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But Should They Be Paid? Flagler School Board Members Defend Their Salaries

| April 5, 2011

From foreground, Flagler County School Board members Colleen Conklin, Andy Dance and Sue Dickinson, with Trevor Tucker half-hidden. (© FlaglerLive)

From foreground, Flagler County School Board members Colleen Conklin, Andy Dance and Sue Dickinson, with Trevor Tucker half-hidden. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County School Board members are paid $30,331 a year each for their service, close to the state average for school board members. Overall, Florida pays the state’s 355 school board members $10.9 million a year, not including about $5,000 a year per retired school board member.

A bill in the Florida Senate proposes to eliminate board members’ salaries and benefits, replacing both with a stipend of $100 per meeting. Retirement benefits would be eliminated, reducing state spending on school board members to $900,000. Travel expenses would not be: board members could still be reimbursed for mileage or other approved travel. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Wise, the Jacksonville Republican, is being heard in the Pre-K-12 Education Committee today. Wise chairs that committee.

“Let me say this and I hope it’s printed,” Wise said. “We are number one in something in Florida—salaries of school board members.”

The proposal drew a variety of reactions from present and past school board members in Flagler County, some of whom felt there was no way they could come off looking good on the issue, if they were to defend their salaries, given the populist pressures against government employees of any sort these days—elected officials especially.

Some of Flagler’s current and former board members see it as retaliation for local boards’ public criticism of a slew of legislation in recent years that’s shifted financial burdens to local school districts. Some see it as leading to a lesser varied brand of school board members, if working parents can no longer serve. “School board members are getting shot at at public meetings,” one said, “you see some of the vitriol spewed at public meetings. Who wants to volunteer for that,” or serve at $100 a shot?

Jim Guines, who served nine years on the Flagler school board, says the move is overdue. I hate to admit it. It’s needed. It’s needed,” Guines said. “That thing that’s being proposed is similar to what you’re going to find in all the other school board situations in the States. That’s the way it is.” Guines dismisses the notion that the salary reduction would reduce the boards’ diversity. Looking around the country, he said, working people and others still serve on boards despite the small or absent pay. “Too many of them see the opportunity to make a little part-time salary, and the part time salary they’re getting in there is way beyond part-time. It’s a full time salary,” he said. Much of his own salary, he said, was turned over to charity over the years.

“It’s retaliation,” board member Colleen Conklin said. “This has been an ongoing issue for several years since the School Board Association threatened to file a lawsuit. Each year something new is done in addressing salaries of school board members.” This time, Conklin says, she thinks the proposal will pass. “The truth is that common folks could never afford the opportunity to participate on a school board. I believe it would be limited to those who were wealthy or those that were retired, and I think that we would lose a very diverse number of school board members,” Conklin said.

Andy Dance, a consultant and parent of three, said the proposal, if enacted, would force him to make some changes. “Salaries are based at the whims of the legislature, so we have to live with whatever they do,” Dance said. “You adjust and move on. For me, I have based some of my work decisions based on the time I commit to the school board and the salary, so I’m able to work as a consultant. But in this market my areas of specialty are in land development, and that’s not going to recover for a while, so I have the luxury of working as a consultant on an as-needed basis. If they did away with it,” meaning the school board salary, “I’d have to make some life changes and commit to a full-time job.” He added: I’m certainly capable of  adjusting to anything that’s thrown out there. I’m not going to whine and complain about it. You move on.”

But some school board members—Dance is among them—spend more time than others in their school board functions beyond school board meetings, which add up to about two regular meetings and two workshops a month, absent special numerous additional special meetings. Former board member Evie Shellenberger, who chaired the board at the end of an eight-year tenure that ended in November, said she spent about $5,000 a year in gas alone, which points to the number of functions and events she attended. Shellenberger, too, thinks the proposal is retaliation. “I really think they’re just trying to punish us,” she said, though she is not opposed to scaling back the salary to between $25,000 and $27,000.

