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Tay Anderson pushes pay for future Denver school board members

Some Denver Public Schools Board of Education directors said Monday night that future board members should be paid for their service.

Paying board members is a matter of fairness and equity, said Director Tay Anderson, with whom the idea originated. 

Anderson and DPS board directors Jennifer Bacon, Angela Cobián, Brad Laurvick, Carrie Olson, and Barbara O’Brien spent about a half-hour weighing pros and cons of passing a resolution allowing board members to be paid for official duties.

Laurvick and Anderson said they hoped that if DPS staff can answer before Thursday’s board meeting questions about cost implications of paying board members, the board could vote on a resolution in November, allowing new board members elected next month who start their service in December to be paid for their service.

The basic issue, some board members said, is one of fairness and equity. Board service is out of reach to people who lack leisure time and means to put in what amounts to almost full-time hours for what is now a volunteer position.

“I believe that as elected officials,” Anderson said, “those who are taking time out of their day to do our board work, either visiting schools, log meetings with staff or with our constituents, et cetera—which, we need to figure out what does that actually look like and define it—I believe that we actually do need to be compensated.”

Legally, payment for DPS board members is allowed — the state legislature passed a bill earlier this year allowing for it, which requires school boards to set the pay rate by written resolution and to decide on it by a majority vote. The bill also says those pay rates cannot go higher than $150 a day for five days a week.

Anderson calculated that if all seven board members worked five days per week on board business, the cost would be about $252,000 per year.

No school boards in Colorado currently pay their school board members, though several cities across the country do so.

According to the website Ballotpedia, several big-city districts pay board members. Data from the 2017-18 school year shows that board members in Los Angeles received $125,000 per year, while board members in several Florida districts received $42,570. Board members in Las Vegas received $9,000

“I strongly believe that not having the ability to be compensated blocks so many people of color from actually serving on this board,” Anderson said, adding that he’s spoken to people who have wanted to run for a position on the board but did not have the money or the time to do so. “I do believe that this is an opportunity for us as a district to open the access up to BIPOC communities and single parents.”

Cobián, the board’s treasurer, said she’s hesitant to use resources for something like board member compensation without a detailed analysis of the overall cost. She also mentioned competing priorities, and referenced the board’s earlier discussion of mental health services for DPS employees.

“While I definitely value my time, and I value all of our time, I think our students need to be the focus of our resources,” Cobián said, “especially given the conversations that we’ve heard this evening about the need for mental health resources and the shortage of personnel as well.”

O’Brien had another concern: the speed of the decision.

“We haven’t looked into it,” O’Brien said. “We haven’t asked other districts across the country who made the switch what that was like, so I just don’t want to feel like we have to be rushed to make what I think is a pretty complicated decision.”

Anderson said he submitted the resolution August 27 hoping to discuss it before now and longer before the election on Nov. 2. He said the $150 per day could be subject to change, but that he would like to pass the resolution as soon as possible and figure out the detailed impact on the budget later.

The state law mandates that only board directors elected after a resolution allowing pay is passed can be compensated. If the DPS board votes on compensation before the election, compensation for new board directors could start in December of this year, while the positions still filled by current directors couldn’t start until December 2023. If they vote after the election, the former could not be paid until December 2023 while the latter couldn’t be paid until December 2025.

O’Brien said she objected to making board member pay a priority when the district is facing so many other pressing needs.

“I just want to point out that we’re putting … more energy into this discussion than we spent talking about how we were going to help principals. We didn’t put any time into, ‘What can we do to change the workload coming out of the central office so they’re not stretched so far?’” O’Brien said.

“I’m personally shocked that we’re talking about paying ourselves before we’re even discussing how we’re going to respond to the data report we had earlier this evening on how our principals are feeling and the workload that’s crushing them.”