Comparing Corporate Board and School Board Pay

The average annual compensation for board members of Louisville’s public companies is $161,639.44.

The compensation of members of the Jefferson County Board of Education is $75 per meeting; capped at $3000 annually.

This comparison came to mind when I read a story in the August 31 edition of Business First titled, “Part-Time Pay Day.” It was about compensation for members of area corporate boards.

The Business First article states, “Director positions are part-time jobs that pay very well, but we’re not saying they’re for everyone.” The article explains that board service requires a “significant” time commitment and a certain “skill set.”

Being a school board member compares exactly with corporate board service in that it is not a full-time commitment and it absolutely is not for everyone. School board service likewise takes a significant amount of time and requires certain skill sets.

However, they differ in that school board service doesn’t pay much.

JCPS Board members receive the same as the members of all the other 172 boards of education in Kentucky. It is a limit set by state law.  The range for corporate compensation in this area varies by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

An executive compensation firm is quoted in the article saying, “Director pay is very important in recruiting and retaining highly qualified directors…. It is also symbolically important as a representation of the company’s attitudes towards corporate governance.”

I don’t think that recruiting school board members is dependent on offering significant pay, and I hope the level of compensation does not reflect the value people assign school board service.

I just don’t think most voters think about it much and don’t recognize the significant commitment school board members make when they step up to serve.

When I was on the board, many people I knew were surprised when they found out being on the school board wasn’t a “job” and didn’t pay much.

School board service is part-time, and most members have day jobs like most corporate board members, and they also serve their communities in other capacities. I will wager the JCPS board members spend more time than corporate board members on their work including regular meeting preparation, meeting participation and interacting with the public.

The interaction with the public is what sets apart the service of school board members. Because they work for everyone in the county, they receive input from those community members regularly – at all times of day. Some of that interaction isn’t pleasant. Further, their regular meetings are open to the public, covered by local media, and are broadcast live on TV. Most people would find that daunting.

School board members in Kentucky are also required to get annual training in a number of areas. Those hours have been increased recently, as all board members now have to be trained in becoming potential charter school authorizers.  And, JCPS is among the 30 largest districts in the country, adding to the complexity of the oversight job. JCPS Board members attend many community meetings and school events, too.

Nationally, school board pay is all over the place. Some school districts around the country do compensate their board members but most don’t pay much; some pay none.

The National School Boards Association says that 75 percent of small districts receive no salary. A 2017 survey by the Brookings Institution of the 20 largest school districts showed that four offered no pay for board members, and the average of the other 14 was $29,066. Outliers on that large district list were Los Angeles, which had just raised its annual pay for board members to $125,000 and Gwinnett Co., Georgia, which pays $600 per year.

States that offer zero compensation include Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado. Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Illinois, New Jersey, Louisiana and Missouri pay within a range of $100-$200 per meeting. Montgomery County, Maryland, where I used to live, pays its board members $25,000 annually, and a state legislator has attempted to increase that salary.

In scanning these articles about school board pay, those advocating for increases all pointed to the significant time commitment and complexity of issues that come before board members.

I have never heard a board member – here or elsewhere in the Commonwealth – complain about the compensation. Everyone I know has gladly served.  However, I do believe the time commitment and constant pressure impacts the recruitment of candidates.

It is important to remember the role public schools play in our society. Even in our capitalist economy, the private sector relies on public services for success, like providing an educated pool of workers.

So, if we aren’t offering financial benefits for our school board members, let’s at least take time to offer our moral support and respect. If you don’t know, find out who your board member is and thank them for their service.


About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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