Sue Dickinson, who chairs the school board, takes the same dim view of the proposal, for different reasons: “I personally look at it as just one more way that our state legislature is trying to have public education totally fail,” Dickinson said. “Everything they do is another negative crisis–how it’ll impact the kids and push more charters and other means of education, because there’s going to be such discontent within the system.”  John Fischer, who last month recommended that employees take a 1 percent cut as an example of cost-savings, would not address the proposal, saying he had to see it first.

Evie Shellenberger. (© FlaglerLive)

Board member Trevor Tucker isn’t opposed to a salary reduction, either, but not an elimination of the salary altogether. “It’s a job just like county commission or any other elected office,” Tucker said. “You should be compensated. I don’t hear anyone say county commissioners shouldn’t be compensated, or the sheriff shouldn’t be compensated, or anyone else shouldn’t be compensated.”

Current law sets school board salaries at between $5,000 and $10,000 a year. Those amounts are exceeded by $20,000 or more, as the formula state law applies also takes population of each county into account. In comparison, Flagler County Commission members are paid $47,900. The clerk of court. The property appraiser and the tax collector are paid $111,500, the sheriff is paid $120,000, and the supervisor of elections, $93,800. Florida Senate and House members are paid $18,000 a year, not including travel expenses. Legislative aides are paid between $45,000 and $60,000 a year.

Wise’s proposal applies only to school board members, however.

“We will be opposing that proposal because it’s singling out one group of constitutionally elected officers who are part time and not singling out other constitutional officers and we think it’s not fair to do that,” Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton told the News Service of Florida, noting that school districts are working closely with the state and Legislature on contentious issues regarding class size changes, the new teacher pay reforms and budget cuts. “We are doing all of that. I’m not sure where this is coming from.”

The average salary statewide was $31,619 in 2009. It dropped to $30,850 in 2010, with a low of $22,300 in Liberty County to a high of $39,000 in Broward County.

The National School Board Association in 2007 surveyed 759 school board members across the country. Two-thirds reported receiving no salary, and almost 10 percent reported receiving less than $2,000, and only 3.4 percent reported receiving more than $10,000 a year. About 20 percent of the respondents reported receiving a stipend in addition to their salary, but the stipend averaged $63 per meeting. Across the country, 32 state legislatures do not authorize school board salaries, though some allow their school board members to buy health insurance at preferential rates. Seven states forbid public money to be used as reimbursements for expenses, such as mileage, according to a staff analysis of the Wise bill at the Florida legislature. In New York City, school board members were paid $15,000 a year in 2007.

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18 Responses for “But Should They Be Paid? Flagler School Board Members Defend Their Salaries”

  1. K says:

    I don’t disagree with lowering the salaries- but I think ALL elected officials serving on councils, commissions or boards (not full time office positions like the sheriff) should have their salaries cut as well. If Florida Legislators can serve for $18K per year, so can all of the others.

  2. anon says:

    March 15th, 2011
    “Fischer during the meeting did propose that employees could give up a percentage of their pay–he cited 1 percent–which, might help make ends meet. That got a nod from fellow board member Colleen Conklin. “If everybody took a 3 percent cut, it would equate to $1.8 million,” she said. “I know it’s not popular, but I commend you for recommending it publicly.”

    Taking a pay cut is not too popular when the recommender becomes the recommendee.

  3. Brian says:

    Teachers are being let go, school wide individuals are losing about 3% of their salary, public workers will have to raise their contribution to retirement funds, and of course health insurance continues to increase. No doubt these people on the board work hard and in many cases have a thankless job. However, they need to take the cut as well–while some board members may have to re-think “work decisions”, it’s no different what many in our school district are doing already.

  4. w.ryan says:

    Divide and conquer! The money is tidbits that we are arguing about. Why is it that Floridians continue to bark up the wrong tree! When you chase good candidates away bad things happen!

