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Legislators seek to give BOE authority to set salaries
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Newton County’s four legislators could not come to a unanimous yes or no decision about the Newton County School System (NCSS) Board of Education’s (BOE’s) request for a salary increase for each member of the BOE. So they agreed to give the BOE authority to make its own decisions about future salary increases.

For the past 26 years, each of the five members of the BOE has received the same salary, $600 per month. In February, the BOE asked Newton County’s representatives—Dale Rutledge, District 109; Andrew Welch, District 110; Dave Belton, District 112; and Pam Dickerson, District 113—to support and sponsor legislation authorizing an increase to $1,000 per month for each BOE member. The NCSS serves over 19,000 students and has an annual budget of nearly $180 million.

In Georgia, a board of education’s request to increase its members’ salaries requires unanimous approval by local representatives, introduction of authorizing legislation, and then a favorable vote in both the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia Senate. Dickerson was the only one of the four local representatives who told the Covington News that she supported the BOE’s request for a salary increase. Rutledge and Welch did not state a position.

This week, Belton reported that although the four representatives did not agree on whether or not to approve the BOE’s request, they unanimously agreed to sponsor House Bill 612. That bill has been introduced and will be voted on by the House this week. If approved, the Senate will consider it next week. It would authorize the NCSS BOE to set its own salaries subject to three conditions.

First, any increase in “salary, compensation, expenses, or expenses in the nature of compensation” could not become effective until January 1 “of the year following the next general election held after the date on which the action to increase the compensation was taken.” In other words, if HB 612 is approved, the BOE could act to increase its members’ salaries, but they could not start receiving a new salary until January 2019, the first January after the next general election in November 2018.

Second, the BOE would be required to publish its intent to raise its members’ salaries as well as the fiscal impact of such a raise in the NCSS’s official newspaper “at least once a week for three consecutive weeks immediately preceding the meeting at which the action is taken.” The Covington News is the NCSS’s official newspaper.

Third, the BOE would be prohibited from taking action on its members’ salaries between “the date that candidates for election as members of the board may first qualify as such candidates” and the following January 1. Candidates seeking election to the BOE in the November 2018 general election may first qualify on March 5, 2018. Therefore, the BOE would be barred from taking action on members’ salaries for the approximately 10 month period between March 5, 2018 and Jan. 1, 2019. There would be a similar prohibited period in every two-year election cycle.

Under current procedures, unhappy Georgia taxpayers can hold both their board of education members and their local legislators accountable; the board for asking for a salary increase and the legislators for approving such a request. HB 612 would allow the NCSS BOE to makes its own decisions regarding the compensation of its members. It would also transfer all accountability to the BOE. If approved, Newton County’s legislators would no longer be involved in decisions on NCSS BOE members’ salaries.

Though Almon Turner, BOE chair, and Abigail Coggin, district 5 BOE member, expressed disappointment that the BOE’s request was not approved, both said HB 612 would be beneficial for the NCSS and future board members.