Aaron Steenbergen

On Feb. 7, The Californian reported that “KHSD board rejects pay hike,” and the story was both informative and revealing. Informative in that we learned how our board voted. Revealing because it showed a weakness in its understanding and a proper recognition of the standard board remuneration practices of similarly sized large districts.

Board members in those large districts are entitled — by law — to compensation of $750 per month, though they are not required to accept it. Our future board members, at the minimum, deserve that very same choice.

To bring folks up to speed, the current KHSD board policy on remuneration, enacted in 2009, reads:

“The Board of Trustees views Board service as a voluntary contribution to the community and elects not to receive the compensation to which it is entitled by law.”

That policy, now nearly a decade old, may be reasonably seen as both impractical and unrealistic for board governance in 2018. Moreover, it unhappily carries with it a faint, but thoroughly unpleasant, whiff of a local brand of “virtue signaling.” Virtue signaling is “the conspicuous expression of moral values done primarily with the intent of enhancing standing within a social group … to describe any behavior that could be used to signal virtue — especially piety among the religious.”

When the present policy was enacted by the board in 2009, only one member of that board now remains on our present one. The others were elected in 2010, or later. All five now have a new opportunity to begin afresh.

A new and far more fitting replacement policy for the KHSD would be modeled after that currently expressed by similar large school districts. It would include the lawful compensation embodied in our California Education Code, Section 35120 (3):

“In any school district in which the average daily attendance for the prior school year is 60,000 or less, but more than 25,000, each member of the city board of education or the governing board of the district who actually attends all meetings held may receive as compensation for his or her services a sum not to exceed seven hundred fifty dollars ($750) in any month.”

That same Code also states: “Board members are not required to accept payment for meetings attended.”

In short, the KHSD board, like the governing boards of similarly sized large districts in California, ought to simply enact a policy including the following language:

“Each member of the Governing Board may receive a monthly compensation of no more than $750.” Further: “Board members are not required to accept payment for meetings attended.”

While this monthly lawful compensation of $750 may seem like crumbs to some board members, by contrast, for those folks who are less advantaged in Kern County (which has a median family income of around $50,000) such a sum is understandably quite significant.

Furthermore, dare it be implied that it is both helpful and healthy that our public high school board members be drawn only from a comparatively advantaged socio-economic class? Is there really no room for the qualified, hardworking, talented but less advantaged candidates? Shall it be socially set out that lower middle class folks and wage earners (retired or otherwise) have no business whatsoever being candidates for the KHSD board? At present, it is not entirely unreasonable to draw that melancholy and very disappointing inference.

In looking at 13 similar large school districts in California, I found that all their board members received the appropriate compensation for which they were entitled by law.

A foundational change in our board remuneration policy is clearly warranted in the KHSD. In fairness to future candidates, that change should take place as soon as possible; certainly well before the upcoming November board election.

Help for fashioning a suitable policy change is not far to seek. Our board members already have an excellent template in the bylaws of our nearby sister district, the Bakersfield City School District. Board members may also look to Fontana Unified, among other large districts.

Clearly our KHSD trustees need to “think again” on this issue. A new and fair board remuneration policy ought to be enacted at the next most practicable board meeting in 2018. March or April seems only reasonable.

Aaron Steenbergen, who has lived in Bakersfield for over 35 years, is a veteran and a retired educator. The opinions expressed are his own.