School Board may review compensation

Dougherty County School Board members are paid $250 a month. (June 20, 2013)

Dougherty County School Board members are paid $250 a month. (June 20, 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. -- Dougherty County School Board Vice Chairman James Bush raised a few eyebrows on Monday when, at the end of a public meeting to discuss the Fiscal Year 2014 school district budget, he asked the board to consider raising members' stipends from the current $250 per month.

"Dougherty County school board members, who oversee a system with more than 16,000 children and a $206 million budget, are compensated a sum of $250 per month," Bush wrote in a document he handed out to support his proposal. "A survey of 13 school districts across the state of Georgia reveals Dougherty County School Board members are among the lowest compensated in the state of Georgia."

Bush's letter included a chart of the 13 districts which showed DeKalb County (25,000 students) and Douglas County (22,000 students) pay their school boards stipends $1,900 per month. A district of similar size to Dougherty, Clayton County (15,000 students), pays a monthly stipend of $956 per month.

Glynn County (11,000 students) pays $957 per month, while Appling County (3,300 students) pays a $400 per member monthly stipend.

The 13 districts in Bush's survey average $931 per month in compensation to school board members.

To support his argument, Bush points to stipends paid to members of the Albany City Commission and Dougherty County Commission.

"After examining the city and county elected officials' compensation it was discovered that a city commissioner's stipend is over $13,000 annually (actually $15,000, or $1,250 monthly) while managing a $138 million budget." Bush said. "And moreover, a Dougherty County commissioner receives $800 per month while overseeing a $74 million budget.

"The Dougherty County School Board members are responsible for ensuring that the school system's operations are efficient, financially and legally sound, and focused on the best interest of the community's children."

While the DCSS compensation package is low in comparison to most of the state's 181 school districts, it's not the lowest in the metro Albany area.

Lee County pays each its five board members $50 per meeting and averages two meetings per month. In addition during the 2012-13 school year, the board, in solidarity with Lee teachers who were saddled with six furlough days, refused compensation for six meetings.

DCSS Board Chair Carol Tharin said she had mixed emotions about Bush's idea.

"To tell you the truth, I have conflicted opinions. I do think that service on the board is just that -- a service," Tharin said. "But at the same time, if you compare the School Board's stipends with those of the city and county commissions, you see there is a huge discrepancy. I also think the work of the Board of Education is equal to the work of the city and county commissions because what we do affects the entire economy of the county and much of the region."

DCSS Interim Superintendent Butch Mosely, who also is a Decatur County commissioner, said the stipend gaps between the city and county commissions and school boards are not unusual.

"I think that most people who serve on school board regard it as more of a way to give back to the community," Mosely said.

Tharin added she is uncomfortable with the timing of Bush's proposal.

"We still have teacher furlough days and we have a constant drain on our available funds," she said "I'm not sure the timing is right."

Bush did not specify an amount he thought would be equitable, but there is little doubt the issue will be discussed at the next DCSS Finance Committee meeting Tuesday morning.

Any raise in the stipend would have to be approved by the School Board, resulting in an amended charter, which would then have to be approved by the state Legislature.