Buffalo School Board members are looking for a raise.
Board President Barbara Seals Nevergold has submitted a brief letter to the Common Council asking that it consider increasing the $5,000 annual stipend that each board member receives.
Nevergold, who could not be reached to comment Monday, is not the first to recommend that board members receive raises, nor did she specify how much of an increase board members should receive.
The formal request to the Council does, however, jump-start the process for considering some sort of raise for the school district’s nine-member governing body.
Monday, the Council agreed to send Nevergold’s request on to the mayor, the city comptroller and the Council president for their review.
University Council Member Bonnie E. Russell said that the lawmakers’ action was not meant to be an endorsement of the School Board’s request but that Council action was necessary to begin the process of reviewing whether a raise is warranted.
The letter would require establishing a Citizens Salary Review Commission, which would be appointed by the Council president, the mayor and the city comptroller.
The last time such a commission convened, major salary increases were given to the city mayor, Council members and other top city officials, bringing the salaries of Council members up to $52,000 a year – a 24 percent increase – but the raise recommendations excluded School Board members.
The nine School Board members have earned the same $5,000 stipend since the board was established as an independent voting body in the mid-1970s, said board member John B. Licata, who has previously called for board raises.
The City Charter called for a new commission to convene in 2001, to review salaries of all elected officials, including the School Board, and for successive reviews every two years.
But that never happened, said Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, of the Masten District, to whom Nevergold addressed her letter.
Nevergold mentioned the raise request in passing during the School Board’s Executive Affairs Committee meeting last week. Board members seemed in general agreement and did not discuss the matter further as a committee.
Both Licata and board member Jason M. McCarthy said they believe that raising the salaries of board members might attract more candidates for the position.
“I think you can always come up with reasons not to provide a raise for public officials,” Licata said. “I think what we should really look at is, an election is coming up, and in recognizing the importance of the position, we can attract more people to run for office.” A raise would also recognize the hard work and devotion of board members who serve in the challenged school district, he said.
Three at-large board seats, including those of Nevergold, Licata and Florence D. Johnson, are up for election in May.
McCarthy said he hasn’t decided whether to support raises for board members but is sympathetic to Nevergold’s request. He said he has spent 20 hours a week on board-related work.
“I think you could really raise the quality of candidate if you raised the sum,” he said of the elections in May. “For the size of the district we are, it would really make sense.”
Buffalo board members do not earn as much as some of their other upstate counterparts. Those in Syracuse receive $7,500 each, while those in Rochester get $23,000 apiece
But while those in Buffalo make only $5,000, McCarthy said they also receive travel budgets of up to an additional $5,000 each and have $20,000 a year earmarked for their meals, brought in for weekly board and committee meetings.
Board member Carl P. Paladino, however, said he won’t support any raises.
“At a time when they’re talking about a $35 million deficit, and next year a $45 million budget deficit, it takes a lot to ask for that. I think the timing is terrible,” he said. “It’s public service. You don’t want to do it? Hit the streets. Go someplace else.”