On the other side of this page, Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Paul Olson takes issue with a recent Sun editorial in which we argued that teacher salaries were becoming unsustainable for the Brandon School Division.
In his letter, Olson says the Sun’s editorial was “way off base” for suggesting that teacher salaries are responsible for school division budget difficulties in this province.
When teacher and staff salaries make up approximately 85 per cent of the Brandon School Division’s budget, it’s not wrong in our opinion to examine whether teachers are being paid too much for the work they do.
For Olson to suggest that teacher salaries “benchmark with other professional groups in the public sector such as nurses, engineers, police officers and firefighters,” we can only point out that the rising salaries of many of these professional groups are also adding to this city’s ballooning tax burden.
There are plenty of non-governmental jobs that require post-secondary education as well, including project managers, media, IT professionals, architects, business analysts — even agricultural producers benefit from training in soil sciences, agronomy, business development. The list goes on and on.
Olson also suggests that two per cent salary increases are not out of line with Manitoba’s rate of inflation — 2.3 per cent in 2013.
Well, we can quote figures, too.
According to a CBC report last November, Statistics Canada figures showed the average weekly paycheques in Manitoba were, on average, higher in every single province and territory except in Manitoba between September 2012 and September 2013.
In Manitoba, the average was unchanged from 2012.
The same report stated that the cost of living had gone up — consumer prices in Manitoba rose by 2.5 per cent between September 2012 and September 2013, the highest among nine provinces that saw price increases over the past year.
That means the average Manitoban paid more to live, but generally did not make more money. In the meantime, the provincial government raised the PST to eight per cent last year, and property taxes in the province’s two major cities continue to increase.
At the same time, StatsCan says the average weekly earnings for Manitobans reached $820.50 in 2012 — about $43,134 per year, including overtime — leaving Manitoba fifth from the bottom among all the provinces and territories in terms of gross taxable payroll before deductions.
Do we really need to point out that it seems unbalanced when we hear from BSD board chair Mark Sefton that teachers in Brandon are making $80,000 on average?
Other public sector wages are growing beyond city residents’ ability to pay for them as well, including police and firefighters. As an example, by the time the city’s latest contract with the Brandon police expires, in 2016, the base wage for a standard first-class constable will be more than $92,000 — up from less than $58,000 in 2005.
Olson is right about one thing, however — saying that school divisions are at the mercy of the arbitration process was perhaps a little unfair. In reality, both sides lose control of the bargaining process when a dispute goes to arbitration.
All of this is not meant as an attack on public workers — teachers, police, firefighters and other public staff do good work and deserve fair pay. But many taxpayers have limited means, and should not be seen as a bottomless cash purse. As we have argued many times on this page before, the current tax system is simply unsustainable.
Nevertheless, we were not surprised that the Brandon Teachers’ Association called upon the Brandon School Division on Monday to reconsider its decision to cut 11 full-time positions from the 2014-15 budget.
If other school divisions begin to follow suit, it will become increasingly difficult for teachers to demand further hikes.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 26, 2014