Fleming Island Rep. Sam Garrison wants to put the school board members’ salary on the ballot in the next General Election, turning the elected positions from paid to volunteer.
On Friday, at the House Secondary Education & Career Development Subcommittee meeting, members voted along party lines to move forward with a proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 1461) that would bar compensation of county school board members.
“This is a critical function but one, quite frankly, that, unfortunately, has become highly politicized, and I think these salaries have a lot to do with it,” Garrison said.
The proposed salary prohibition would apply to “any school board member newly elected on or after November 8, 2022, and to any district school board member reelected on or after November 8, 2022, with at least eight years of consecutive service.”
To become law, the joint resolution would have to be approved by three-fifths of the membership of each legislative house. If the votes stay along party lines, Republicans would have the numbers, though the proposal would still be subject to approval by at least 60% of Florida voters.
Currently, school board districts receive a statewide average salary of $35,995, based in part on a school district’s population. Garrison said in addition to annual salaries, school board members receive benefits, with an average value of around $11,000.
According to the bill’s analysis, the proposal would align Florida with 61% of other states whose school board members serve without compensation.
But a representative from the Florida School Boards Association contended the comparison is unjust because the unique structure of Florida’s 65 school districts means each school district has a much larger enrollment than school districts in other states.
“Just for context, the state of Texas, a similarly populated state, has over 1000 school districts. So, you can see how the responsibility would be diffused there,” BillieAnne Gray said.
Speaking on behalf of the Small School District Counsel Consortium, Chris Doolan, which represents Florida’s small rural school districts, said the pay cut would favor individuals who have extra time and resources.
“People who are not independently wealthy will face challenges,” Doolan said. “There will be an impact. The potential group of candidates: less reflective of diversity, less interested in going to that extra meeting in the community. That’s wrong.”
During debate, Rep. Susan Valdez said she was working two jobs when she became a school board member in 2004.
“I didn’t have the means to be able to say, ‘I’ll do this without any compensation,’” Valdez said. “By suggesting that we do this, I agree with one of the speakers; we’re going to have White males on the board that would never ever be able to say they walked a day in my shoes.”
Committee chair Rep. Stan McClain staunchly disagreed.
“I reject out of hand that only rich people, or White people, or men would serve on school boards if there’s no salary,” Garrison said. “This bill comes out of a fundamental belief that there are people in our communities, all communities — Rep. Valdez, just as much in Hialeah as in Orange Park — that would love the opportunity to do it, not because they want to get paid or they want anything else, but because they care about those kids and they want to serve.”
And Pensacola Rep. Alex Andrade said school board members in Escambia County don’t serve on the school board for the money, anyway.
“What we have is the opportunity to empower school board members in a different way,” Andrade reasoned. “It adds some gravitas to their position in their roster, as they’re reviewing and setting policy if they are doing it solely because of the passion and care that they have for our students.”
The House joint resolution now moves to the Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee.