing the district. A local newspaper noted that he received a "lucrative" severance package, but no details have been released thus far.
Cariboo-Chilcotin superintendent Diane Wright made $147,536 last year, up 6 per cent from $139,030 the year before. Richmond's Monica Pamer went from $162,204 in 2011 to $183,542 last year. That's a 13 per cent jump.
To put those salaries into context, B.C. education minister Don McRae earned $144,221 in 2011-12. President Barack Obama's education secretary, Arne Duncan, took home $179,700. Neither portfolio received a raise.
School trustees and superintendents may bristle at the suggestion that top education staffers don't deserve pay increases. But how can they defend that position when they fail to evaluate their top employees every year? How do they know the job is being done right? What are the measures being used to set pay rates?
Raises seem to be in vogue. The province's deputy education minister, James Gorman earned $248,962 last year, up nearly 9 per cent from $228,942 the year before. It is Gorman's ministry which is ultimately responsible for guiding school districts to improve their evaluation processes, as suggested by the auditor general: "We recommend that the Ministry of Education work with the Board Resourcing and Development Office to customize and communicate expectations for school board governance practices, including financial and risk management, competency assessment, and board and superintendent evaluation."
Parents and taxpayers should demand these evaluations happen regularly and include a public feedback component. Wise school boards would get ahead of this recommendation and put a process into place sooner rather than later.