For L.A.'s school board, full-time pay for full-time jobs

Running the schools was a lot simpler before there were federal standards and accountability tests and a commitment to closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged students. Back then, the Los Angeles Unified school board oversaw the district in much the same way as, say, the Police Commission now oversees the Police Department. Education experts — the superintendent and administrative staff — directed the day-to-day operations of the district, while school board members put the stamp of approval on budgets, contracts, new hires and new curricula and got directly involved in particularly gnarly issues.

A spot on the school board required relatively little time or expertise in those days. But now, that’s no longer the case.

L.A. Unified grapples with every major issue confronting education: Feeding hundreds of thousands of hungry children. Raising graduation rates. Parceling out a $6-billion budget. Carrying out the biggest public construction project in the nation. Teaching more than 200,000 students for whom English isn’t their first language. Dealing with charter schools and “parent triggers” and teacher evaluations. Overseeing this district is no longer a part-time job for amateurs.


L.A. Unified’s seven board members are elected by district; constituent service to those districts has also become a major part of the job. Board members guide parents, fight for resources for their schools and even mediate conflicts at individual campuses. Former board member Nury Martinez saved the district’s adult-ed school for aviation mechanics at Van Nuys Airport in her district. The task required jumping through bureaucratic hoops with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Board members should — and mostly do — work full time. They are just not paid like it.

In 2006, a compensation panel made a confused decision to allow board members to work part time, in which case they earn $26,347 and can keep their outside jobs. Or, it decided, they can forgo outside employment, work full time and be paid $45,637 a year. (That number was tied to a first-year teacher’s salary). That’s hardly a compensation decision at all. It’s more of a failure to make a decision.

Right now, Tamar Galatzan is the only part-timer; she also is an assistant city attorney. Board members have at times relied on family or pensions to see them through. Others struggle. The system is particularly hard on L.A. Unified teachers who run for the school board, such as Steve Zimmer. For conflict-of-interest reasons, they can’t retain their old jobs, but their new ones pays far less than they earned in the classroom.

The cost of fixing this for seven people is minimal. Although school board members don’t need to earn the nearly $200,000 that City Council members do, they deserve to be decently paid for the work they perform. It’s time to pay a full-time salary for a full-time job.