August
3rd 2012
Thompson School Board Mulls Paying Directors to Cover Official Expenses

Posted under Journalism & PPC & School Accountability & School Board & School Finance & Suburban Schools

Here’s a good question I haven’t thought a lot about before: What kind of payments should school board directors be eligible to receive? I’m not talking about campaign contributions, which most districts unfortunately allow from groups that get dues collection services from government payroll systems. Special interests stopped Colorado from cleaning up that unethical cycle four years ago.

No, I’m talking about publicly-funded compensation for official service. Last week a school board member from Loveland proposed that her Thompson School District might help cover expenses:

Board member Denise Montagu sparked the conversation during a special meeting this week in which the application deadline for the vacant District A board seat was extended. Specifically, she asked if the board members could be reimbursed for mileage or receive a stipend towards their personal cellphone bills.

I’m not sure how many of Colorado’s 178 school districts make allowance for school board director reimbursements, but a board policy could be established to set up parameters for that. A stipend seems potentially more problematic, as it would be much less clear to taxpayers where the funds were going. And taxpayers are just the group whose concerns merit attention in such a matter, as one of Montagu’s fellow directors told the Loveland Reporter-Herald:

Board member Bob Kerrigan voiced concern, saying that before any proposal is entertained, he’d like to first hear from his constituents.

“We ran for this knowing that we weren’t going to be compensated for anything,” Kerrigan said. “We’re in a budget constraint and I don’t know how the public is going to see that.”

Volunteer leadership on the school board can be a real sacrifice, but Kerrigan is correct. Anyone who ran for that office realized there was no pay in the bargain. At least in Thompson, and most districts I’m aware of. I’d be curious to know how many other Colorado school boards have wrestled with this issue and how many actually have adopted a policy like the one being tossed around.

Just yesterday, the newspaper’s editorial board chimed in to suggest that the district should consider purchasing cell phones for board members instead. Besides arguing that their “modest proposal” could generate less taxpayer expense, the editors believe it would provide the “added benefit” of greater transparency, as citizens could request and see the phone records.

Decisions like this seemingly minor one from northern Colorado are the prerogative of local boards to decide. But it’s important to note that taxpaying citizens have become more engaged these days. If voters in Thompson are indicative of the nation at large, then they are very likely interested in seeing their school district “cut costs by dramatically changing how it does business.”

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