WXXI Local Stories
4:07 pm
Mon January 11, 2010

Rochester School Board Pay Could Be Lost in Mayoral Takeover

Rochester, NY – Rochester Mayor Bob Duffy has proposed a city takeover of the city school district. The move, if approved by the state legislature, would make the district a department within the city. While the mayor's office is not returning calls dealing with specifics on the plan, it's presumed the board of education would become a voluntary, advisory body.

WXXI's Peter Iglinski looks at one immediate impact of a mayoral takeover.
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Only three school districts in New York State pay school board members for their services. One of them is the Rochester district. Board members in Rochester are paid $23,000; the board president receives $30,000.

The next highest pay level is found in Syracuse, where board members receive about a quarter of what they do in Rochester.

Lise Bang-Jensen is Senior Policy Analyst at the Empire Center for New York State Public Policy. She asks, rhetorically, if Rochester schools are any better because board members are paid.

"That's the question people in Rochester should ask. There are only three districts in the entire state that pay school board members. In most school districts, school board members are unpaid volunteers who give their time and expect nothing back, except better schools."

Bang-Jensen suggests the money paid to school board members could be better used for educational services.

Board member Willa Powell says her position is considered a part-time 20-hour-a-week job. And she likens the position to that of a city council member.

"The school board serves the purpose of overseeing the superintendent. City council serves a purpose, essentially, of overseeing or providing a check-and-balance against the mayor."

The comparison to city council goes one step further. Some four-years-ago, the school board tied its pay to 75-percent of that received by the city council.

"So every time city council gives themselves a raise, the school board, through that mechanism, gets an increase of the same percentage."

As a result, the Rochester School Board no longer has to discuss-or vote on-pay raises.

Tim Kremer is executive director of the New York State Schools Boards Association. He says most school board members don't get paid mostly out of tradition.

"We have asked school board members if they thought that they should be paid in surveys that we've done in the past. And the vast majority of them have said, 'No, I don't want anything to do with any sort of payments or compensation. I want to be viewed as being pure in my interests here.' "

Rochester is one of the Big 5 school districts in New York. That means, it cannot directly raise money through property taxes. And Kremer says that's the difference-Rochester schools are dependent on the city budget for its funding.

"One could argue that the school board members are kind of like city-elected officials. And I'm guessing that the city-elected officials are paid some sort of compensation, and...therefore, I think that's why it transcends over to school board members."

The Rochester district has another distinction: It has the poorest poverty level of the Big 5 districts. But school board member Powell points out Rochester is also one of the poorest cities in the state.

"Quite frankly school board members put in more time in committees and in their meetings that city council members, and yet we receive 75 percent of the salary."

And if anyone is unhappy with the school board's pay, Powell sees one solution: Have the city council eliminate its salaries.