Members of the Charleston County School Board haven't had a raise in more than 30 years, and some say it's time to pay them more.
What they make
State law permits school boards to set their own pay, but lawmakers in some districts have the authority to determine those boards' pay. Board members' salaries vary by district, and board chairmen in 26 districts receive a higher salary than other members. The following are the pay for members of some South Carolina school boards, as well as other local governing bodies.
Berkeley County School Board: $600 per month; chairman earns $700 per month
Charleston County School Board: $25 per meeting with a maximum of 50 meetings per year
Dorchester 4 School Board: $35 per meeting
Dorchester 2 School Board: $600 per month; chairman earns $750 per month
Horry County School Board: $9,600 per year; chairman earns $13,440 per year
Greenville County School Board: $10,000 per year; chairman earns $11,186 per year
Charleston City Council: $15,000 per year
Charleston County Council: $14,352 per year
Source: S.C. School Boards Association, Charleston, Charleston County
School Board Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats raised the issue at a board meeting in December, and she said she can't continue to support increasing salaries for district administrators until board members' compensation is addressed. She has other board members' support to boost their pay, which is $25 per meeting up to 50 meetings per year.
"I'm trying to get people to realize just how hard these nine individuals work every day for the good of the students of Charleston County," she said. "Whether (the public) agrees with what they come up with, everyone is taking time away from their free time to serve children, and everyone works hard for what they believe in."
Changing the board's pay could be a politically challenging task, but the school board is receiving support from some fiscal conservatives.
John Steinberger, chairman of the Charleston County GOP, said the party plans to consider a resolution in January about increasing the compensation for school board members to be commensurate with County Council members, who earn $14,532 per year. The money to cover the raise would have to be offset with cuts in administrator salaries, he said.
"We certainly value the people who serve on the school board, and we don't want to make that a burden on their families," he said. "It takes so much time and effort, we don't want to get to the point where only retired or wealthy people can serve on the school board. It just seems like the right thing to do, and it would increase the pool of folks willing to serve."
The school district's operating budget is $383.2 million, which is bigger than both County Council's $194 million operating budget and City Council's $172.8 million operating budget. The school board also oversees a separate budget for capital projects paid for by the 1 percent sales tax; that fund will generate more than $440 million during six years.
The county's legislative delegation has final say on board members' pay, and they haven't made any adjustments since 1983. The 1967 Act of Consolidation that created the school district established board members' pay rate at $10 per meeting up to 20 meetings per year, and lawmakers in separate amendments later raised both the per diem as well as the number of meetings for which members could be compensated.
Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, chairs the county legislative delegation. He said lawmakers haven't discussed the issue at a meeting, but he would be open to a proposal to increase school board members' pay.
Public service should emphasize service, so he doesn't think legislative or school board members need to be full-time workers. State law doesn't permit school board members to earn salaries, but they can receive per diem.
"It's not something that we ought to make too high because you want to attract people for service, not for compensation," he said.
Still, $25 per meeting is pretty small, and he said that probably doesn't cover members' expense to serve.
"I'm open to that (proposal)," he said. "If it's on the public's mind ... it's worthy of consideration."
Board member Elizabeth Moffly asked the board two years ago to support raising their pay to $15,000 per year, but that was shot down in a 5-3 vote. She and Chris Collins are the only remaining board members who supported the increase, while current board members Chris Fraser, Cindy Bohn Coats and Craig Ascue voted against it.
Moffly said she still supports a raise for the board. More compensation would enable more residents to consider serving on the board, and it could increase the diversity of board members, she said.
"Public service is private sacrifice," she said. "We give up industry to serve the general population."
Coats was among those who voted against the pay raise in 2011, and she said that was because of the proposal, which was "a shot out of the dark from nowhere." Moffly's request came forward without discussion, and she hadn't seen comparable figures for other boards, she said.
Since then, Coats has seen those figures, and the Charleston board should be compared with similar-size school districts, such as Greenville and Horry counties, as well as city and county councils. She said Charleston attracts brilliant people who want to be a mentor and serve on volunteer boards, but no one looks at the school board.
"Why aren't they devoting their brain trust to the school district?" Coats wondered. She sees part of the answer in its compensation.
Still, not everyone on the board agrees. Todd Garrett, who was elected in November 2012, said he understood the perspective of those who say school board members' pay doesn't compare with those on other public governing boards, but he doesn't think that warrants raising their pay.
"I want to try to do whatever we can to get all resources going to classrooms and teachers in the classroom," he said. "We all signed up to run for an office that we knew what it paid."
The only way he said he could support an increase was if it were for a future board and came out of money already dedicated for board expenses, such as travel, food or training.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.
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