Every member of the Broward School Board is a woman. Credit: Broward County Public Schools website.
The fight over who controls schools during the COVID-19 pandemic could result in docking the pay of constitutionally elected officials on local school boards — most of whom are women.
All nine members of the Broward County School Board, for example, are female — and eight of the nine voted recently to mandate masks at public schools, moving against the DeSantis administration and facing loss in pay for board duties. (It’s not clear if the member voting against masks will be docked.)
In Alachua County based in Gainsville, the school board has a female majority — three women and two men. That district also faces loss of pay after voting for a mask mandate. Families could opt out of masking for medical reasons.
The Broward and Alachua boards are the first to face salary cuts, but there could be cuts for a half dozen more districts. Those other boards all have female majorities, and five boards have just one man at the table at school board meetings.
The potential salary cuts are similar to a debate in the spring Legislature, when legislation on cutting the salaries of school board members raised questions about sexism. The bill removed the language on salary cuts.
Two districts have already received an order from the Florida Department of Education instructing them to comply or risk their annual salaries. At issue are state rules, laws, and an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis that prohibit school districts from infringing on the rights of parents to direct the upbringing and health care of their child, including allowing parents to opt-out of mask mandates without a particular reason.
But some districts wanted to impose a mask mandate, allowing families to opt-out only for medical reasons to help combat a surge of COVID cases in Florida. At issue is the clash between the power of local schools boards under the Florida Constitution and the executive branch of government, pushed by DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
“Our Constitution gives the school board members local authority to make decisions,” said League of Women Voters of Florida President Cecile Scoon. “That was intentional. That is written in black and white, and for the Governor to step out of his lane and to circumscribe what the local authorities — the constitutional authority that they have — is concerning, and it’s being challenged in the courts.”
Scoon added: “Generally speaking, occupations that are dominated by women are treated differently,” Scoon told the Phoenix. “Would this have happened if it were men? I don’t know the answer to that…I can only speak to historical reference points that are understood and known — that women’s work across the nation has not been valued as much as men.”
A state order from the Department of Education is directed to withhold funds from the districts on a monthly basis “equal to 1/12 of the total annual compensation of the school board as an initial step.” The order includes the names of the board members who voted for the mask mandates and excludes those who didn’t.
There are eight women on the list from Broward, and two women from Alachua. Another two males are on the Alachua list.
According to data from Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research, as of September 2020 (the data haven’t been updated yet for the new school year), Alachua’s school board members are each paid $40,287 a year.
Broward’s nine school board members were paid $46,773, according to the September data.
The other half dozen districts may receive similar threats of withholding the pay of the board members. Communications with the Hillsborough and Miami-Dade school districts indicate that they have not yet received a response from the Florida Board of Education on their mask mandate.
If the state board decides to treat these other districts as they have Alachua and Broward, here’s what could be on the line for school board members who implement a mask mandate that does not comply with state policy and rules, according to 2020 data from the Florida EDR:
/Hillsborough School board salary (six women, one man): $46,773
/Miami-Dade (eight women, one man): $46,773
/Palm Beach (six women, one man): $46,773
/Sarasota (four women, one man): $43,043
/Leon (four women, one man): $40,856
/Duval (five women, two men): $46,582
Outside of the salary concerns for local boards, the state Board of Education has floated completely removing officials from school boards.
Outside of the gender make-up of school boards, Scoon said there are possible legal questions about removing the salaries of constitutionally elected officials, and called it a “Draconian move, and one that is rarely seen.”
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