Did public service just take another blow in our community? In the case of the Janesville School Board, it seems like the arrow is pointed toward “yes.”
The idea of paying school board members $2,400 every year has been approved largely because “everyone else is doing it.” There is no evidence paying board members results in higher quality members or more diversity in the board makeup.
Advocates of the compensation plan point out that it might alleviate some inconvenience or pay issues with jobs held by board members or that it may help offset childcare costs when members attend meetings. While that might be true, it entirely ignores the “public servant” part of board membership. Serving the public means a bit (or a lot) of personal sacrifice. Such sacrifice proves that the passion for the service outranks other “regular” priorities of those who seek such offices. There are a myriad of other reasons people might not be able to fit a school board or city council position into their lives at any given time, and throwing money at these individuals would make no difference.
Parents of school-age kids might be great board candidates, and I could support the district providing some sort of childcare during meetings to meet that need. Past that, I want to see people on such boards who are so passionate about the organization that very little could get in their way—people who are demonstrably willing to set aside their personal wants, needs and ideals for the good of the entire school district. There are plenty of those people in our community.
I know we live in an increasingly #OnlyMe society in which individual recognition, gratification and compensation are prioritized above volunteer service. But one has to ask this question: If a person will run for school board for $2,400 a year that otherwise would not run, what is the real motivation? The current board, to its credit, is exploring the issue in a transparent way and is considering a policy that would avoid any conflict of interest of current members, as they could not be compensated (should this provision receive final approval) until after their next election.
In the grand scheme of the district’s budget, the annual $22,000 allocation for board member pay isn’t a deal breaker. However, we should consider the message sent by paying board members: You don’t have to do anything unless you’re rewarded for it. Or, you don’t have to make personal sacrifices to make your community a better place.
Yes, members today arguably sacrifice more with the legions of social media trolls out there name-calling and nitpicking everything some volunteers do. Remember, though, that those folks have always been out there. They just haven’t had a megaphone before. If enough folks passionate about education let the board or administration know they’re willing to serve unpaid, this policy change could still be reversed.
If, on the other hand, no one reaches out and indicates a willingness to serve without compensation, then I can only surmise one thing: These “advocates for education” might be advocates for themselves first and our school district second.