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School board raise hinges on voters

By David Scharfenberg Daily Planet Staff
Wednesday October 16, 2002

Board of Education members want a raise. But first, they’ll have to get past a skeptical public. 

On Nov. 5 Berkeley voters, flooded with months of stories about budget shortfalls and painful cuts in the Berkeley Unified School District, will cast a ballot on Measure K, which would boost school board pay from $875 to $1,500 per month if passed. 

Supporters say the raise, which would be the first since 1988, is long overdue. They also argue that the pay hike, which would go into effect in December, might attract a more diverse slate of school board candidates in the future.  

Finally, proponents note that members could divert the increase to pay for assistants. The board, unlike City Council, has no staff to return phone calls, attend meetings and conduct independent research. 

But opponents, including one member of the school board, say it is inappropriate to ask for a pay hike when the district faces a $3.9 million budget shortfall and questions about the board’s fiscal management. 

“I just don’t think this is a good time for the board to be asking for a raise,” said school board President Shirley Issel. “We’re very troubled financially.” 

“If not now, when?,” asked board member John Selawsky, who is leading the push for the pay hike. 

If the public believes that board members need to work harder and do a better job, he argued, it should compensate members accordingly and give them the resources to hire staff. 

Selawsky also pointed out that the raise would come out of city coffers, not school district funds. But Issel said the board is asking too much of the public to understand the distinction. 

Measure K has become an issue in the six-candidate race for three slots on the school board. The race features incumbents Issel and Terry Doran and challengers Derick Miller, Nancy Riddle, Lance Montauk and Sean Dugar.  

Montauk, a vocal opponent of Measure K, has argued that approval would be like rewarding Enron or Worldcom executives for their mismanagement. But Riddle takes a different view. 

“The timing’s not great, but I’m in favor of it,” she said. “It might give someone like me or another school board member an opportunity to fund a part-time aide.” 

Riddle said that, in the past, district staff has filtered the information received by board members. Part-time staffers would give members an opportunity to conduct independent research, she said. 

Riddle also said hiring aides would give the board a chance to cultivate young talent for future leadership roles. 

But Riddle was skeptical that a jump to $1,500 a month, or $18,000 per year, is enough to attract a new slate of lower-income candidates to future school board races. 

Still, Selawsky said the pay hike is justified to compensate for the long hours school board members pour into the job. 

“I do think board members put a lot of time in... $875 doesn’t begin to compensate people for the time they put in,” he said. 


Contact reporter at scharfenberg@berkeleydaily