The Horry County School Board must wait at least 21 days for a final vote to make itself the highest-paid school board in South Carolina and, if it passes as it did this Monday, future raises will be linked to county council’s pay.
The proposed amendment to the board’s governance policy would increase board members’ pay 66 percent from $9,600 annually to $15,966 per year with the board chair making $19,159.20. On Monday, it passed 7-3 with only Chris Hardwick of District 9, Ray Winters of District 3 and vice chairman Neil James of District 10 voting against the measure. John Poston of District 8 was not present, and the board chair only votes to break a tie.
It stirs up emotions in people that makes them question our motives for running for the school board.
David Cox, District 4
“In the past the board did not want to vote on their own raises and by doing this, it links us to those who serve the same constituents,” said board chairman Joe DeFeo.
The South Carolina state legislature in 1999 passed a law giving the school board control of its own pay, and DeFeo has said that board members work just as hard as county council.
The 1999 law requires two readings of any proposed raise. DeFeo said he didn’t know when the next vote would be, but that it would not occur before March 6.
“We don’t like voting on our own pay raise because in the private sector, that’s not a normal mode of operation,” said David Cox of District 4, who proposed the amendment. “It stirs up emotions in people that makes them question our motives for running for the school board.”
In the past the board did not want to vote on their own raises and by doing this, it links us to those who serve the same constituents.
Board chairman Joe DeFeo
Cox said the school board deserves a raise because it’s become more involved in decision-making since 2007, with standing committees chaired by and comprised of board members.
“It was just a feeling among the board members that the job that we do very much parallels county council because we serve the same constituents,” DeFeo said. “Therefore, some board members did not feel that the pay should be different.”
How much do board members work?
Board member duties include being familiar with board governance policy, reading board packets before meetings, going to school board and committee meetings, touring schools, meeting with parents and communicating with constituents in their districts.
DeFeo said he works between 10 and 30 hours a week, which is around $36.84 per hour at 10 hours and $12.28 for 30-hour weeks.
Holly Heniford of District 1, James, Poston, Winters and Cox all reported between 10 and 15 hours of board work per week, with some busy weeks requiring more time.
Their pay would be $30.70 per hour during 10-hour weeks and $20.47 per hour for 15-hour weeks.
“It varies,” said Heniford, who voted in favor of the amendment. “This week it’s heavy. Yesterday I was at the high school for three and a half hours. But it’s intermittent. When it’s intermittent, it interrupts your day. I thoroughly enjoy the work. The pay for me is because I’m self-employed.”
Heniford, a real estate agent, said she’s passionate about being a board member, but missing a call during a meeting could mean losing income.
“I don’t want to have to worry if I miss a couple sales because of work that I don’t get enough money to pay for my cellphone bill per month,” she said.
Hardwick, of District 9, voted against the measure during the first vote and said he spends about 20 hours a week on board-related activity, although some of those hours are spent “playing catch-up” and becoming familiar with board governance policy.
Who has the power?
The proposed amendment states:
“Each board member shall receive as annual compensation for his or her services, the sum equal to the compensation or salary of Horry County Council members except for the board chair, whose compensation will continue to be 20 percent greater than the board members, provided by local legislation.”
Under the amendment, school board pay would increase or decrease with county council pay and board members would no longer have the authority to change their own salary without first amending their board governance policy.
I think it’s their own responsibility, as they’re their own taxing authority and they have their own budget, so that’s what they need to watch after.
Mark Lazarus, Horry County Council chairman
State Sen. Greg Hembree, who serves on the senate education oversight committee, said he has never heard of a school board tying its pay to another government entity and that it “creates all sorts of questions.”
“I can’t tell you the legality of it,” he said. “I don’t know if you can give your authority to someone else. I don’t know if they have the ability to divest themselves of their authority to county council.”
DeFeo said that under the amendment board members would still take ownership of their pay even if county council votes for a salary increase.
“The board can change board governance and say ‘I don’t want the raise,’ ” he said.
Horry County Council Chairman Mark Lazarus said that county council isn’t responsible for school board pay.
“I think it’s their own responsibility, as they’re their own taxing authority and they have their own budget, so that’s what they need to watch after,” said Lazarus, adding that he doesn’t foresee any council pay raise in the near future.
How we compare
DeFeo has previously said he made 20 percent more than the rest of the school board, although his $13,440 annual salary actually was 40 percent more than the board’s $9,600 pay. DeFeo said that particular language will stay in the amendment and his pay now will be 20 percent more than each board members’ pay.
“That’s what I always thought I made,” he said. “Unfortunately with direct deposit, I don’t really pay attention.”
According to the most recent salary survey conducted in 2010 by the National School Board Association, 62 percent of boards received no salary, 14 percent received $5,000 or more per year and 2 percent received $15,000 or more.
Horry County school board members earned $9,600 per year at the time of the survey.
Hembree said he’s conflicted about the board’s pay increase.
“It’s very complex,” he said. “It takes a tremendous amount of time. I have such appreciation for someone who would be on a local school board.
“On the other side, you know you’re not getting into it for the money,” he said. “You’re getting into it for public service. They knew what they were getting into when they signed up.”
Board members Shanda Allen, Pam Timms, Janice Morreale, Janet Graham and Sherrie Todd could not be reached for comment.
Christian Boschult, 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian