HUNT COLUMN: You mean we get paid?

Published 9:30 am Wednesday, August 31, 2022

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By Cathy Hunt
Troup County School Board Chairwoman

That was my response upon learning that, as a new school board member, I would be compensated for my work. I can’t deny this was welcome news, as I had given up the part-time jobs that I had greatly enjoyed after my retirement from teaching. It was important to me to free up my schedule so that I could be available for whatever duties and opportunities would present themselves in my new role.

And here’s the honest truth: if I hadn’t recently married and become part of a two-income household, I wouldn’t have been able to quit the part-time work. Retired teachers in Georgia have a wonderful retirement system, but I needed the extra income on top of my pension to make ends meet as a single person.

State of Georgia Code says that any school system not having a local act designating compensation for board members must pay a minimum of $50 per diem. That means that a board member will be paid that amount for each day that he/she spends time in official meetings or otherwise representing the board in person. In Troup County, the local act calls for a $100 per diem. There is no “salary” other than that.

However, across the state of Georgia, you will find systems that do pay board members a salary of $15,000 or more a year. Per diems and salaries vary greatly. Googling may lead you to see something about the average salary of school boards being around $54,000. Be aware that this number really reflects school board employees, including teachers and administrators – not board members.

We have two official board meetings every month, so the minimum a board member would earn in one month would be $200 if present at both. Of course many months are much busier, with, for instance, public hearings, special school programs, community meetings, workshops, etc.  Whether we have one meeting on a particular day or three, we’ll receive $100 for that day. We do try to double up when possible to be more efficient and to save money. Also, it’s difficult for any board member to make it to every event. Two of us are retirees, but five have full-time jobs, and we all have other family and civic responsibilities.

I decided to write about this topic because I’ve learned that a) inquiring minds want to know, and b) assumptions are made or things are “heard” that get passed along via word of mouth or Facebook. My husband had to steady me from falling over with laughter when he told me that a relative had asked him if it was true that board members earn $90,000 a year. (I’ve never earned that salary, or really anywhere close to it, in my life.) On Facebook I’ve read gems such as “Let’s go protest outside board members’ million dollar mansions!”

As far as “the board gets paid $100 every time they go eat lunch at a school,” allow me to elaborate. We try to make an official visit to each school one time each year. We usually pay for our own cafeteria trays. And we also spend a couple of hours meeting with administrators about their achievements and concerns. Some board members have to clock out of work or even close a shop to attend. So these are official meetings for which we are paid. We haven’t done these for the past two years because of Covid, but we’re about to start again, and I’m very excited.

So what’s the bottom line? After taxes and insurance, the smallest amount I’ve netted in one month was about $147, and the highest about $725, with even that higher amount being much less than I was making in the part-time jobs I gave up. I do also spend anywhere from one to several hours a day on phone calls, emails, or other at-home work, but that’s the volunteer part of the job. Do we get paid? Yes. Is it a lot? No. But there are certainly intangible rewards for anyone who believes in the work they do.