Education

Cut pay for MCSD board members with too many absences? Proposal generates debate.

The Muscogee County School Board conducts its monthly work session March 11, 2019, in the Muscogee County Public Education Center.
The Muscogee County School Board conducts its monthly work session March 11, 2019, in the Muscogee County Public Education Center. mrice@ledger-enquirer.com

The salary Muscogee County School Board members receive would be cut if they miss more than two meetings, work sessions or retreats per year, and folks would have more time to be allowed on the board’s public agenda, if the board approves the two proposed policy changes members discussed this week.

District 5 representative Laurie McRae, the board’s vice chairwoman, told the Ledger-Enquirer on Wednesday that her proposals still aren’t in a written draft yet, so they might not be ready in time for the March 18 meeting. Plus, like any policy change, they would have to wait for 30 days before a vote can be taken after they are formally presented. Still, they generated debate during Monday’s work session.

Attendance and pay

The most controversial of McRae’s two proposals links the board members’ compensation to their attendance.

According to current policies, board members are paid $1,000 per month regardless of their attendance, but three consecutive absences not excused by a majority of the board “shall be held to be a resignation” from the board.

At a Georgia School Boards Association conference in December, McRae said, she heard about another school district that pays its board members per the number of meetings they attend.

“I thought that’s a good idea,” McRae said. “… Attendance is the basic responsibility of all board members to the public taxpayers as well as to the school district and other board members. It’s an essential component of a healthy, functioning board.”

She contends that board members shouldn’t be considered school district employees with salaries but as contractors who get paid only when they show up for work.

McRae proposed a monthly base pay of $400, plus $300 for an individual meeting or board retreat. She also wants her proposed policy to apply to the monthly work sessions, she said.

“Granted, I would want to allow for two absences (per year),” she said.

McRae added that her proposal wouldn’t distinguish between excused and unexcused absences.

Board chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1, Naomi Buckner of District 4 and Mike Edmondson of District 2 voiced support for McRae’s proposal.

“This is not some volunteer public service,” Green said. “… You are compensated.”

The board’s previous leaders, former chairwoman Kia Chambers and former vice chairman Mark Cantrell of District 6, spoke against the proposal. So did Vanessa Jackson of District 3.

Chambers, the nine-member board’s lone countywide representative, said, “I think that professional courtesy would allow us to trust that everyone that signs up to be a board member is committed to their job and what they do. And so, I don’t I agree with changing the policy, because I think, as a professional, if I’m not sick or out of this county, then I’m in my seat. And so, professionally, I feel like we’re trying to regulate each other with this particular change in the policy.”

Chambers called the proposal “a little overreaching. … Then to start having to answer to, ‘Well, where were you? Why were you sick? Where did you go?’ … That feels like you’re my employer.

“I can’t have any type of sickness that’s going to allow me to miss three meetings — excused or unexcused — and so I think we’re getting a little petty, actually.”

Cantrell also used “petty” to describe the proposal.

“If I’m sick with a fever, I don’t want to come in because I might give other board members the sickness,” he said. “… If I’m going to be out, there’s a reason. I’m going to be here for every meeting that I can be. … I think this other stuff is digging too deep and putting too many rules and regulations out there that we don’t have to have.”

Jackson called the proposal “a little too much for me.”

McRae said her proposal isn’t “aimed at anyone personally, but we have seen it abused. Maybe it won’t be abused by the people that are sitting here now, but I would rather do something proactive than wait until we have somebody that is abusing it.”

Asking the board to excuse absences, McRae said, puts members in a difficult position.

“It bothers me that we’re saying somebody is excused when we really don’t know about why they’re not there,” she said.

Philip Schley of District 8 didn’t speak about the proposal, and Cathy Williams of District 7 left the work session before this item was discussed.

Public agenda

The board’s current policy requires people wanting to speak to the board to make their request to the superintendent by the close of business the Friday before the board meeting or work session. The agenda, however, usually isn’t posted on MCSD’s website by then, making it too late for someone to receive permission to speak to the board about one of the agenda items, McRae said.

That’s why she proposed moving the deadline to Monday at 2 p.m., three hours before the monthly work session and four hours before the monthly meeting.

“I feel like the current policy is too restrictive,” McRae said.

Buckner said she doesn’t see a problem with the current policy, equating it with making a doctor’s appointment several days in advance.

McRae then offered an alternative proposal: Keep the Friday deadline but allow an exception for parents or students who would be affected by an agenda item.

Green noted there is “a full week” between the work session, when action items are only discussed, and the meeting, when votes are taken.

“I’m certainly not opposed to the public having access and being able to address the board,” Green said. “But it’s about having a process and some order. It’s certainly worth discussing.”

Chambers said she agrees that the current policy is “a little bit” restrictive.

“I don’t have a problem with 2 o’clock on Monday because we’ve added items to the agenda even later than 2 o’clock,” Chambers said, “and board members have had to read over it before the 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock timeline.”

Cantrell said Karen Jones, the secretary for the board and the superintendent, might not be available to put someone’s request on the agenda as late as the Monday afternoon before that night’s meeting or work session.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.

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