Sunday, April 24, 2016

The City Council Needs Help; What about the School Board?

From Erica C. Barnett (of C is for Crank):

Tomorrow, the city council plans to fund nine new legislative assistants, one for each council member, bringing the total number of legislative assistant salaries for each office to four. (Council members can divide up those salaries however they want, for example by hiring multiple part-time aides, but council members' budgets will increase to add the new full-time equivalent position.) 

The reason for the change, according to a staff report, is that council members have more work to do now that they represent districts, instead of the entire city. (This is the first council under the new system, in which seven council members represent geographic districts, and two are elected at large). 

"The additional staff support provided by the new positions in this ordinance will be used to address the increased workload resulting from this switch to district elections," the staff report says.
The legislation doesn't identify how much money it will cost to hire nine new aides; that will be addressed in the budget process this fall. A quick back-of-the-napkin tally, based on current legislative assistant compensation and benefits (say, $70,000 each plus $35,000 each for benefits), puts the cost of these new positions at roughly a million dollars. 

 The council will discuss this proposal in its meeting on Monday, where I think they should consider two important questions. First, since district representatives serve a fraction of the population each council member served when all nine seats were elected at large, what justification is there for bumping up staff sizes by a third? Why does representing one-seventh of the population require a larger staff than representing the entire city? 

And second, if the point of adding money in the budget for nine new legislative staffers is to deal with the increased workload under the district system, why do the two at-large positions, currently filled by Lorena González and Tim Burgess, also require additional staffers? Why would the people who don't even represent districts need more staff to deal with districts?

The council will take up the proposal at its full council meeting on Monday at 2pm.

Now the School Board is not the City Council.  While they are just seven people overseeing an urban district of about 53,000, the City Council is a group of nine people overseeing a city of about 652,000.   So the Board oversees a little less than  10% of what the City Council does.  Both groups have wide-ranging responsibilities like HR, facilities, transportation and creating a vision for what they oversee and enacting that vision,etc.

Both groups are elected and have constituencies (although the Board oddly has both a region and a city-wide focus while we voted for most of the Council to be representing a single district.) 

The Board could, if they wanted to, agitate for more money for their work. Currently they have an office administrator and board office manager.  Neither role entails any kind of research for Board members.  The City Council doesn't have one direct e-mail as the Board does so while Board members get a bit of relief via one central Board e-mail, that also means they have double the e-mails to deal with, mostly by themselves.

City Council members have the second-highest pay of city council members in the country (almost $120,000) while the Board gets a small stipend that probably doesn't even pay for all the gas they use in a year.  The Council members have pretty nice offices in a spiffy building downtown while the Board has an office for staff but not for themselves in an stripped-down building south of the stadiums.  (Anyone who calls it the "glass palace" has not really been in the building.) 

I also want to put out there that because the Board doesn't really get paid, I sense - from talking to a various of other elected officials - that they are considered lesser because of the lack of pay.  (I myself have often felt this - that somehow not making money off this blog makes me a lesser advocate than someone who works for an education group.) 

I had one elected official tell me he was "agnostic" on the issue of the Mayor wanting to appoint some of the Board.  I was quite surprised at that statement and wondered to myself he would feel if the legislature thought that the Governor should appoint some of the City Council members. 

I'm comparing the two elected offices but I'm not saying they truly compare.  A city is not a district.  I'm just thinking about how much a small salary and a couple of aides for research/community meetings would help our Board do its oversight duties.  


Watching said...

We have a pro-active board, and I hope this board sets-up a structure to provide themselves with staff. The staff would answer to the board- only.

Perhaps this could be part of the budget process.

Greg said...

An independent auditor to help the board wouldn't be a bad idea either.

The Board is supposed to serve as a check on administration, especially on the budget, by asking the right questions and making sure money is well spent. They could use advice to be able to do that properly.

Anonymous said...

Since 2011, the Office of Internal Audit reports directly to the board, specifically so that the district staff have no control over the auditor.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Irene's right and I think the auditor does a good job. In this case, the Board is his boss.

Greg said...

The Office of Internal Audit reporting directly to the board is a great change. Thanks for letting me know. I hope that is having a positive impact on the Board's ability to question and improve the budget.