State Senate bill would boost pay for school board members

Current maximum pay is no more than $50 per day and $4,800 per year; Joe Nguyen sponsors bill

State Sen. Joe Nguyễn, D-White Center, introduced Senate Bill 6223 on Friday, Jan. 12 in Olympia, to allow school boards to increase pay for board members.

Chris Reykdal, state superintendent of Public Instruction, requested the bill to establish levels of compensation for locally elected school board directors that more appropriately reflect their level of responsibility, according to a Jan. 12 news release from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).

Locally elected school board directors are accountable for the operations of their school district - from approving the budget, to adopting the curriculum, to setting the vision and strategic goals for the district, to hiring and evaluating the district superintendent, according to the news release.

Despite their level of responsibility, school board directors receive minimal compensation, and many are not compensated at all. State law, which has not been updated since 1987, does not allow school board directors to earn more than $50 per day and $4,800 per year. Adjusted for inflation, those amounts from 1987 today would be $138 per day and $13,240 per year, a difference of 176%, according to the news release.

Without the financial resources to be able to take time off work, afford child care, and/or access transportation to attend the monthly meetings, and with little to no compensation associated with the position, many interested and qualified community members are likely not pursuing the opportunity to become a school board director, according to the news release.

In a recent study and survey by the Washington State Department of Commerce, just 13% of school board directors reported earning an annual household income of less than $60,000, despite nearly half of Washington’s students identifying as low-income. Further, researchers found that just 10% of Washington’s school board directors identified as directors of color, despite students of color comprising 50% of the statewide student population.

Nguyễn introduced SB 6223 to address these imbalances. If passed, the bill would establish a new compensation model for school board directors that more appropriately reflects the level of responsibility associated with the position, Nguyen said.

“Each year, our students, families, educators, and school staff become increasingly more diverse,” Nguyen said. “Those who govern our schools, though, are often not reflective of the communities they serve. We have a chance to remove a significant financial barrier to this critical role, opening up the opportunity to serve to many more interested community members.”

The compensation model proposed in the legislation allows for school board directors to receive a maximum amount of $500 per month plus 50 cents per student enrolled in the district. School boards would have the ability to adopt a compensation model that is lower than the maximum allowed if they choose.

Basing compensation levels, in part, on the number of students in the districts is intended to reflect the scope and complexity of the work, as well as the financial risk.

“School board directors play a significant role in the leadership of a school district,” Reykdal said. “We expect them to manage multi-million-dollar budgets, adopt local policies and governance, review and approve curriculum and instructional materials, and make informed decisions that have a major impact on the way their district serves their students, staff, and families.

“In total, our 295 school boards manage 43% of our state’s tax dollars, as well as their local levy funds. They deserve fair compensation for the paramount duty they perform for our state.”