  5. Liana G says:

    Given the HIGH unemployment in this district, I would surmise that there are many diverse and qualified individuals quite willing to commit to what should be an altruistic and noble cause.

    Interesting that Broward county pays 39,000. Population 1,751,234 and home to some of the highest income earning zip codes. None of the zip codes in Flagler made the cut yet we pay 30,331, with a population of 80,000.

  6. lawabidingcitizen says:

    In all the half dozen towns I’ve lived in the northeast, the school board wasn’t paid other than expenses which were nominal. Same goes for city and county councils and commissions.

  7. PC MAN says:

    Like lawabidingcitizen I also came from a city that paid zero for school board members but that did not stop some of the most brutal politicking for a spot on the board. Someone one time clued me in as to why it was so, apparently the only way to get a teaching job or your service or product used by the school system is to get the board approval, so the board is constantly full of sharks with open palms. No thanks, I’ll take the dedicated people we have had versus built in corruption any day.
    Also how does the state government get to tell local government what to do ? Sounds like big government to me, where’s are “don’t tread on me” fools now ?.

  8. Kay says:

    I have been a school board member in the past in another state. I worked part-time with no salary. Any expenses I incurred were reimbursed. The board consisted of a wide variety of professionals with common goals, the students and the community. We were dedicated with no personal monetary agendas.
    I was shocked when I moved here 10 years ago and I realized school board members were paid and how much they were paid and they actually received health insurance benefits on top of that. No wonder teachers wanted to leave their teaching positions, they could make a full time salary in a part time position as a school board member and also get another job if necessary.
    I am on many boards and not because of what I am getting paid (which is nothing!)

    Are school board members the highest paid part time employees in the county?

  9. palmcoaster says:

    How could anyone here get busy thinking about were to cut more or less instead to call their elected ones in Tallahassee and DC and demand what is fair. Other than so many cuts to public employees, education, now Senator Ryan’s Medicare elimination, why don’t they raise the corporate tax to what used to be in the 50’s at least to 35%, no that now the big corporations pay 9% or none. The 1% rich tier need to pay their fair share of taxes. How moronic is this GOP and tea baggers further eroding the middle class earnings when we are the one’s that sustain our government with our income and payroll taxes…We already have over 35 million unemployed and some collecting their well deserved unemployment insurance and they are contributing peanuts now to our budgets because were laid off. How come anyone else be brainwashed to believe these fascist policies of the tea baggers and big money driven GOP legislators? Also stop the oil companies tax incentives, refunds, etc, as we need those billions to balance our budgets. How come anyone is brainwashed to give these corporations and the rich more tax cuts that they been receiving for 10 years and created NO JOBS! There is the proof, our unemployment numbers. They do not create jobs with those cuts they take their $$ to the bank or to open factories overseas because thanks to our elected ones and our Supreme Court they can and their greed is murderous.

  10. Johnny Tax Payer says:

    Perhaps a reduction in salary might be necessary but cutting out school board salaries all together is not. I don’t agree with all the members on the school board, but I’m quite certain not one of them “does it for the money”… They all do it because they feel they can make a difference. But they also need to be compensated for their time, otherwise we’ll end up with a board full of retirees, which does not reflect the demographics of our city. Look at the Palm Coast City Council, why is it that everyone of them with the exception of Meeker, is retired? Because the commitment a huge amount of time, and the pay is very little in comparison.

  11. Jim Guines says:

    I do not want to miss this opportunity to express my appreciation to Colleen Conklin for her leadership in asking the board to support an effort to sue the state and the governor for not meeting the mandate put forth in Title 1X of the stste constitution. This stand took leadership and guts of which she has plenty. Thank God she is on this board at this time, they need her. I hope the community gets behind this effort as it maybe the only way to save our public school system as we know it.

  12. elaygee says:

    There should be no pay for school board members. It’s public service just like any other agency, charity or committee. If they need the money, they are not appropriate for the job.

