The Public Eye: Sacramento area school trustees boost their own stipends

The Public Eye
The Public Eye

Trustees in the Sacramento region’s three largest school districts have boosted their own stipends after cutting the payments during the recession.

San Juan, Sacramento City and Elk Grove unified school district leaders reduced their stipends in recent years as they laid off employees, furloughed teachers and prepared to shutter campuses to save money.

But as the state begins spending more on education, local school leaders are increasing payments for attending board meetings. The stipend raises come after voters approved Proposition 30 in 2012, a statewide tax hike that bolstered California revenue for K-12 schools and other programs.

The San Juan Unified School District board voted unanimously this month to increase its monthly stipends to the maximum $787.50, up 5 percent from $750, effective immediately.

San Juan Board of Education President Lucinda Luttgen, starting her 10th year as a trustee, said the change makes sense.

“A lot of us don’t submit mileage claims because that money needs to go to classrooms,” she said. “So this money is kind of my gap mileage for driving around the district, going to school performances workshops and meetings.

“If we want to understand what’s going on and how the district operates usually every day there is something going on.”

In the Sacramento City Unified School District, trustees restored their monthly stipends in February to $787.50 – the maximum allowed by law for the district based on its size. Over the previous 12 months, trustees temporarily reduced their monthly compensation to $590.63 as they imposed layoffs, program cuts and prepared elementary campuses for closure.

In the Elk Grove Unified School District, trustees restored their meeting pay this fiscal year to $750, equal to what they received three years earlier. The restoration came because employee salary concessions ended, said district spokeswoman Elizabeth Graswich.

Between July 2010 and June 2013, trustees cut compensation in tandem with employees furloughs, salary rollbacks and other reductions, Graswich said. That meant monthly stipends of $689 for the first two of those years. For the third year, which ended June 30, compensation was just under $740. For this fiscal year, the monthly stipend has been fully restored.

Among the three districts, only Elk Grove received a clean bill of fiscal health from the state this year.

The California Department of Education still considers Sacramento City and San Juan to be in financial danger because they cannot demonstrate they can pay their bills over three consecutive fiscal years. Those two districts serve students in the urban core and older suburban neighborhoods, where they continue to face declining enrollment.

San Juan trustee compensation for years had been set at $750, with the exception of two months in 2012 when board members worried that Proposition 30, the education funding measure on the November ballot, might not pass.

The tax initiative’s failure could have triggered additional furlough days for workers in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, according to district records. In late August 2012, board members unanimously reduced their stipends 5 percent starting in October, with plans to revisit the issue in December.

Last December, a month after the election and the passage of Proposition 30, board members unanimously reinstated the $750 meeting pay. Employees were limited to two furlough days in the fiscal year.

Trustees in the area’s three largest districts, as well as Twin Rivers Unified, are subject to the same monthly stipend limit of $787.50. The state sets that maximum for board members in districts with an average daily attendance between 25,000 and 60,000 students.

The region’s largest district, Elk Grove Unified, has enrollment of 62,137, but its average daily attendance in the last fiscal year was 58,865, Graswich said.

At Twin Rivers Unified School District, the $750 monthly stipend has not changed for the last two years, said spokeswoman Zenobia Gerald.

Trustees at smaller districts are entitled under state law to smaller stipends.

In the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, board members in August 2006 raised their monthly compensation from $420 to $440, where it remains today, according to spokesman Stephen Nichols.

And at Natomas Unified School District, the monthly stipend is $216, down from the $240 that trustees authorized in 2009, spokesman Jim Sanders said.

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