School board payday Out of line: Howard County board should consider reducing salaries, not raising them.

November 17, 1997

DUNBAR BROOKS receives the grand sum of $100 a year for the countless hours he spends reviewing reports, talking to administrators and making policy for Baltimore County Public Schools. Oh, yes: He also gets mileage for traveling to meetings and other board functions.

"We went into this because we're doing it for the kids," says Mr. Dunbar, president of the nation's 25th largest school system with 160 schools and 100,000 students. "We didn't go into it for the money." Mr. Brooks views his role in the proper light, as a public service, not a job.

This brings us to the Howard County school board. It wants the state legislature to raise its annual compensation from $9,000 to $12,000. The pay for members rose from $6,000 to $9,000 last year. There is no question that Howard's board members work hard. They must prepare for meetings and cast decisions that affect thousands of young people.

But their roles, like many jobs in the community, can't be measured by market value. The school board's roots are in the tradition of volunteerism, not professionalism. Members are supposed to receive compensation, not salaries. Somewhere along the line, Howard's board came to view its work in a different light than intended.

The compensation paid to Howard school board members is way out of line with other area jurisdictions. Pay is $1,800 a year in Carroll County (the chairman gets an added $200); $3,600 a year in Harford County; $2,400 a year in Anne Arundel County, and $10 per meeting in Baltimore City. These places consider the pay a form of reimbursement for incidental expenses members incur as volunteers.

No wonder then that Howard board members prefer to compare themselves with larger Prince George's and Montgomery counties, which annually pay board members $13,000 and $12,000, respectively. The heads of both boards receive $14,000 a year.

Rather than ask for more, perhaps Howard should petition to scale back salaries on the school board. One must assume that board members sought their positions for all the right reasons. If this trend continues, though, people will wonder about the motivations of future candidates. School board service has never been about money, and never should be.

Pub Date: 11/17/97

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