Luskin: School Board Stipends

Jul 7, 2017

The West River Modified Union Education District - comprised of Brookline, Jamaica, Newfane, Townshend and Windham - has just had its first organizational meeting.

They’re preparing to form a new school board that will have oversight of five schools and about one thousand students.

Currently, the District Board has nine members; by the time it takes over governance of the new district on July first of two-thousand and nineteen, it will have eleven.

These eleven directors will do the work that’s now performed by twenty-four volunteers on five different boards.

The goal is to eliminate duplication of effort in each small town, where citizens willing and able to serve in this capacity are few. Yet the amount of knowledge needed to thread a school budget through Vermont’s educational funding system is complex.

Because the school district is bigger, the electorate is too, but only about thirty people showed up for the meeting, including the five town clerks, the school board, the superintendent, clerk, videographer and about a dozen registered voters.

I was one of them.

There was extensive discussion about how little to pay our elected officials.

In a flurry of amendments, voters proposed to pay these public servants as little as one dollar to as much as fifteen hundred.

Predictably: on the side of fiscal restraint were the voters struggling with tax bills; on the side of relative generosity were those who aimed to lessen the burden of public service.

But all agreed that whatever payment we decided on was still just a token.

I argued in favor of relative generosity in order to eliminate a potential barrier to public service.

Parents of school children might not be able to attend evening meetings without funds to pay a baby-sitter, leaving them underrepresented and limiting participation to more affluent and older members of the community.

I also support offering a more generous stipend to protect our public investment in those who do serve.

A community benefits from the specialized knowledge that board members accrue over time about Vermont’s complex educational funding laws.

But fiscal restraint prevailed, and in the extraordinary tradition of local public service, the new school board will engage in the unprecedented effort of creating a new school district for a stipend that works out to be well below minimum wage.