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SCHOOL BOARDS Pay likely to increase in Ohio



Published: Mon, February 11, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



While Ohio contemplates raising pay for board members, Pennsylvania stands firm against any pay.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- School board members in Ohio could get a pay increase of nearly 60 percent under a law expected to move swiftly through the General Assembly.

State law allows school boards to set their own pay policies but limits compensation to no more than $80 for each meeting a board member attends. The state does not limit the number of paid meetings, although most boards set limits.

The new law would boost the ceiling to $125 a meeting, a 56 percent increase.

It would be the first pay increase for board members since 1987, said John Stanford, deputy director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association.

"We believe it is time to consider the amount of time and the amount of work that school board members put into their positions as community leaders and that they should be allowed to increase their compensation if they choose to do so," Stanford said.

The increase approved by the state Senate last month could win House approval in the next two or three weeks, Stanford said.

The proposal also calls for paying board members up to $125 for attending training sessions. Current law reimburses for out-of-pocket expenses only.

Reasoning: "These school board people put a lot of time in," said state Sen. Tim Ryan of Warren, D-32nd, who co-sponsored the legislation. "You wouldn't think, but these school board jobs are really political, and I think there's a lot of pressure from the community to do different things.

"It's a full-time job, really, and a lot of these people really do it as a labor of love. We just think they should be compensated."

Many school boards, including Youngstown and Austintown, approved resolutions late last year that allow the pay for newly elected members to jump to the $125 level if and when the new law goes into effect, which could be sometime this summer.

Youngstown and Austintown board members now are paid at the state maximum of $80 a meeting, and the boards do not limit the number of paid meetings.

The Youngstown board met 33 times last year, so a board member with perfect attendance was paid $2,640, district records show. Under the $125-per-meeting rate, the pay would jump to $4,125 for 33 meetings.

In Austintown, the board met 17 times last year, so a board member with perfect attendance received $1,360. Under the higher rate, the pay would increase to $2,125 for the same number of meetings.

Beachum's stance: Lock P. Beachum Sr., Youngstown board president, said he voted for the higher rate on the advice of OSBA, even though he said he "has no problem" keeping the rate at $80 a meeting.

He said the board tries to keep meetings to a minimum, and he also noted that board members do not get paid for board committee and other community meetings they attend.

"So, the compensation comes out about right," he said.

Brad Gessner, Austintown board president, said school board pay is a bargain when compared with the salaries of township trustees, who make $11,000 a year in Austintown.

"You find out there's just as much time and involvement put into it," he said. "It's not an exorbitant amount of pay."

Although the school boards in Youngstown and Austintown don't limit their pay, others do.

Warren board members, for instance, are paid $80 a meeting with a maximum of one paid meeting a month. So, even though the Warren board met 22 times last year, board members were paid for only 12, school records show.

Board members in Howland and Canfield also are paid $80 a meeting, but with a maximum of 12 meetings a year. So, although the Howland board met 22 times last year and the Canfield board met 18, board members were paid for only 12.

Board members in Boardman, Niles and Salem also limit the number of paid meetings.

In Poland, board members set limits on two fronts: $40 a meeting (half of the amount allowed by the state) and only one paid meeting a month. In addition, board members donate all of the pay back to the school district, Superintendent Robert Zorn said.

"In my 26 years here, we have never had a board member take any money," he added.

In Pennsylvania, board members don't take any money. State law prohibits pay to school board members.

"It is a public service, volunteer position," said Lynn Mannion, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

"It has long been felt -- even by our own members, and there has never been a push to be paid -- that this way they are not beholden to any special-interest group and are doing this purely out of citizen contribution," Mannion said.

In Florida: On the other end of the spectrum is Florida, where annual school board salaries soar to five figures.

In Dade County, for instance, board members get paid $26,689 annually, and the pay is $26,371 a year in Pinellas County, show statistics provided by the National School Boards Association.

cole@vindy.com




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