Would getting rid of FL school board member salaries be sexist, targeting female elected officials?

By: - April 7, 2021 7:00 am

School entrance sign. Photo, CD Davidson-Hiers

In Orange County Public Schools, the eight-member school board is all female.

Likewise, the nine-member school board in Broward County has all women.

And in Miami-Dade schools, the school board has nine members. Eight are women. One is a man.

Those samples, gleaned from school district websites, illustrate the gender makeup of Florida school boards.

And now, a state lawmaker is pushing legislation that proposes a Constitutional amendment to prohibit compensation for school board members, even though legislators, county commissioners and other elected officials wouldn’t be targeted.

They’d get their salaries. But school board members wouldn’t, potentially a way of undervaluing work performed in female-associated careers such as education.

(The prohibition on compensation would be for newly elected members of a district school board elected on or after Nov. 8, 2022, according to the legislation, and board members reelected on or after that same date, with at least eight years of service after Nov. 8, 2022.)

And that brings a larger conversation into the picture. By prohibiting salaries of school board members only, the legislation could be seen at best unfair and worse, discriminatory, given that women often sit on school boards more than their male counterparts.

And overall, staff of school districts in Florida is more than 75 percent female, according to Florida Department of Education statistics from 2019-20. The staff data includes administrative, instructional, and support staff.

Wendy Dodge, director of legislative affairs and policy for Polk County Public Schools, heard about a proposed bill in the 2021 legislative session that would prohibit pay for Florida school board members. She ran some numbers, focusing on the gender makeup of salaried elected officials.

In her own county, the seven-member Polk County school board has five women and two men.

In her review, Dodge found that “in terms of elected officials in the state of Florida, there is a gender gap.”

Positions such as Florida representatives, senators, and county commissioners have a higher majority of men than women, she found. And school boards are the only group of constitutionally elected officials that have a majority of women.

Dodge presented her findings last Thursday at a House subcommittee meeting.

“The House of Representatives is 67 percent men, and 33 percent women; the state Senate is 63 percent men and 37 percent women. The (Governor and) state Cabinet is where we come closest to parity: 50 percent each, men and women. Our county commissioners are 76 percent men and 24 percent women,” Dodge said.

“However, when it comes to our elected school board members, the numbers are completely opposite. Florida school board members are 64 percent women and only 36 percent men.”

The Phoenix found even higher numbers from a sampling of some of Florida’s largest school districts.

For example, in Hillsborough public schools, the seven-member board has six females and one male.

In Palm Beach schools, the seven-member board has six females and one male. In Duval County schools, the seven-member school board has five female and two males.

The legislation would only prohibit the compensation of school board members — not county commissioners, senators, or representatives, all of which are currently paid a salary for their duties.

The bill has a ways to go. Because it would be an amendment to the Florida Constitution, Floridians would have to vote for the measure on the 2022 ballot.

As of now, most state senators and representatives have a salary of $29,697, according to the House and Senate websites.

On the other hand, a county commissioner’s salary will vary by county and can range from just under $27,000 to about $105,00, according to a report from the Office of Economics & Demographic Research for 2020-21.

That same report shows that the salary of Florida school board members can range from about $26,700 to $47,000, based on which district they serve.

The Florida School Boards Association also noted concern about the gender demographics. Andrea Messina, at the FSBA, says that school board members can devote a significant part of the week to their responsibilities and duties, saying that most members spend “more than 20 hours a week” doing so.

“We have great concern that without a salary, many of those women would not be able to serve in that capacity, and it would make that position less balanced, gender-wise,” she told the Phoenix.

Bill sponsor, Rep. Sam Garrison, a Republican who represents part of Clay County in northeast Florida, doesn’t think the change would inherently diminish gender diversity among school boards. Instead, he sees the legislation as a way to help remove “political squabbling” out of a “non-partisan” and “limited-oversight” position.

He told the Phoenix that those are the reasons why salaries of school board members are targeted in this bill, and not other positions such as county commissioners, senators, or representatives.

Garrison thinks that the money going toward school board member salaries could be better used for paying superintendents and principals.

“From my experience, (principals and superintendents) are the folks who have direct responsibility and accountability for ensuring that our schools are performing to their highest level,” Garrison said.

“Women have always faced this issue of the gender pay gap, not being paid what we’re worth, not being paid as much as men,” said Dodge, of Polk schools, who spoke to the Phoenix.

The pay gap that Dodge references is the difference between male and female median earnings. According to a 2018 report from the American Association of University Women, full-time working women made 80 percent of what men made in the year 2017.

The AAUW notes that there are many complicated factors that contribute to the gender wage gap, from job choice to unpaid maternity leave.

The report adds: “Even though a pay gap exists within nearly every occupational field, jobs traditionally associated with men tend to pay better than traditionally female-dominated jobs that require the same level of skill.”

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.