An obscure citizens panel voted Friday to hike the annual pay of Los Angeles Unified School District board members by 73%, increasing it from roughly $26,000 to nearly $46,000 -- but only for board members who agree not to hold down other jobs.
The Charter Amendment L Compensation Review Committee rebuffed a last-minute request for a much bigger salary boost by Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, who asked that school board members receive as much as $90,000 a year.
On a 5-1 vote, the committee said school board members -- who oversee a system with more than 700,000 children and a $7-billion budget -- should receive a sum commensurate with the salary of a newly hired L.A. Unified teacher.
"I think it's important for a school board member to understand the challenges of a starting teacher, and one of those challenges is living on that" salary, said committee member Patricia Clarey, an executive at Health Net and a former chief of staff to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The little-known compensation panel was created in March, thanks to a ballot measure designed to overhaul the school district. Its decision cannot be appealed or reversed by the school board or the City Council, said Assistant City Atty. Valerie Flores.
Friday's vote provided the first major increase in school board compensation since 1984, when the state Legislature increased the monthly stipend from $1,000 to $2,000. Over the last three years, that sum has grown incrementally to $2,195 per month.
Huizar spokesman George Gonzalez said Friday that the councilman was unavailable for comment. But school board President Monica Garcia voiced disappointment in the decision, calling the new salary figure "a challenging number to live on."
"I've been on the record [saying] I think this is a full-time job," said Garcia, who predicted that she will be forced to find a job outside the district. "I would like it to be a higher number, a higher salary."
The vote also delivered a clear rebuke to Huizar, a former school board member who began the process of increasing school board pay two years ago.
In 2005, Huizar pushed for the creation of a 30-member citizens panel to study L.A. Unified's governing structure, which ultimately recommended that school board members receive full-time pay.
Four months ago, voters approved a Huizar-backed ballot measure that established the compensation panel. And Huizar told the compensation committee personally a few weeks ago that school board pay should fall in line with the salary of a school district administrator.
But committee members warned that a more dramatic leap in pay would risk a political firestorm and jeopardize support for a future school construction bond measure. Instead, the panel unanimously embraced a two-tier pay system that forces school board members to make a choice: work exclusively for the district or take another job and receive a lower stipend.
"Are you going to be a school board member who commits full time and does the job necessary, or are you working other jobs?" said committee member Debra Silbar, a parent at Topanga Charter Elementary School. "That could become a campaign issue, and I think that's very positive."
The committee's decision means that board members Yolie Flores Aguilar and Tamar Galatzan -- two members of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's new school board majority, both of whom are employed -- will see no increase in board pay.
By contrast, the board's retired or nonworking members -- Garcia, Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte, Julie Korenstein, Marlene Canter and Richard Vladovic -- will receive raises as long as they don't return to the work force.
Vladovic spokesman David Kooper said his boss may sacrifice the extra school district money so he can return to teaching part time.
And Galatzan, who earns $128,000 annually as a deputy city attorney, said she has no intention of giving up her job.
Friday's debate took place in front of just six people, four of them aides to Aguilar, Galatzan, Huizar and Villaraigosa. All but the Galatzan aide furiously typed text messages on their cellphones as the committee conducted its debate.
Minutes before the compensation committee voted, an aide to Huizar -- who earns $171,648 annually as a councilman -- submitted a letter recommending that the school board pay reach a range of $70,000 to $90,000.
But Silbar said the larger sum would lure politicians looking to climb the ladder. "That would turn this position into something like a political parking spot," she said.