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School Board considers its salary

The proposal would pay members more than the salary of a starting teacher in Hernando, which irks the head of the teachers union.

JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published November 15, 2003

BROOKSVILLE - Just before they consider a new contract with their 1,235 teachers, School Board members on Tuesday must decide whether to give themselves a raise, too.

A starting teacher would earn $28,000, up $1,400 from a year ago. A board member would make $29,208, up $686.

Missy Keller, president of the county teachers' union, denounced the deal.

"In most of the other states in the country, school board members do not get paid," Keller said, her voice rising passionately. "I think it's just absolutely horrendous to pay a school board member, who works much fewer hours than a beginning teacher, more than you pay a beginning teacher."

Many teachers, herself included, must work extra jobs to make ends meet, Keller said. Part-time School Board members, meanwhile, stand to earn more than teachers with bachelor's degrees and five years' experience.

"Are we trying to recruit more teachers to the county or more School Board members?" she asked. "I'd like to see their salaries go back into the salary pool. That's my Christmas wish."

It's not a likely scenario. But her views likely will create a backdrop for the debate that board members expect to engage in when they take up the matter.

Last year - the first in which the board had to set its own pay rate - board member Robert Wiggins pressed his colleagues to tie their salary to that of a beginning teacher. He found resistance at every turn, and ultimately voted with the majority but gave the difference to charity.

This time out, Wiggins said, he plans to make the same pitch.

"I feel strongly that we shouldn't make more than a starting teacher," he said.

But based on last year's response, he did not expect to win the day with his argument. If he can't persuade the others to join him, he intends simply to vote against the salary.

"I can't force my convictions on other people and expect them to just give up $1,200 a year," he said, noting that at the very least the gap between the starting teacher and board member pay is shrinking.

Vice chairwoman Sandra Nicholson, by contrast, looked at the percentage raise that everyone stood to get, and deemed the board's proposed pay rate acceptable. Teachers stand to get an average 3.5 percent increase, compared to 2.4 percent for the board.

"That's reasonable," she said.

Board member Jim Malcolm agreed. He voiced support for raises for all employees, and said he would back the board salary recommended by the Florida School Boards Association as well.

"At the very worst, I would accept a freeze," Malcolm said.

He scoffed at the idea of tying the board's pay to that of a teacher, suggesting it smacked of politics.

"Why not, say, reduce our salaries to that of an incoming lawn maintenance person? Where does it all end?" Malcolm said, noting that with his 12 years of board experience and master's degree, he might as easily ask for that level of teacher pay.

"I'll go for what the state has suggested," he said.

Chairman John Druzbick remained ambivalent about the salary issue, though he expected a lively discussion.

"I don't have a problem with going with the first-year teacher salary, if that's what the others want to do," he said, though adding that he did not plan to make the motion.

Board member Gail David, who last year called for a freeze and then donated the difference to charity, said it was premature to comment.

"I'll wait until I have a discussion with my colleagues, and hopefully we'll have a good discussion on it," she said.

Possibly complicating matters is a memo from the board's lawyer, Karen Gaffney. Like last year, she has told the board that the two board members who were elected before the new salary law went into effect - Malcolm and David - are not subject to it.

She told the board last year that those two members' pay is set in law, and the board could not lower it.

According to the Florida School Boards Association, though, four counties set separate pay rates for board members elected before and after the law took effect. Another 12 set salaries below the state-established level for all their members.

The biggest difference was in Orange County, where the board paid itself $30,405, or 16 percent below the state's proposed rate.

Hernando County commissioners, who do not set their own pay rate, earn $51,058.

- Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at 352 754-6115 or solochek@sptimes.com

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