At its Feb. 7 meeting, the Newton County School System (NCSS) Board of Education (BOE) approved a resolution to ask for a salary increase for BOE members. In Georgia, legislative approval is needed before the salary paid to board of education members can be increased.
Following that meeting, the BOE submitted its request to the four members of the Georgia House of Representatives who represent some portion of Newton County. Those representatives are and Dale Rutledge, District 109; Andrew Welch, District 110; Dave Belton, District 112; and Pam Dickerson, District 113.
If the BOE members’ salaries are to be increased, those four representatives must unanimously agree to introduce an authorizing bill and that bill must be approved by the House and Senate.
The BOE asked for an increase from $600 to $1,000 per month for each of its five members. The rationale for this request rests on two considerations.
First, the salary paid to BOE members has not changed since 1991. And since then, the NCSS has grown from about 8,000 to more than 19,000 students with parallel increases in the number of schools within the system, number of employees, and budget.
Second, the current BOE wants to ensure that the position of board member remains attractive to committed and capable individuals interested in becoming future members of the board.
“If I were not to run, I could not recommend this job or believe I could find anyone to run at the current salary.” Abigail Coggin, district 5 BOE member, said.
By law the compensation paid to BOE members must come from local, not state, funds.
According to the NCSS’s recently released 2015-2016 Annual Report, the school system’s total budget was about $176 million with around 25 percent of that coming from district taxpayers and other local sources. If the requested salary increase is approved, the total of $24,000 needed to fund an additional $4,800 per year for each member would come from the over $40 million generated locally.
After the BOE’s March 7 meeting, Almond Turner, BOE chair, reported that Newton County’s legislators would not support the BOE’s request. He said he did not know why.
When asked for comment and a rationale for their position, neither Rutledge nor Welch responded. However, Belton wrote in an email, “We are working through the issue but unfortunately have not come up with a solution that is unanimously supported by the entire delegation. Any other comments would be unhelpful to the process at this time.”
Dickerson replied separately, saying, “I did not agree with my colleagues on the refusal to increase the compensation. The rationale for my colleagues not supporting this bill was that they wanted to put it on a referendum and let the voters decide if they should receive the raise. To my knowledge, this is not typically done.”
Turner and Coggin also have never heard of a Georgia board of education being required to hold a referendum on a requested salary increase. They did not know if the BOE had the authority to use a referendum for such a purpose. They also wondered how much such a referendum would cost compared to the total cost of the salary increase.
Belton confirmed that the BOE does have the authority. He wrote, “It is legally possible to allow the voters to decide the question during the November 2018 general election ballot.”
The Covington News has asked the Newton County Board of Elections for an estimate of the cost to include such a question on the November ballot.
All four Newton County representatives have voted this year in favor of bills to raise the salaries of board of education members in other counties.
House Bill (HB) 284 which authorizes compensation equal to $250 per day for each day a member of the Crisp County board of education attends a board meeting or a training session or conference approved by the board was passed by the House on Feb. 14. All four Newton County representatives voted in favor.
HB 294 which approves $750 per month for each Coffee County board of education member as well as future cost-of-living increases equal to future cost-of-living adjustments provided to teachers in that school district was approved Feb. 14. All four Newton County representatives voted favor.
HB 306 which increases the compensation received by Cherokee County board of education members to $1,200 per month for the chair and $1,000 per month for other members passed the House on Feb. 22. Belton, Dickerson, and Rutledge voted in favor. Welch did not vote.