All school board members save one to get a salary

Student representative calls new law unfair

April 13, 2008|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Sun Reporter

A new law will give every Anne Arundel County school board member a salary, except one: the student member.

The new legislation, squeezed through last week, provides board members with a $6,000 annual salary and the president with an $8,000 salary.

A similar piece of legislation had passed last spring, but confusion over wording in the law gave salary hikes to only three board members while leaving the others with the $300 stipend they'd historically received for expenses such as gas.

The new law, which corrected that disparity, has rankled the youngest member of the board -- thought to be the only student member in the nation with full voting authority -- who said the youths in that position should receive the same compensation as their adult counterparts because they do the same amount of work.

"It endangers the legitimacy of this position," said Sage Snider, a senior at Severna Park High School. "Until now, the law had given us the same authority as every other member on the board. But this is the first step to differentiating between the student position and the other board members. This says, `You're not the same.'"

Incoming student board member Collin Wojciechowski, a junior at Chesapeake High School who will start his term in July, also said he was disheartened by the precedent the law sets.

"First, let me say, this isn't about the money, this is about the principle," he said. "But if the student member on the board is regarded as a complete equal in principle and in practice, how can we financially not be regarded equally? [Completely] equal means the same in every aspect. I have the same duties, the same responsibilities, but not the same pay?"

Del. Mary Ann Love, who led the charge for the bill as the chairwoman of the county's House delegation, said fellow lawmakers felt it was not a priority to pay student board members because they serve only one year, as opposed to the five-year terms of their colleagues. They are also compensated in intangible ways through the resume-building potential and experiences of the political seat, she said.

"The resume these students can have by saying that they served on a school board with full voting authority, the only position of its kind in the country -- that alone will open a lot of doors for them, not to mention all the experience they're gaining through the position," Love said.

She said the main aim of the law was to bring Anne Arundel board members' salary more in line with others around the state. According to officials with the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, salaries range from $22,500 for the board president in Montogomery County to nothing in Baltimore City.

Though other districts have student board members, many of them serve in advisory capacities or have limited voting authority.

In Anne Arundel, the student board member does everything the adults do, from voting on a nearly billion-dollar budget to vetting construction contracts on multimillion-dollar projects and setting policy that can affect 74,000 students.

Still, the student member for the Montgomery County board receives a $5,000 scholarship for his service.

Love said it's possible the county delegation will revisit the bill next year and incorporate a scholarship for Anne Arundel student members, but it's not a sure thing.

"It's up to the board to tell us what they want, so we really need to have discussions with the board about this," Love said. "It just couldn't be in this year's bill because it was too late and rushed and we didn't get much feedback from the board about what they wanted."

Snider said Love's argument of "symbolic" compensation falls short because adults often use the school board seat to pursue higher political aspirations.

"Saying that we shouldn't be paid because we can have a nice resume, first of all, makes it sound like I'm doing this for some kind of self-serving reason, and I'm not," Snider said. "There are plenty of other things that I could've done to make my resume look good. I did this because I wanted to serve the community and be a representative for students. I do just as much work as the others. It should be equal pay for equal work."

The student representative job is a tough balancing act, said Snider, whose older sister Pallas served on the board in 2005-2006.

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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