School board salaries would be eliminated under Florida House bill now poised for debate

After getting approval from two Florida House committees, a measure that would prohibit school board members from receiving compensation for the job is set to be taken up and discussed by the full chamber.

After getting approval from two Florida House committees, a measure that would prohibit school board members from receiving compensation for the job is set to be taken up and discussed by the full chamber.

The bill sponsor says it’s about getting rid of the politics. But critics point out that the idea of someone launching a campaign and getting elected to the office just for the money is far less believable when you see how much those positions actually pay.

House Bill 1467 is also aimed at increasing the role of parents and the public in selecting books and learning materials. It would impose a litany of new rules overseeing the process for selecting and curating library and textbook content.

“It’s about parents, not politicians, and I want to get the politics out of it. We want to picture our schools are focused on parental engagement and parental involvement,” state Rep. Sam Garrison, R-Orange Park, said of his bill during a House Education and Employment Committee hearing Jan. 20.

Garrison said that it’s all about making sure parents stay involved in district governance and that paying board members skews their motivations.

“By eliminating, quite frankly, the financial incentive for politicians who want to use this as an opportunity for a launching pad to a political career or a landing pad by which to get a salary,” Garrison said. “What we’re trying to do is engage it and make it an opportunity for families and parents who already are serving at the PTA, their athletic association, things of that nature.”

During the committee state Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orange County, asked: “Is there absolutely no concern of how this could also become a barrier to those who have the background that your speaking to who want to serve their community?”

Garrison responded: “There’s always a balancing act, alright? The focus that I have on this is public service is some point in times public service. We all know the sacrifice we make to come here and put our lives on hold for six months at a time, uproot our families do all that sort of thing here.”

News4JAX on Wednesday asked Clay County School Board chair Mary Bolla about the proposition that a school board member would serve in the position just for the money.

“Oh,” she said, laughing. “Sorry. None.”

“We’re not paid huge sums of money by any means,” Bolla continued. “A lot of people think that we set our own salaries, which we do not. We are limited by what the Legislature determines.”

The Florida Legislature actually has an equation that sets the pay for school board members — which is based mainly on the number of students the district serves.

For example, Duval County is a larger district, and its school board members are paid $47,072. St. Johns County School Board members make $40,539. Clay County School Board members make $39,708. And Nassau County School Board members are paid less — $34,546.

But Bolla said the job school board members do is far more than what would be required of a volunteer position — from setting curriculum to setting the budget to setting policy for thousands of employees and tens of thousands of students.

“School board members do so much more than what’s in the public eye,” Bolla said. “And that’s a frustrating part of our jobs.”

Critics of the bill also argue that the compensation allows more people the opportunity to serve who otherwise couldn’t afford to spare the time required for it.

The Florida School Boards Association Legislative Committee chair Kim Amontree sent News4JAX the following statement:

“I have three concerns with making changes to School Board Salaries.

“First, we need to begin with the end in mind. Who do we want our School Board members to be? We have a diverse group that is reflective of their communities. School board members are parents, business owners, and educators. We have many business owners and professionals who take substantial time away from their businesses to serve on school boards, resulting in income loss.

“Second - we need to consider the difference between a volunteer position and a position which has statutory authority and statutory requirements with penalties. All School Board members commit to volunteer community service in addition to their School Board work. The time required and the associated responsibility between volunteer roles and being a constitutional officer is vastly different, as it should be. Volunteers do not have to devote an extraordinary amount of time to constituent service. School board members do.

“Third, this comes down to respect. Why are school board members being singled out from all other constitutional officers?

“Finally, these discussions are a distraction from what we should be speaking about which is how to best help our students succeed.”