Lawmakers wary of call for pay raises School board wants current salaries doubled to $12,000

Earnings 'embarrassing'

'I certainly will oppose 100 percent,' one delegate says

September 20, 1995|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Howard County's state legislators are reacting cautiously to the school board's request for a 100 percent pay raise -- agreeing that the board is underpaid, but questioning whether doubling members' salaries from $6,000 to $12,000 is appropriate.

"I'm not saying I will oppose a pay raise, but I certainly will oppose 100 percent," said Del. Frank Turner, a Democrat who represents portions of East Columbia and Jessup.

None of the Republican and Democratic legislators contacted by The Sun supported the school board's proposal, saying they either hadn't decided or opposed it.

However, all agreed that board members deserve a raise of some size.

Members of the Howard legislative delegation are required to approve any raise for the board and push it through the state legislature as a local bill.

This could happen as early as the next legislative session in January.

"I support a pay raise," said Del. Robert Flanagan, a Republican who represents portions of Ellicott City and western Howard County. "Exactly how much is going to be a question for further investigation."

Mr. Flanagan said he would need to look at a number of factors, including comparing Howard County's board with other county boards and examining how many hours a week Howard board members work.

He said he expected that information to be presented at the delegation's November hearing on local bills.

Howard board members voted unanimously last Thursday to seek the doubling of their salaries.

Board members argue that their growing workload -- and the fact that their salaries haven't been increased since 1986 -- justifies a substantial pay raise.

The 1986 pay raise also doubled members' salaries, from $3,000 to $6,000.

A raise to $12,000 -- and to $14,000 for the board's chairman -- would make Howard board members' salaries equivalent to those of Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The school systems in those counties are almost three times as large as Howard, but both boards are elected by district and members represent only the schools in their district.

Howard County board members say they are expected to oversee all of the county's schools because they are elected to countywide seats.

Nevertheless, some state legislators are concerned about the message that would be sent if they doubled board members' pay -- even if it brought their salaries in line with neighboring counties.

"I continue to have reservations on the size of the proposed increase and the symbolism that would be attached with a doubling of their salaries," said Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, a Republican who represents portions of Ellicott City and western Howard County.

However, Howard school board chairwoman Susan Cook said state legislators ought to be more concerned with the symbolism of the board's relatively low pay.

"One hundred percent is a nice target for people who want to say that's too much, but look at the dollar figure," she said. "Paying an elected school board only $6,000 should be embarrassing to the county."

All of the delegates and senators also raised questions about whether a pay raise should take effect for current board members or be delayed until a future election.

"I don't agree with giving elected officials raises during their current term in office," said Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Republican representing East Columbia, Jessup and North Laurel. "I don't remember hearing any of the current board members mentioning a pay raise when they were campaigning for the board.

"I think any raise should wait."

The five members of Howard's board are elected to staggered six-year terms, with two having been elected last fall and one up for re-election next fall.

The board has argued that its proposed raise should take effect immediately.

"For newer board members to make more is not equitable and not fair," Ms. Cook said.

The board's argument that their heavy workload justifies a substantial pay raise also prompted Delegate Turner to suggest that the board ought to consider hiring staff assistants rather than ask for more money.

"A pay raise won't solve their workload," Mr. Turner said. "What maybe they need instead of a pay raise is a staff person to help them reduce their amount of work."

He also suggested that an independent committee be created to review board members' salary and suggest raises.

The committee would be similar to the county Compensation Review Commission that suggests raises for the County Council and county executive every four years, he said.

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