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Timing not right on pay increase for School Board

Editorial

The question of how much compensation an elected public official should receive is one that has dogged elected officials -- and the voters who put them in office -- since the early days of the Republic.

We expect that salaries for certain officials -- sheriffs, judges, clerks of court and such -- will be higher because these are full-time jobs. The salaries these officials receive are their livelihood.

But for part-time board members, the question is a great deal more ambiguous.

Earlier this week, Dougherty County Board of Education Vice Chairman James Bush brought up the issue of board members' pay for their service. Currently, they receive $250 a month as members of the School Board.

That, Bush pointed out, is a much lower rate than school systems he surveyed, and is much less than Dougherty County and Albany commissioners are paid for their service on those boards. The numbers did not include Dougherty's neighbor, Lee County, which pays its board members about 40 percent as much as Dougherty makes -- $50 per meeting attended with an average of two meetings a month.

What it boils down to is the reason for serving on a board.

In some school districts in the United States, school boards are unpaid. Service on those boards is seen as a service to the community. In others, school board members receive significant compensation.

School board members, we believe, deserve consideration for their service, which does require them to take time away from their livelihood and families to attend to the business of the school system. It may well be that a flat $250 a month or $50 for attending a meeting are both too low. But there is also a downside to raising the stipend too high. A school board member should run for the position because of a desire to be of service to the community and the leaders of tomorrow, not for the monthly check.

In any event, this is a poor time to bring up the topic. Money is still tight, and teachers are again facing the prospect of furloughs in the coming school year. While additional money for School Board members wouldn't make a dent in what it would cost to avoid those furloughs, the image still comes across that, in raising their monthly salary, School Board members are looking out for themselves first.

We believe the School Board should set this issue aside and revisit it after the economy has improved. Leadership should be by example, and accepting raises while employees are facing furloughs would be a poor one.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board