  13. dlf says:

    Yes, I agree lets thank the board for not doing their job, that is the American way now. Blame everyone but the people who we pay do the right thing. Ms. Conklin has been riding the gravy train for over ten years and we still have the problem. Great job, no wonder our kids do not perform,they see the poor results of the school board and say non- performance is OK, in this case you get paid over $30,000 a year not to get results and you can do it for ten years, only in America..

  14. palmcoaster says:

    elaygee at your same tune then no salaries for elected constitutional officers like: county commissioners, clerk of court, supervisor of elections, senators and representatives and their aids as well as the governor and cut their pensions too by the way and give them the same health coverage that we can barely afford as tax payers or even NO health insurance like 40 million Americans go without! After all they all volunteer to be elected, correct? Why is education less important than the courts the elections department, the county Boards, the legislative chambers etc. etc.? Have you all gone nutty like the tea baggers on your relentless special interest fulfillment, to privatize it all. Better be aware of what you are wishing for.

  15. Nancy N. says:

    “If they need the money, they are not appropriate for the job.”

    Oh, so only the wealthy with plenty of leisure time on their hands are suitable for these jobs? That is the worst example of snobbery I have ever heard!

    America’s workers are working longer hours for less money. None of us have the time anymore to give the amount of time that truly serving fully committed to something like the school board deserves. This is especially true of people who are the school board’s most important constituency – parents. They are the most pressed for time of anyone! Almost anyone who is working will have to cut back work commitments, and thus their income, to be able to serve the school board properly. This should be recognized with compensation.

    I would rather pay to get school board members who are able to be fully committed and concentrate on their work, rather than have a board full of the idle rich and retirees and young professionals who are wedging the commitment into their schedule as a political stepping stone but who aren’t truly committed.

    You get what you pay for…

  16. Patton says:

    Pay the teachers but not the board. Reasonable expencies, yes but no more. Many other states do it and it works well.

  17. Sisco Deen says:

    On 25 Jun 1917, in pursuance to Section 6, Chapter 7399, Acts of 1917, Laws of Florida, Governor Sidney Johnston Catts appointed the following Flagler County citizens to serve on the Board of Public Instruction for our newly formed county:

    Superintendent of Public Instruction, Benjamin F. Buchanan; Board Members, Zeb E. Booe, Joseph Jackson Buckles, and Frank L. Byrd; Truant Officer, Wade Hampton McKenzie.

    On 03 Jul 1917, in pursuance to Section 6, Chapter 7399, Acts of 1917, Section 342, Laws of Florida, the first meeting of the Flagler County Board of Public Instruction was held to complete the organization of the board.

    On motion of Mr. Buckles, seconded by Mr. Byrd, Mr. Booe was elected chairman of said school board.

    Mr. Buchnan, having been appointed Flagler County Superintendent of Public Instruction, appeared in person at said meeting and assumed his duties as Secretary of said board, as provided by law.

    The first ledger of the Flagler County Schools, beginning July 1, 1917, is on file at the Flagler County Historical Society’s Holden House Annex, 206 E. Moody Blvd., Bunnell, FL.

    The first entry of September 1, 1917 shows:

    Zeb E Booe, paid 6 week’s salary and mileage; $47.50

    B. F. Buchanan, paid July & Aug salary plus $5.00 car repairs; $171.66

    J. J. Buckles, paid 7 week’s salary and mileage; $51.20

    F. L. Byrd, paid 7 week’s salary and mileage; $38.00

    In 1917, Flagler County teacher’s salaries were $60 per month

    As one song of my youth by singer-composer Bob Dylan says “The Times They Are a-Changin”

  18. joyce says:

    It’s absurd that the School Board gets such an exorbitant salary! What happened to dedication to a worthy cause? Salaries, in general, are minimal here in Florida, but school board members luxuriate in high monetary compensation! Disgraceful ! I’m guessing that half of the members, if not all, would quickly disperse & resign if the monies were lessened or eliminated! Salaries need to be drastically reduced!!

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