A just say no moment on Manatee County school board pay hike

June 19, 2014 

Staff Photographer

People fill all available seats during an October 2013 school board meeting. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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Amid continuing financial pressures that are unprecedented in the Manatee County school district, our school board is discussing the idea of pay raises -- for themselves.

Granted, their pay is paltry for the long hours and work they must put in. Granted, too, a $1,426 raise would only bring their salaries up to $39,107.

By comparison, Manatee County commissioners are paid $78,348 for the current year, as state statute dictates. Commissioners do not control their pay. The school board sets its own.

Board member pay cannot exceed the salary of a first-year teacher per policy, as should be the case. But at a Tuesday workshop on the wage proposal, nobody could say what that minimum teacher pay amounted to -- puzzling, to say the least. So the board raise issue remains on the table.

The school district's financial plight remains messy, though the outlook appears brighter than at any time in the past few years. That's the case even with auditors recently ordering the district to restore $7 million in funding for misspending in past budgets -- draining the expected $8.2 million fund balance this fiscal year. Once again, the district will fail to meet the state reserve requirement.

Last month the school board rejected the idea of granting Superintendent Rick Mills an incentive bonus while also approving a nickel increase in school lunch prices for students.

Given those circumstances, it's understandable that some school board members are hesitant about increasing their own pay. As should be the case in austere times.

The forecast for replenishing the reserve fund in the coming fiscal year's budget is not enough to warrant a board pay raise.

To be fair, the district's financial situation is on the mend -- a quick and remarkable turnaround from past mismanagement and misappropriations.

An ongoing challenge, though, is restoring public trust -- even though the district has come a great distance in that regard.

That alone should compel the board to again demonstrate austerity and prudence and set aside a pay raise.

And, as outgoing board member Barbara Harvey (she declined a re-election bid) promoted at Tuesday's workshop, a consensus board vote would send a message to the public about unity on the panel -- a discouraging rarity.

Just as long as that unanimous vote rejects the pay proposal. This is not the time for this.

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