Jordan school board's raise ignites a firestorm of protest

Other Utah district officials mulling hikes — or are shying away

Published: Thursday, July 12 2007 12:00 a.m. MDT

As angry residents Wednesday flooded Jordan School District with phone calls about the school board's 300 percent pay raise, leaders of two other school boards said they want to follow Jordan's lead.

Alpine and Washington boards of education are studying other elected officials' pay to see if it's high time — it's been a decade — to hike their compensation beyond the $3,000 mark.

But others are keeping hands off what one leader calls a political hot potato.

The Jordan Board of Education Tuesday night voted to raise members' pay from $3,000 a year to $12,000 a year, and tie it to the consumer price index to rise with the cost of living. Board members also can take a cash payout in lieu of insurance benefits, offered for years at district expense and costing more than $17,000 a year.

That's after the state Legislature changed the law holding school boards' pay at $3,000 a year. Now, boards can determine their own compensation; Jordan is the first of 40 Utah district school boards known to act on the new law.

"They're certainly free to do what they want, (but) I have no personal desire to approach that," Granite Board of Education President Sarah Meier said. "I would probably question the timing, and that's all ... just because of the political climate."

Jordan and Granite districts face the ultimate challenge from east-side cities that want to break ranks and form their own school district. That might not be the best time to thrust themselves into the public spotlight over pay, appropriate or not.

"There seem to be so many things distracting and pulling us away (from more important issues)," Meier said. "It's one more thing the public is going to say, 'What's that about?"'

The district has been flooded with angry phone calls, perhaps 100 by 4 p.m. Wednesday — more than the switchboard has fielded on any other recent issue, Jordan spokeswoman Melinda Colton said.

"They're mad and they want to talk to somebody ... to explain it in more detail," she said. "I think a lot of it, from what we're hearing ... is people don't quite understand the timing — with a district split looming, you've got, in addition, the board (members) giving themselves raises."

The district referred angry callers to their school board members for explanation, Colton said.

But Jordan Board President J. Dale Christensen, who says he received only a handful of e-mails about the decision — one, he says, thanking the board for careful and sincere deliberation and appropriate action — doesn't apologize for the raise or timing.

"I guess some people can look at it that way," he said.

"I think it's a natural reaction of people to be interested and concerned in district resources. I just don't know if people understand the role, function and responsibility of board members and the magnitude of time and energy and responsibility that board members carry. So with respect to the compensation itself, I feel very comfortable and feel the compensation is appropriate and long overdue."

Others feel the same.

The Alpine Board of Education has asked its staff to research compensation for area city council members for upcoming discussions on the matter, President Debbie Taylor said.

"When we go to national conventions, we hear a school (board member) in Florida getting $60,000 a year, and ... they still have other careers," Taylor said, adding she's speaking for herself and not necessarily for the board. "There's a lot of sacrifice made in public service. You're on the front lines, you're on duty whether you're in line at the supermarket or at the baseball game."

School board work is changing in the rapidly growing Washington County.

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