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Get the latest coverage of the 2021 Florida legislative session in Tallahassee from our coverage partners and WUSF.

House Tries To Curb Florida School Board Member Pay

Photo by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash

According to a 2018 report by the National School Board Association, more than 60% of school board members aren’t paid and another 28% were paid less than $5,000 a year.

Florida lawmakers are trying again to limit the salaries of local school board members. The idea is one that’s been tried before. Now a proposed constitutional amendment would ask voters to decide whether to keep paying locally elected officials who oversee the state’s public schools.

Clay County Republican Rep. Sam Garrison says the majority of school boards in the United States aren’t paid. In Florida, the average salary for a school board member is about $36,000.

“I submit to you there’s a reason for this. That’s because school boards serve an important role in the governance … but the job of executing these policies and being accountable for their success and failure lies with the superintendent and with the principals they hire and fire to run our schools," Garrison told members of the House's Early Learning Committee.

According to a 2018 report by the National School Board Association, more than 60% of school board members aren’t paid and another 28% were paid less than $5,000 a year. Garrison is bringing a constitutional amendment proposal that would eliminate compensation for board members elected after 2022. The salaries would end for current board members with eight years of service by 2030.

School boards are not intended to be full-time jobs for politicians. They are designed to be an opportunity for the public to have oversight and input into their local public schools," said Garrison.

Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon is questioning the long-term impacts of the proposal. The concern is that by eliminating salaries, only people who can afford to work for free will run for the positions, something that could skew boards toward wealthier candidates.

“This will lead to an elitist system. It is going to drive out folks who have the most at stake," she said.

Garrison, the bill sponsor, says the measure will save districts money — since they won’t have to pay their boards, those dollars could be reinvested back into schools. But Democratic Rep. Andrew Learned says you get what you pay for.

"...If we want good people running school districts, then we should pay them accordingly," Learned said.

Should the legislature and voters approve the resolution, it would place local school boards in line with other boards in the state that are unpaid — like the state board of education and board of governors. The measure does not bar local board members from being reimbursed for travel.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.
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