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Kansas school administrators question bill adding school board members to district payroll

TOPEKA – The hypothetical cost of implementing a Kansas House bill that allows local school districts to pay elected council members $20 an hour for engagement less than two hours a week would cost taxpayers $2, 8 million a year.

Adopting the change would break a 50-year precedent in Kansas law that made local school board members volunteer without a paycheck, but the idea seemed to make sense to Rep. Kristey Williams, chair of the K-12 Budget Committee of the room. He said during a hearing on Tuesday that the legislation could serve as a token of appreciation for board members and affirm the value they place on working to improve children’s education in public schools.

“We don’t have this restriction on municipalities or counties,” Williams said. “Do you think paying someone could at least make them feel like they have a greater obligation to be informed?”

He put the question to Jim Karleskint, a former state legislator and Holton school superintendent who testified on House Bill 2261 on behalf of the United School Administrators of Kansas. He said the impact of the reform on school board members would depend on salary, but argued that most board members ran for that public office to make a solid contribution to student education rather than to make money.

He said the school administrator’s organization was officially neutral on the bill, but raised a number of concerns with the committee.

“In many school districts,” he said, “the superintendent is chosen as the chief negotiator for the board. In years of limited fiscal resources, the board and teachers’ association would be at even more odds when board members were paid pay to serve on the board. We imagine board members will receive pay for the days they are on board business. It is our concern that this may be exploited and resented by the community.

Karleskin said another consideration was the difference in workload among council members who work with the state’s 286 districts. Some of Kansas’ seven school boards had multiple engagements during a month, while others met only once a month.

“I can see where a school board member might want to get paid, because of the involvement,” he said.

Currently, Kansas law prohibited people who served on local school boards from receiving pay for that work. The House bill would leave the amount of compensation provided to school board members up to the local district. Funding for this compensation would be the responsibility of local school districts.

The Kansas State Department of Education estimated that it would cost a total of $2.8 million annually if the state’s 2,000 school board members were paid $20 an hour and worked 71 hours a year.

The bill was introduced two weeks ago by Assemblywoman Rebecca Schmoe, a Republican from Ottawa and a member of the House K-12 Budget Committee. The panel took no action on the bill.

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