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Bad timing on raises

When parting board members initiated a raise for the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education last November, it made sense. As the retiring members knew all too well, school board members who do their jobs properly put in a great deal of time. Responsible for a system with 20,000 students and thousands of personnel, board members each receive $200 a month, a nominal fee at best.
By comparison, county commissioners get $12,000 a year in pay — $1,000 a month — and $8,040 in health insurance.
The discrepancy is as great now as it was in November, but the school board had to revisit the issue Monday night in order to submit it to commissioners. The way the vote unfolded, coupled with other budget issues facing the school board, was unfortunate — the kind of thing that makes one wince.
First the board voted Monday night to drop the $100-a-month raise and, toward the end of what was a long meeting, went into executive session to discuss personnel and other issues. Being on a deadline, the Post reporter left the meeting to file her stories. She was not present when the board came out of executive session, revisited the raise issue once more and decided to pursue it after all. A headline in Tuesday’s Post said the board “backs off pay raise.” Later, online, the Post changed it to “School board to ask for pay raise.”
But the wincing comes from more than an outdated headline. The fact that the board took up the matter again late in the evening, after an executive session, doesn’t sit well. The raise should not have been discussed in closed session; board members say it was not. But the timing raises doubts about transparency.
Further, since the board voted on the raise in November, the school board has learned it faces a $2 million shortfall in the coming year’s budget. And the board’s push for a central office is at a critical juncture, facing resistance from commissioners. Times have quickly changed. The school board voted 5-0 for the raise in November and only 4-3 Monday night..
Politically speaking, this is not a good time to ask for a bigger stipend, no matter how small or deserved. The raises will amount to $10,800 — less than a drop in the school budget bucket. But it will have citizens shaking their heads.
Maybe county commissioners will overlook the timing issue, knowing how much they themselves work at public service and get paid for it. New Commissioner Mike Caskey was on the school board and supported the raise in November. Perhaps he can convince his fellow commissioners to treat the raise as the long overdue increase it is and leave politics out of it. Good luck.

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