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School board raise makes ballot, City Council’s does not

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet staff
Thursday June 27, 2002

School board raises will be on the November ballot, but City Council pay hikes will not. 

The council voted 8-0 Tuesday, with one abstention, to place a measure on the ballot that would raise monthly pay for school board members from $875 to $1,500. 

But Councilmember Dona Spring withdrew a proposal to raise council pay from the current $1,800 per month to an unspecified amount, effectively killing the issue this year. 

Spring said she pulled the measure because it did not appear to have broad support on the council. 

“This is not the right time,” said Councilmember Linda Maio, explaining her opposition.  

Maio said the council should not ask for a raise while the city faces a $3 million deficit.  

The council passed a new budget Tuesday to address the deficit, but an uncertain state budget and a series of expiring employee contracts may require adjustments in the fall. 

Councilmember Miriam Hawley added that the city will be asking voters in November to provide money for renovation of old City Hall, an animal shelter, affordable housing and pedestrian safety, and should not ask for pay raises at the same time. 

Mayor Shirley Dean said the city has to take a hard look at what it expects of councilmembers before passing any type of raise. Currently, she said, commitment to the job varies across the council. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he would have voted for Spring’s proposal if it had come up for a vote. But he said a majority of the overall board probably opposed it, forcing the withdrawal. 

Even if the measure had narrowly passed, a contentious fight on the council over pay raises may have doomed the measure to defeat on the ballot, Worthington argued. 

Spring said she pushed the pay raise to draw a broader field of candidates to City Council races. 

“I wanted there to be more diversity,” she said, arguing that the board is largely composed of the well-off and retirees, who can afford to take a small salary. 

The council received its last pay raise in 1998. 

Spring said the council voted to put the school board raise on the ballot because members had not received a pay hike since 1988, when salaries jumped from $300 to $875 per month. 

Worthington said he voted for the measure to encourage greater diversity on the board. 

“I think that we don’t want being in public office to only be possible for people who are rich,” he said. “Someone who’s raising children and paying a mortgage and paying for child care can’t afford to serve on the school board.” 

Critics say the $1,500 per month salary is still not enough to attract lower-income candidates. 

“It is a modest amount, but it adds up to $18,000 per year,” Worthington said, arguing that a school board member could work another job half-time and make a living. 

Two weeks ago, the school board voted 4-1 to request the pay raise, sending the matter to the City Council for formal approval. School board President Shirley Issel was the lone dissenter. 

Issel, as president, thanked the council for approving the request of the board majority. But she said the timing of the ballot measure is inappropriate, given that the district faces a $2.8 million deficit next year and is engaged in heavy layoffs. 

“Both the district and the city are facing deficits and people are concerned about the timing and I understand that,” replied board member John Selawsky, who is leading the push for raises. “On the other hand, it’s been fourteen years since the last adjustment in board pay.” 

School board salaries actually come out of city coffers, and a raise would not effect the district’s deficit. But Issel argued that most voters probably don’t know the source of board salaries.  

“I think that will be quite a lot to expect, that this will be broadly understood,” Issel said. 

Selawsky said board members could choose to divert their raises to pay for a staff member or multiple staffers to return phone calls and conduct research. The board currently has no designated staff. 

But board member Ted Schultz, while he supports the general concept of a raise, said there is not enough money involved to draw ample, qualified staff. 

“I don’t see any carrot there,” he said. 

Selawsky argued that the board could hire interns, providing small stipends. He said the interns might come from UC Berkeley and work twenty or thirty hours a week. 

Selawsky said he does not intend to wage a major campaign on the issues, arguing that there are more pressing concerns. But he said he is glad the issue is on the ballot. 

“I’m pleased, and I think it’s now where it belongs: in the hands of the voters,” he said.