School board opens discussions with government on establishing Whistler teacherage 

Pemberton principal receives subsidized housing

The local school board is in discussions with the Ministry of Education to use funds to build a new teacher’s residence, or teacherage, in Whistler.

According to Nancy Edwards, Secretary-Treasurer for School District #48, the Howe Sound school district has approximately $250,000 in its teacherage trust fund.

"We have had preliminary discussions with the government, and it’s unlikely there will be a problem with it," said Edwards.

The critical need for affordable housing in Whistler will most likely result in the school board establishing eligibility criteria for employees wishing to apply for the space.

"We have talked about we would allocate the housing recognizing that the need would be great in Whistler," said Edward. "The policy, again, would be teachers first, then employees."

The school board must now find a site and determine what they can reasonably afford to build.

Under the Teacherage Act, revenues from the rental properties cannot be put into general revenue accounts, but rather must be held separately in a trust account.

Revenues from existing teacherages, including four residences in Pemberton, would offset the cost of the facility that could either be single family home or multi-family home.

A form of subsidized housing designed for teachers, teacherages are a holdover from the times when communities such as Pemberton and Squamish were considered rural outposts.

Teacherages were established in B.C. at the turn of the century as an alternative to having teachers live in hotels. At that time more than 80 per cent of the province’s teachers were women and hotels, with their beer parlors and primarily male clientele, were not deemed safe environments. Today, these below market residences exist to offset expenses for teachers working in areas with high costs of living.

While a house in Pemberton renting for $450 a month sounds too good to be true that’s the going rate for a taxpayer-subsidized teacherage occupied by the principal of Pemberton Secondary School.

According to Ian Kennedy, contractual advisor for The B.C. Principals and Vice-Principals Association, the average salary range for a secondary school principal is between $92,000 and $98,000.

"This kind of housing is essential to attract teachers into areas with high housing costs," said Kennedy.

He would not comment on whether an employee with a salary of more than $90,000 a year should be eligible for subsidized housing.

In Pemberton, the average cost of a single family home is more than $475,000. A typical three-bedroom, two-bathroom townhouse or comparable main floor space of a house currently rents for approximately $1,500 a month.

Natasha Post, Public Affairs Office for the Ministry of Education explains that while the ministry approves any applications for teacherages it has no say as to who occupies the residences.

"Whoever fills (the teacherage) after that is up to the individual school board. The criteria is completely up to them," said Post.

Amy Shoup, chairperson of School District No. 48 Board of Trustees, confirmed the existence of the teacherages in Pemberton and Squamish (currently in use as part of a school) but refused further comment. Shoup referred all questions to Nancy Edwards.

Edwards confirmed that Lawrence Tarasoff, principal of Pemberton Secondary, was living in a teacherage. She would not comment on whether a high-salaried school district employee should be living in subsidized housing. Instead she referred to existing policy.

"The properties are available on a first come-first serve basis," Edwards explained. "They are first offered to teachers, then to other school board employees and then, if there are no takers, to the general public.

She says that the four 45-year-old residences in Pemberton are maintained to the extent that they remain operational. And currently there are no plans to rebuild the aging homes.

"There have been discussions in the past, about 10 or 15 year ago, about selling the properties," said Edwards. "But the bids they received weren’t high enough."

In a structure similar to the rental policy, the bids had to first come from teachers and employees before the properties could be set out to public tender.

Edwards says the low rents were established to help employees who were having a hard time finding affordable housing.

"I haven’t heard that affordability is an issue in Pemberton," she said, but adds that it’s definitely been an area of concern for Whistler teachers.

"We have had preliminary discussions with the government, and it’s unlikely there will be a problem with (creating Whistler teacherages)," said Edwards.

The critical need for affordable housing in Whistler will most likely result in the school board establishing eligibility criteria for employees wishing to apply for the space.

Tarasoff could not be reached for comment.

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