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Montgomery delegates propose salary boost for school board members

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The Montgomery County Board of Education could receive salary increases for the first time in more than a decade if Maryland lawmakers approve the ­raises in the coming legislative session.

A bill proposed by Dels. Charles E. Barkley (D-Montgomery) and Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) would raise the annual salaries by $6,500. The board president’s pay would increase from $22,500 to $29,000, and the pay of other board members would go from $18,500 to $25,000.

Barkley said he proposed the raises because of the amount of work board members put in for the schools. With budget sessions, regular meetings and night meetings with the community, “the school board members really meet up a lot during the year,” he said.

Other changes also could be in store for the county’s Board of Education. Barkley is sponsoring a bill that would add two at-large members to the board and change the way members serving specific districts would be elected, part of an effort to increase the board’s diversity.

Should the state enact the pay raises, Montgomery board members would be among the highest-paid in the region. In Prince George’s County, the second-largest school district in Maryland, the board president earns $19,000 a year, and other members earn $18,000. The chairman of the Fairfax County School Board earns $22,000 a year, and other members earn $20,000.

The Montgomery board is the policymaking body for the largest school system in Maryland. Montgomery County Public Schools, the 17th-largest school district in the nation, has more than 149,000 students and an operating budget of about $2.2 billion.

Montgomery board members last received pay raises in 2002, when the board president’s salary increased by $8,500 and other members received $6,500 raises.

Board President Christopher S. Barclay said that although the job is described as part time on paper, that isn’t the reality for board members.

“If you’re really going to do this job, you have to dedicate a significant amount of time to it, and that’s a challenge,” he said. “It shouldn’t be seen as an opportunity that is only available to certain types of families or people with certain types of advantages.”

The school board, however, will not take an official position on the proposal, Barclay said.

Barkley also proposed a bill that would expand the county Board of Education from seven elected members to nine, with five serving specific districts and four serving the county at large. By state law, counties with student enrollment greater than 100,000 should have nine members, but Montgomery County has an exemption from that mandate.

“With the size of the system, you could have better representation if you have a couple more spots on the board,” Barkley said.

The bill also proposes changing the election process for board members. Currently, five of the seven members serve specific districts, but voters across the county can cast ballots for any candidate. Under the proposed rules, district members would run only within their districts, which Barkley said would make it easier to run for office.

“Even at that level, you’re still going to represent about 200,000 people, but at least it’s not as daunting as running countywide,” he said.

Barkley said expanding the number of members and changing how they’re elected could increase diversity on the board, which has two African American members but none who are Asian or Hispanic. About 14 percent of Montgomery County students are Asian American and about 26 percent are Hispanic.

The county board is opposed to both election-related proposals. Barclay said that the school board functions well and that he doesn’t see a need for change.

“We don’t want to see the opportunity for the board to become fractious based on Zip code or district,” he said.

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