Pay or no, new policy draws fire

Page by page, the South Whidbey Board of Education is slogging its way through nearly 500 pages of district policies. Board members each lug a three-ring binder into meetings as they work through the process of reviewing and revising current policies, adding new ones and removing outdated language.

And somewhere among all those pages of policies, the district managed to find more controversy than its members may have expected going into a workshop meeting on March 7.

A policy relating to the Washington State School Directors Association, or WSSDA, policy titled “Board Compensation” attracted several members of the public to the meeting, including former school board president Ray Gabelein. The policy was sent back to committee for a third reading at the board’s March 28 business meeting.

The title of the policy, as taken directly from WSSDA Sample Policy 1733, is “Board Compensation.” But for last week’s meeting, school board director Rich Parker changed the title to read “Board Compensation Waiver.”

The policy states that each director on any school board in the state may receive compensation of up to $50 a day for attending board meetings or performing other services on behalf of the school district. Total compensation is not to exceed $4,800 per year per director. The policy language being considered by South Whidbey Board of Education both defines how much a director may earn, and how a director may waive those earnings should he or she choose.

South Whidbey school board directors have never accepted compensation, according to district officials, even though state law allows them to do so. At the March 7 meeting, board members said they have no intention of accepting payment for their duties as board members.

“The policy is not about getting money its about not taking the money,” said board director Bob Riggs. “The wording is fine for WSSDA and the majority of school districts in the state.”

Superintendent Bob Brown said the board was exercising caution by re-titling the policy.

In order to receive the allowable compensation, board members would have to approve a resolution to that effect during a public meeting.

Several members of the public expressed the concern that by adopting the compensation policy, board members would ask for that pay.

Ray Gabelein said the WSSDA compensation policy is written such that board members could be compensated once the policy is put into effect.

“The timing stinks to talk about compensation now is a mistake,” he said. “You have negations coming up, and are talking about laying off 24 people.”

Gabelein told board members to ask themselves three questions about the proposed policy: “

Is it legal? Well in this case the answer is ‘yes.’ Is it good for kids? Well maybe. And can we afford it? The answer is no.”

Although board members emphasized they would not ask for compensation, there was additional concern from the public.

Curt Gordon, commissioner of the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation Board asked why is the board was enacting the policy as it readies to lay off up to 24 district employees.

“I don’t understand why you are implementing a waiver before a resolution,” he said.

The compensation policy, like others being considered at the meeting, is one of many board members say will bring the district current with the Revised Code of Washington and federal standards. Many of the district’s policies have not been updated since 1985. Directors Riggs and Rich Parker are working in conjunction with Superintendent Bob Brown and district transportation supervisor John Willson on the project.

Policies typically are approved by the entire board after two or three public readings.

In February, board members participated in a workshop on the island sponsored by WSSDA. The South Whidbey Board of Education is in the process of aligning and updating polices with WSSDA policies. Most of the other school districts in the state have already completed this task including Coupeville, Mukilteo, Everett and Stanwood-Camano.

“It became clear that the district is lacking policies and procedures,” said Rich Parker, explaining the reasoning behind the policy adoption process. “The Moss Adams audit report pointed out that some of the financial difficulties were caused by missing policies.”

During the four-hour workshop meeting, a second reading led to the adoption of a number of polices related to board governance.

Speaking to a policy that sets the relationship between the district’ board and superintendent, Clinton resident Rufus Rose said it would be useful to have a policy for a board to deal with a superintendent they are unhappy with in a “shorter amount of time.”

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