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Un-Solomonic wisdom

A panel trying to bring sanity to school board members' salaries creates something else entirely.

August 06, 2007

Solomon was considered wise because he knew his command to cut the baby in half would never be followed. The real mother, as he expected, said she'd rather give up the living child to her lying rival than share her baby's corpse. So you see, members of the Charter Amendment L Compensation Review Committee, actually slicing the baby in half is not a good thing.

You apparently misunderstood the story. You couldn't agree on whether school board members should get higher salaries, so you chopped the matter in two and decided that, well, some will. And some won't.

At least you seem to have grasped the underlying issue: There is a disagreement, long festering in Los Angeles, over the school board's role. Are members full-time lawmakers and administrators, like the county Board of Supervisors? If so, they've got a huge responsibility and should devote all their time to their work. Full-time jobs mean full-time pay, not the $25,000 or so they currently get.

But wait. Shouldn't members of the school board be more like the Police Commission or the University of California Board of Regents, which meet to set policy goals and oversee top administrators? That's a part-time or even a volunteer job. No raise needed. That's the direction in which school governance should move, ideally with an appointed board.

You committee members are the product of an ill-considered March ballot measure that enticed voters with ethics reform and term limits -- and launched a salary review. You decided that a board member can remain part time, keep an outside job and continue to earn just over $2,000 a month. Or the member can choose to go full time, give up the outside work and boost his or her annual pay to about $46,000.

You set a new political and bureaucratic standard: You solve no problems, create new ones and leave school board pay simultaneously too high and too low. Students, parents and voters in one part of town will get full-time, independent representation, but those in another will get part-timers working outside jobs.

You can imagine candidates making pay, rather than policy, the chief campaign issue: "More time doing your work." "Less money from your pocket." It will be like a light beer commercial. And it begs for yet another court challenge over school governance, which is the last thing Los Angeles needs.

You have until the end of the day Tuesday to clean up your mess. But it's unlikely you'll all get together and act before your panel disbands by law and your ridiculous decision becomes permanent. Somewhere, Solomon is laughing.

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