Thursday, August 2, 2007

LAUSD-Public Service or Sacrifice?

LAUSD-Public Service or Sacrifice?
Decision Affects Education Reform Across State and Nation for Years

By Gabriel Buelna

Los Angeles School Board members earn $26,000 per year – on a part time basis. Each School Board member, charged with the responsibility of preparing our children for the future, makes $25 per hour if they work 20 hours per week. If a Board member works a 40 hour week, which many do, they earn $12.50 per hour. This past March 6th, voters in Los Angeles finally said enough is enough. Angelinos selected Measure L as the vehicle to increase the salaries of the School Board members. Voters sent a message that a $6.2 billion operating budget and over $18 billion in construction of new schools was too large for a part-time board. Pursuant to Measure L and the demands of voters, The Charter Measure L Compensation Review Committee was formed to create a reasonable salary structure for LAUSD Board members as full-time employees. The Charter Measure L Compensation Review Committee failed.

As a father of three LAUSD daughters, like many, I voted for Measure L without doing much research. I simply wanted my children to have better schools and I wanted to make sure the School Board would represent children and parents, not special interests. Therefore, I was honored to be appointed by Los Angeles City Councilmember Eric Garcetti to the Compensation Review Committee. Once appointed to the Committee, I was chosen to Chair the Committee. I have witnessed first hand how the Compensation Review Committee failed to provide an adequate salary for Board members and have effectively nullified the voters’ mandate of March 6th.

For two months, the committee listened to testimony about the duties of School Board members. We listed to former School Board member and current Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar describe the importance of meeting with parents, youth and community members about schools. Former School Board President Genethia Hayes described the need for a full-time Board to tackle the bureaucracy at LAUSD. She described constituents demanding to speak with her, principles, nonprofit organizations wanting and demanding her attention. She described representing LAUSD local, regionally and nationally on education issues. Councilmember Huizar and Ms. Hayes described the School Board member’s job as one that was much more than full-time.

The Committee made two salary decisions – one for full-time Board members and one for part-time Board members. The Committee decided that Board members who elected to remain part time would continue to receive $25,000 annually. I agreed to this amount as this action was being taken in the middle of an election cycle. In a startling move, however, the Committee prohibited School Board members from earning any outside income. After reviewing data and listening to testimony about creating a full time position for School Board member, the Committee, with my dissent, agreed to tie the full time salary of School Board members to a nine month LAUSD teacher salary of $46,000. Here, again, School Board members are not allowed to earn any outside income.

The Committee’s decision was made without a single member of the public present. No public input on the matter was considered. In fact, the biggest loser in this entire process is the public. Voters elected for an initiative that would guarantee full-time work and full-time pay for Board members. The public did not and does not want outlandish wages for public officials. The Los Angeles Unified School District has salaries ranging from $20,000 to $300,000 per year. During the Compensation Committee’s meetings, the highest recommendation for School Board members’ salaries was between $60,000 and $90,000. This amount is sufficient to have Board members work full time without the need for outside income, but not high enough to draw individuals based on salary alone.

The decision to keep part-time Board members at $25,000 and full-time Board members at $46,000 ensures that only wealthy communities will have adequate representation on the School Board. Potential candidates from working class communities will not be able to become Board members because they cannot feed their families on $46,000 per year. The Compensation Committee has ensured that the only individuals serving on the School Board are those wealthy enough to serve in spite of the Compensation Committee’s salary caps. The Compensation Committee has disenfranchised thousands of low to moderate income parents and children who will not be represented by people like themselves. The Compensation Committee has warped the Los Angeles School Board into a place where only the wealthy can survive.

As a citizen, I have never before advocated for higher salaries for elected officials. As the Chair of the Charter Measure L Compensation Review Committee, however, the evidence was before me – and all Committee members. The evidence presented clearly indicated that a full-time, sufficient salary structure was needed for Board members, but the Committee ignored the evidence as well as the voters.

In the end, the Committee left behind a broken legacy that both alienates parents and children based on income and fails to provide School Board members with the financial resources to serve on the Board without unjust financial harm. The inability of the Charter Measure L Compensation Review Committee to fix this self inflicted wound ensures that being a LAUSD Board member is a public sacrifice, not a service. While some may view this as simply a Los Angeles issue, the lack of forethought by this Committee will only mean school boards’ across the state and nation will only be able to give education a part time focus. How can this be right?

Gabriel Buelna, Ph.D., MSW was the Chair of the Measure L Compensation Review Committee. He is also Executive Director of Plaza Community Services in East Los Angeles and a faculty member in the Chicana/o Studies Department at Cal State Northridge. You can visit his blog at

If you would like permission to re-print article, please e-mail


Anonymous said...

I agree, the Compensation Committee is stupid.

Anonymous said...

If the board members are forced to try to live on the amount that teachers make, maybe they will become more sensitive to the salary needs of the teachers they are to represent. I'm totally OK with them trying to live on a teacher's salary.

I have no sympathy for voters who don't bother to read what they're voting for or assessing the implications of it. That's how we get so many BAD propositions passed... voters who vote emotion by corporate financed ad propaganda.

When Prop L was put on the ballot, it was slid in at the last minute by the City Council and NO ONE really had time to add a negative impact. When I saw it, I called the person downtown in charge of the analysis (forget her name now), and ASKED WHY she had listed "no financial impact" since that is a real selling point to voters on anything. There clearly WOULD BE a financial impact to LAUSD. She said that the COUNCIL only wanted to list any FINANCIAL IMPACT TO THE CITY!!! So, the analysis is clearly NOT independent and people on the council clearly were setting this up to become just another musical chair in the term-limits-for- politicians game they are now playing. However, they had expected that the commission would come back and recommend a salary like their own very oversized compensation that they voted themselves.

If you wonder why you had NONE OF THE PUBLIC attend the meetings that you chaired, perhaps you should look at how inadequately the event was advertised to the public. Was it in the UTLA paper? Was it listed ANYWHERE?

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