In Fairfax County, a 10-member school board responsible for the Washington area's largest public school system is spending $160,200 this year on salaries and expenses for itself and a staff of four.
In Prince George's County, nine school board members make do with a staff of two full-time secretaries and a high school senior who works part time as a typist. Total cost: $177,083.
But in the District of Columbia, 11 school board members, who are in charge of a system with 20,000 fewer students than either of their neighbors, have a staff of 37 secretaries, researchers and special assistants. The cost including the salaries of the part-time board members, is more than $1.1 million.
Thus, Washington's school board has the largest, most costly full-time cadre of clerks and aides of any school board in the Washington area.
It also is one of the most expensive in the country, according to officials of the National School Boards Association. Only New York City, which has the nation's only full-time school board, spends more on school board operations than the District of Columbia -- $1.5 million.
"We need the staff to get our job done," D.C. school board president R. Calvin Lockridge said in an interview. Lockridge said that in light of the city's financial problems. "I think we have to lighten up and take back some of the perks."
Until last month, one such "perk" -- or nonsalary advantage of being a board member -- was a car and part-time driver for the board, but the car has been taken out of use at least temporarily.
Other perks still in existence include unlimited photocopying at a rate of more than 220,000 sheets a month at a cost of $6,700 monthly, and a postage bill estimated at $25,000 a year.
In addition, membership on the city's school board has conferred significant political advantages. Since the board was first elected in 1968, its highly visible positions have frequently been used as stepping stones to higher office. Mayor Marion Barry launched his political career as school board president from 1972 to 1974 before moving on to the City Council.
As president of the school board, Lockridge draws an annual salary of $21,236, and has a paneled office in school headquarters at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. He also has a full-time secretary and a special assistant, each year of whom earns about $20,000 a year.
Each of the other 10 board members earn $18,725 a year and has a full-time secretary and part-time research assistant.
Other board employes, who have office space on the 11th and 12th floors of school headquarters, include:
A lawyer who is paid $40,832.
An assistant to the legal counsel who is paid $33,291.
A three-member research unit whose salaries total $62,349.
Two clerks, including one who used to be a part-time driver for the board's car.
Six other receptionists and secretaries.
A two-member staff, costing about $56,000 in salaries and benefits, that prepares a verbatim transcript of all board meetings in addition to official minutes. Other school boards in the area get by with just minutes, although most keep tape recordings of their sessions.
The District of Columbia's board's staff usually is headed by an executive secretary earning about $44,000 a year. The position has been vacant since last April, and the board's lawyer, James E. Brown, temporarily is filling the job.
As is true in the suburbs, members of the city school board are expected to spend only part of their time as policy-makers and watchdogs over the school system. The full-time operating head of the schools is the superintendent, whom the board can hire and fire.
Board members say they need their staff for two main reasons: getting independent information about the school system and dealing with citizen complaints.
"We have to have a staff of our own," said school board member John E. Warren, "so we don't have to rely completely on the people we're policing (in the school administration). Nobody gives you the stuff (information) to hang themselves with . . . It's the old concept of checks and balances, and we're the legislative branch. It's comparable to Congress."
Like a congressional office staff, the school board's staff also does "constituent service work," helping board members deal with complaints and requests from parents, teachers and sometimes principals, and then asking questions and making phone calls to get matters resolved.
"When a constituent calls with a problem, he's got the attitude, 'Why don't you take care of it?'" said Betty Ann Kane, a D.C. City Council member who served on the school board for four years.
"People expect a lot of their elected officials," Kane said. "I know I couldn't do the job that people expected me to do without staff."
Lockbridge and other school board members also say comparisons of the city board and suburbs' staffs are not valid because of the city's special status as both a local and state government.
"The board doesn't have a large staff compared to what it has to do," said Warren, who is chairman of the finance committee. "The city is different. Washington is large. It's minority. It's disadvantaged. It's diverse. The city is political and the board is the first political thing we had, and we're just coming out of a post-colonial period."
The contrasts between the District of Columbia board and its counterparts in Washington's suburbs are great.
The suburban board with the largest staff is Montgomery County, with a total of six: four clerical positions and two professionals.
Its budget, the largest in the area after D.C., was $249,166 this year -- about 22 percent of what the District of Columbia school board is spending even though Montgomery County's school enrollment of 101,698 is just 4 percent less than Washington's.
The salaries of Montgomery County's board of seven elected members also are the highest in the area of the District of Columbia. At $7,200 a year, they are just 40 percent of Washington's $18,725 annual salary.
In Prince George's County, the elected school board was responsible this year for 127,222 students, compared with 105,362 in the District of Columbia. The cost of the Prince Goerge's board and staff this year was $177,083, compared with $1,114,065 for D.C.
Prince George's board president Jo Ann T. Bell said board members have one desk to use at school headquarters. She said she does most board business at home, often talking on the telephone to administrators or constituents while sorting laundry or cooking meals.
Bell is paid a salary of $7,000 a year plus up to $4,000 in expenses, some of which, she said, she pays to neighbors for typing and filing.
There also is an attorney on retainer, who advises the Prince George's school board and the rest of the school system. Otherwise, the board handles all its business by relying on the superintendent and his staff -- the traditional pattern in American school systems.
"We probably don't have enough assistants," Bell said, "and every year we think about adding some. But when it comes time for the budget, we say: Do you add this personnel for your services or do you put it (the money) in the classroom? And of course you put it in the classroom."
As Lockridge has noted, Washington's school board functions as both a city and state board of education. It has the powers that state boards usually have and also receives U.S. aid on the same basis as the 50 states.
Even though they have considerable power, state school boards generally are far less active than those in big school systems. Most function almost completely through their superintendents. Indeed, the state boards in both Maryland and Virginia have no independent staffs. Each makes part-time use of one secretary and one administrator, who are on the superintendent's staff.
A decade ago the staff of Washington's school board was relatively small.
"We had about eight clerks and secretaries and one [professional] assistant, and we made out okay," said Anita F. Allen, who was a member of the District of Columbia's first elected school board and board president in 1970 and 1971.
"There was no salary and reimbursement for expenses up to $1,200," Allen said. "There were long volunteer hours, but I think it's better that way. We counted on the [school] administration and a few consultants, and if we didn't like something, we sent it back."
Allen was defeated by Barry, who served as school board president until 1974 and started the major growth of the board's staff.
Keeping track of what the D.C. school board costs has been difficult because the money comes from four different budget accounts, which officials said had not been summarized until March.
For the current fiscal year, the board is getting $382,389 in a specific appropriation in the regular city budget, which is approved by the City Council and Congress. It also draws $613,888 from three federal aid programs -- impact aid, indirect costs, and aid to state education departments, all of which could be used for other school functions, according to federal officials.
In addition, school system budget director Shelton Lee said the board is using an estimated $117,788 from other parts of its regular budget -- $25,000 for postage, $12,388 for overtime and $80,400 for photocopying, including thousands of copies of newsletters for constituents and lengthy statements by board member Frank Shaffer-Corona about U.S. foreign policy and his travels to Cuba and Lebanon.
To make major cuts in the school budget, as required by the mayor and City Council, the board decided last month to cut about 700 teaching jobs next fall -- a figure that may grow to about 800. The board also voted to limit its spending on board operations from the regular budget to $377,889.
This is a drop of just $4,500 from current spending but it is $75,000 less than previously planned because of scheduled salary increases. The board has not decided yet how to make the reduction.
"At this time of budget cuts, we should cut our own staff, too," said member Linda Cropp. "It's a question of whether we can have all the luxuries we had in the past."