Just about anybody who sits through an entire meeting of the Charleston County School Board - and lives to tell about it - says they wouldn't do it again for a million bucks.
It's gotten marginally better, but a school board meeting can still be a dazzling display of unbridled ego, pontificating for self-pleasure and a bizarre echo chamber where the same question can be asked more times than Rain Man says "Definitely time for Wapner."
While district officials are paid handsomely to listen to this spectacle, school board members earn a whopping $25 per meeting.
And some of them think this is a problem.
City and county council members make roughly $15,000 per annum for handling budgets half the size. And by that argument, school board members are absolutely right - they're underpaid.
That's why the county Republican Party may ask the Legislature bring school board salaries in line.
But - just like at the school board meetings - nothing is ever simple.
Board member Chris Fraser doesn't even collect his $25 per meeting.
"The $25 is a joke, it's not worth the work to fill out the papers," he says. "But this is about public service, not public compensation. We knew that when we signed up."
And that's the argument against this issue. As Fraser says, no one forced anyone to run for school board. And if they didn't know it was a thankless job, they should have done their homework.
Two years ago, board member Elizabeth Moffly brought up the pay issue and, even though she was roundly dismissed, she was correct in her premise. It is a ridiculously small amount of compensation for the responsibility.
Chairwoman Cindy Bohn Coats was against the idea at the time, but she's open to the discussion. She knows how hard the work is, how much studying there is, how much constituent services can take people away from their personal business.
Coats isn't suggesting a specific number, but thinks perhaps her board members could be paid a little more. Maybe more of them would show up for more meetings.
Fraser says, however, that the job wouldn't be nearly as time-consuming if some board members wouldn't stray from their mandate.
Take this task force meeting on Monday, when board members led the discussion about the need for a new high school in McClellanville, instead of letting the administration first explain some basic facts. Such as: How many students would this school serve, and how would you explain this to Mount Pleasant?
You know Mount Pleasant, the town with 71,500 more residents than McClellanville - and the same number of high schools.
Need a job?
The South Carolina School Boards Association does not take an official position on pay. It's up to each community, it says.
In a couple districts, there are boards where the members get $10,000 a year. But in 31 districts, board members get no pay.
The school board need not expect too much here. The pay is set by the Legislature, and lawmakers are not going to pay them more than they make (about $10,000).
Todd Garrett is right - if they raise the board's pay, it shouldn't cost taxpayers anything. Right now, the board has a budget of $162,000, nearly half of which goes toward the salary and benefits of its one employee. Only $11,000 is going to board member salaries. So where is the rest going? They are probably still sending former board member Elizabeth Kandrac to out-of-town conferences.
There's no doubt this is an issue that should be addressed. Some board members will tell you they have a hard time attracting folks to serve, and attend all the requisite meetings. But Fraser says raising pay might make it worse.
"I don't think we need to pay enough where we have people running just because they need a job," he says.
That's a good point.
It would be hard to argue that the school board isn't underpaid, but members might help themselves by toning down the circus just a bit.
Because the reason more people don't get involved right now is because the school board is often a pain in the word you can't say in most schools.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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