A bill that would allow Colorado school board members to get paid is headed to the governor’s desk after lawmakers agreed to amendments that would limit board member compensation and require a public meeting before board members decide on compensation.
School board members in Colorado currently cannot receive any compensation. Proponents of the measure said that paying school board members would make service more feasible for working-class community members who might not be able to afford a babysitter or to miss a few hours of work to attend meetings.
“There are significant barriers to serving,” said co-sponsor state Sen. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, in a committee hearing last week. “There are systemic issues, and this is just a little step forward to make sure public service is accessible to those who cannot afford that financial hit.”
The bill does not require school districts to pay board members. Instead, it allows school board members to vote on a compensation proposal that would go into effect after the next election. That decision would have to be made in a public meeting.
The bill originally did not put any cap on compensation. Now, school board members would be limited to $150 a day for official business, up to five days a week.
Kristin Smith, president of the Durango School District 9-R Board of Education, said the bill is a good idea.
“Currently, the Durango 9-R school board members spend at least 10 hours per week serving on the school board,” she said in an email to The Durango Herald. “As board president, I regularly serve 20 hours or more a week in my position. We are all happy to volunteer our time to the betterment of our schools for our students and staff. However, with the time commitment being that many hours, it limits those who will run for school board as a volunteer position.”
Smith said she believes paying school board members would open more opportunities for all residents who might be interested in serving on a school board but cannot because of financial limitations.
“The 9-R Board of Education has had trouble recruiting community members to run for board seats in the past. If there was compensation, it’s possible there would be more interest in this work,” she said.
Smith said she is not sure if the current school board members would consider compensation “until the state addresses the larger issue of how underfunded our Colorado public schools are.”
A better school-funding system at the state level is needed so districts can more fairly compensate teachers and other educators, she said.
“Board members deserve compensation for their time, but so do our amazing educators and staff,” Smith said.
The measure was backed by the Colorado Education Association, the state teachers union. The Colorado Association of School Boards didn’t take a position.
The bill passed both chambers with Democrats in support and Republicans in opposition. On Thursday, the House agreed to adopt the amendments previously approved by the Senate.
Herald Staff Writer Patrick Armijo contributed to this report. To read more news from Chalkbeat, visit co.chalkbeat.org.