Editorial: School board raises would send the wrong message

Editorial: School board raises would send the wrong message

(File photo)

We have heard it time and again in recent months. Times are tough for the city’s coffers.

Officials have projected a $16 million deficit in the budget for the coming fiscal year, while real estate assessments have grown at a snail’s pace. Couple that with city councilors’ desire to improve police compensation and pay for enrollment increases in Alexandria City Public Schools, and it likely will mean other city agencies will be tightening their belts yet again this year.

So to hear elected officials — some members of the Alexandria School Board — say they want to examine providing the next board an increase in their annual stipend from $15,000 to $20,000 is disconcerting.

To the proponents’ credit, their argument for a raise — in a vacuum — is well reasoned. The board hasn’t seen an increase in their stipend in nearly a decade; board members are paid significantly less for their efforts than colleagues in neighboring jurisdictions.

And the stipulations for considering a pay bump are also noble. They wouldn’t give themselves a raise, as any increase would take effect after local elections this fall, and such a measure only would be considered if ACPS staff and teachers receive a raise as well.

But those arguments only pass muster, as we say, in a vacuum. The school board will vote tonight on a budget proposal that already would request an additional $9.2 million from City Hall compared to last year’s appropriation. And although city councilors could vote to increase taxes to help cover the budget gap, lean times are still ahead for other agencies.

School board members should consider the salaries of all city workers, not just local teachers, before considering a raise for their future selves. And they must consider the potential for cuts to critical city services, be they in the recreation department, planning and zoning or senior services, to name but a few.

Approving a stipend increase for elected officials would send the wrong message to city workers, who already struggle to afford to live in the D.C. region, and it would send the wrong message to residents, who may see their tax bills grow, not to mention fees for local services.

We empathize that serving in an elected position can put a strain on one’s finances, from finding babysitters to the need to take time off from a day job to attend functions or focus on certain issues, but you should know what you sign up for when you put your name on the ballot.

And to call those who would think to question raises for elected officials while other budgets are slashed “nutjobs” — as board member Bill Campbell did last week — is both myopic and inappropriate.

A $5,000 raise for nine school board members is a small amount of money compared to the overall city budget — $45,000 compared with more than $600 million — but given the fiscal climate, it can wait.