Colorado school boards slow to consider paying members

Efforts to pay school board members have yet to gain traction among local leaders five months after Colorado lawmakers passed a bill to allow the compensation.

The Board of Education for Aurora Public Schools last week became the latest to take no action on the issue when it tabled what would have been one of the first such resolutions in the state. Not voting on the measure came after the board received no public comment, officials said.

The board could reconsider a resolution when new members join following the Nov. 2 election, outgoing president Kyla Armstrong-Romero said.

“We set this precedent for community voice and we did not get it,” she said Wednesday. “It did not feel right to try to rush a resolution before the election.”

Members of the Denver Board of Education on Oct. 18 discussed the possibility of paying members but did not set a date to vote on a resolution,  Chalkbeat Colorado reported. None of the seven Denver school board members responded to requests for comment from The Denver Post.

Cheri Wrench, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards, said the Aurora and Denver boards were the only ones she knew of that were considering paying members, although she noted the state law only passed this year.

“It’s very brand new so it may not even be on some board members’ radars,” she said.

School board positions in Colorado are voluntary. Before the bill passed in the state legislature in May, state law prohibited compensation for board members.

The board that oversees Cherry Creek School District passed a resolution in September stating that members will not receive compensation.

“They have no intention to pass a resolution to pay board members,” district spokeswoman Abbe Smith said,

At least three other states — Louisiana, Minnesota, Virginia — have state legislation or statutes allowing local school boards to pay members, according to the Education Commission of the States, a Denver organization that tracks and provides research on educational policies.

Supporters for paying school board members said offering compensation will break down barriers that prevent people from joining local boards.

“We have seen over time that only certain people can run for school board because of their financial situation,” said Amie Baca-Oehlert, president of the Colorado Education Association, which supported the bill. “For many of our school board members, this is like a second full-time job.”

Still, school boards will likely face challenges in actually enacting resolutions to pay members, most notably in their ability to find the money in their budgets, she said.

“All communities are faced with the funding challenges because it is a statewide issue,” Baca-Oehlert said.

Under Colorado’s law, school board members can be paid no more than $150 per day for no more than 5 days per week and are only compensated when they perform official board duties. Any increase in compensation cannot happen during a member’s term.

That last part of the bill, coupled with the upcoming election, created a challenge when the Aurora school board considered its resolution, Armstrong-Romero said. If the board had passed a pay proposal, it would have ended up with a mix of members who qualified for compensation and those who couldn’t get paid because of the election of new members, she said.

The board was looking to get around this by not implementing the resolution for two years when the three seats not up for election this year turned over, Armstrong-Romero said.

So the proposal is on hold indefinitely.

“There’s a lot of confusion,” Armstrong-Romero said. “We had to ensure we were reading the act correctly.”

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