Before they voted to give themselves a 5% annual pay increase, some Fresno Unified School District trustees asked whether they could make that pay raise retroactive to 2002 — two years before any of the board members were even elected.
The board’s lawyer said they could, although they were sure to face legal challenges.
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A retroactive raise covering nearly two decades would have been a mini-windfall, more than doubling the current monthly stipend of $1,500 to $3,610 and giving them an annual payout of more than $43,000. Up to now, board members’ stipends totaled $18,000 annually.
Long Hours for Low Pay
Keshia Thomas, who was first elected to the board last November, said she favored the retroactive pay hike as compensation for the long hours that she and other trustees put in.
Thomas said she knew before she ran for office what the job paid, but she was unaware of how much time and effort it would entail, from phone calls at all hours to school visits, meetings with parents, football games, and other functions and activities.
“I spend more time on board work than on my regular job, which sometimes gets me in a little trouble,” she said. Thomas quickly added that she loves working hard for her schools, students, parents, and other constituents.
Big Raise in 2017 for LA Unified
In 2017, Los Angeles school trustees got a 174% raise that hiked their annual pay to $125,000 unless they had other outside employment. They previously received less than $46,000 a year.
But the legal opinion to the Fresno board from the Lozano Smith law firm noted that Los Angeles voters passed an initiative that established a salary for full-time board members and created a Compensation Review Committee that hiked LAUSD trustees’ pay.
The Lozano Smith opinion notes that Fresno’s trustees had several alternatives: approve a raise that wasn’t retroactive; approve a retroactive raise subject to legal challenge; approve a raise but then seek an opinion from the state Attorney General about the legality of making it retroactive; or ask for a State Board of Education waiver. That last option would require a public hearing and comment.
“Of the options available, pursuing a waiver presents the least legal risk,” the opinion said.
‘Looking for Options’
Board chairwoman Claudia Cazares said she sought the legal opinion after two trustees asked about the possibility of a retroactive raise: “We were just looking for options at this point.”
Cazares said she was irritated by a comment made by board gadfly Andrew Fabela at Wednesday night’s meeting, just before trustees voted without comment to approve increasing their monthly stipend from $1,500 to $1,575. It will take effect on Oct. 1. The board also voted for the stipend to automatically increase by 5% every year.
“It’s not like we’re living in an area where the cost of living is tremendously high, or the gas rate is tremendously high,” Fabela said. “It says here you guys are going to be getting a 5% raise a year, every year, every fiscal year, as it says here, to beyond — to infinity.
“How is that possible? All you do is sit here and say yea and nay.”
Time for a Pay Boost
Cazares said that board members do much more than that. Trustees work long hours to serve the community, and a raise seemed overdue, especially since the last one was in 2001. But Cazares said she would not have voted for a retroactive raise.
Two other trustees, Valerie Davis and Terry Slatic, told GV Wire that they too would have opposed a retroactive raise.
Slatic questioned why the board hadn’t tied its stipend increases to pay hikes for rank-and-file employees, similar to how district administrators get the same raises that are negotiated for employees.
But Davis said that could create a conflict of interest if board members voted on pay raises for employees while knowing that their own pay would be similarly boosted.