Tonight the Board of Education will consider asking Berkeley residents for raises from $875 to $1,500 per month.
Proponents say the boost is long overdue. But critics say that, while school board salaries come out of city coffers, the move could still appear unseemly given the district’s multimillion dollar deficit and the heavy staff and teacher layoffs on the horizon.
School board stipends have not increased since 1988, when voters raised pay for board of education and city councilmembers from $300 to $875 per month. Since then, City Council pay has jumped to $1,800 per month but school board stipends have not moved.
In order to raise pay the school board will have to approve the request tonight and the City Council must choose, at a later date, to place the matter on the November ballot. Berkeley voters would have the final say.
Councilmember Dona Spring is also pushing a November ballot initiative that would raise City Council salaries by an as yet unspecified amount.
School board member John Selawsky said a raise to $1,500 per month would help members, already forced to reduce hours at their “day jobs” to fully commit to the board.
“We need people who can put the time in and are committed to the school community,” he said. “I see this as a full-time job.”
School board President Shirley Issel is open to the idea, but is leaning against it.
“I don’t think it ought to be a full-time undertaking,” Issel said, referring to the job of being a school board member.
Issel was worried that full-time members might resort to micromanagement when a board should focus on setting policy and general direction.
Board Vice-president Joaquin Rivera said he supports the concept of a raise, given the long hours that many members devote to the job. But he worries about the timing with the district’s deficit, which at last count stands at $2.5 million for next year.
“I don’t know if people really understand that we get paid by the city, not by the district,” he said.
“I think that’s a realistic concern,” said board member Terry Doran, who supports the raise. “But it’s been quite a few years (since the last increase).”
Doran said he is hopeful that the increase would encourage people to run for the board who might not be able to afford it otherwise.
But parent activist and school board candidate Nancy Riddle said she did not think the boost was enough to attract new people.
Riddle said the attraction for her is a suggestion, by Selawsky, that board members could divert some of their increases to pay for a school board staffer who would return phone calls and conduct research for members. The board currently has no staff.
Riddle said a staffer could allow the board to pursue issues that district headquarters may not have time to address.
“The district has its priorities and time constraints and I think the school board members might have different interests that the district might not have the time to pursue,” she said.
The City Council has mixed views on the school board pay hike.
“I’m not adverse to it,” said Mayor Shirley Dean. But she said the city would have to see how the measure fits in with the city’s projected $3 million deficit.
“We have to make cuts,” acknowledged Spring, who supports raises for both school board and councilmembers. “But one of the reasons we have a deficit is we try hard to pay our employees fair wages.”
Spring said the City Council and school board work hard and should not be penalized simply because they are elected officials.
Councilmember Betty Olds said she opposes raises for the council, but might support school board raises given that there is relatively little money involved – $37,500 over the course of a year.
Dean added that she would like to learn more about salaries for school board members in neighboring cities before making a decision. An inquiry by the Planet revealed that Oakland board members make $750 per month.
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