MoCo School Board Members Advocate for Higher Salaries

New county commission will make compensation recommendations by Sept. 1

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Halfway through her first term on the Montgomery County Board of Education, At-Large member Jeanette Dixon said she may run for another four-year stint, but not for a third, in an effort to bring “fresh perspectives” to the board.

While she didn’t advocate for mandating term limits during Tuesday’s school board meeting, Dixon, 69, said she believes board members should “self-limit” their terms to allow new people to join the board. She also said she believes school board members’ pay needs to be increased to allow younger or less-privileged people to run for office.

“The pay limits who can serve to those who are well off, such as retirees or those who have a spouse who can financially support them while they serve,” Dixon said. “We need to make being able to run for the board accessible to others, so those who have a family to support but are passionate about providing the best education for our students also have an opportunity to serve.”

The seven Montgomery County Board of Education members are an average of 60 years old and are currently paid $25,000 per year, except for the board president, who receives $29,000. The majority of members are retired or do not hold full-time jobs, but newly elected member Karla Silvestre is employed as Montgomery College’s director of community engagement.

During the 2018 session, the Maryland legislature passed a bill authorizing a commission to study compensation for school board members. The measure sponsored by Del. Eric Luedtke, Democrat from Burtonsville, directs a commission to prepare its first recommendation on appropriate compensation for the board members by Sept. 1, 2019. The salary panel will revisit the board salaries every four years thereafter.

Any recommended adjustments would have to be approved by the state legislature.

The five-person compensation commission will be appointed by the Montgomery County executive and confirmed by the county council, and none of the members could be employed by the board of education or have a relative who works for the school system.

Commission members will consider board members’ responsibilities, necessary education and skills, time commitment to the job and workload, as well as salaries of school board members in other jurisdictions and the pay of subordinate employees.

“This is an initiative I support, not because I want more pay, but because this is no longer a part-time job,” Dixon said.

Montgomery County’s school board is the highest paid in the state. Most of nearby Prince George’s County school board members receive about $18,000 per year, while Howard County board members take home $15,000 per year. In Baltimore City, school board members don’t receive an annual salary.

Montgomery County’s oldest school board member, 79-year-old Judy Docca, said Wednesday morning she believes raising members’ salaries would draw more candidates with different perspectives who can represent more student populations.

“I think it’s a great benefit when you consider the population we have in our county and in our schools,” Docca said. “I just think we have to find some way to make (the board) more diverse.”

Docca also mentioned that while board members are appointed from certain districts, aside from two At-large members, all represent the entire county. The seven board members are also tasked with managing a $2.6 billion budget without individual staff to assist them.

District 3 member Pat O’Neill, 68, was recently elected to her sixth term on the school board, and said Wednesday school board members made $12,500 when she was first elected in 1998. While progress has been made in the past two decades, she said more needs to be done.

However, she opposed Dixon’s proposal to self-limit terms on the school board.

“I won this election with 63 percent of votes, so I guess voters seem to believe my historic and institutional knowledge was important,” O’Neill said. “Fresh blood is good, but so many of our issues seem to recycle over time, so having that historical perspective about how we got to where we are, and not making the same mistakes of the past, is valuable.”

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