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360: Should school board members in Colorado be paid?

Bill would allow compensation for hours worked
Microphone at school board meeting
Posted at 6:55 AM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 08:59:09-04

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com. See more 360 stories here.

Each of Colorado’s 178 school districts is governed by a board of directors. They spend hundreds of hours each year setting budgets, making hiring decisions and, during the pandemic, deciding when it was safe for students to be in school. But they’re not paid for any of this work.

A bill in the Colorado legislature would change that, allowing districts to compensate or reimburse board members for their time.

Denver7 is taking a 360 look at the proposal.

Bill sponsor State Sen. Brittany Pettersen said the goal is to open the possibility of school board service to more people. The latest revision to the bill sets the compensation cap at $150 per day. Board members would not be allowed to raise their own pay during their current term.

“It would help support people, especially when you look at compensation for helping with childcare and some of the costs that are associated with being away from your family for these long hours,” said Pettersen.

Aurora Public School Board of Directors President Kyla Armstrong-Romero agrees that compensation could help diversify school boards. She said at certain times of year, board service can be a full-time job.

“Your constituents expect for you to be available and responsive,” she said.

Douglas County School District Board of Education director Elizabeth Hanson estimated the board recently spent a total of 228 hours to hire a new superintendent. In an email, she said "the ability to offer compensation for serving as a Board Director would open the door for so many people who simply cannot give the number of required hours for free."

But many of the bill’s legislative opponents feel any money for board members means less money for classrooms.

“We constantly hear about the inability to pay teachers adequately and this would be just yet another thing that's taking money out of the classroom, out of an educational experience, and putting it toward politicians or elected bureaucrats,” said State Rep. Colin Larson, a Littleton Republican.

Then there’s the question of whether money corrupts motives. Earlier this year, Castle Rock parent Nate Ormond tried to recall four members of the Douglas County School District Board of Education. He and other parents were upset about the board delaying in-person learning. But Ormond said he still respects their volunteer service.

“In general, if you're looking at someone who's not paid, you can be pretty clear that their agendas more likely to be that of a servant leader who's trying to make their community better in whatever capacity that is,” Ormond said.

The Colorado Association of School Boards isn’t taking a position on the bill, but points out that school boards have evolved to take on more responsibility.

“School districts are often the largest employer in their communities, they typically have budgets that are on par or larger than the county,” said CASB president Matt Cook.

Van Schoales, president of the education advocacy group A Plus Colorado, said he believes school boards need to become more professionalized. He believes paying members could help, but says recruitment, training, and more buy-in from the community are important factors too.

“There's a very small number of people that elect school board members — it’s sort of like the last thing on the ballot,” Schoales said.

Armstrong-Romero will not seek re-election this fall but wants to help recruit and train the next group of directors on the APS board. She hopes they’ll be ready to serve, paid or not.

“We're volunteering our time because we care about kids. We care about education, and it's our community,” she said.