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For school trustees, stipends are reasonable but health insurance is over the line

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Posted: Saturday, September 22, 2012 12:00 am

Reporter Jennifer Bonnett's exploration this past Saturday and Tuesday of school trustee compensation allowed readers to peer into a murky cauldron — school board health benefits.

We can't claim to have completely deciphered the recipe for this secret sauce, but the smell of it has us holding our noses.

Bonnett's research found that stipends, the cash compensation that many trustees receive, are modest and well-regulated by state law. And stipends, which are widely reported, are often under state maximums. They range from nothing at small districts (Arcohe, Oak View and Galt High School) to nearly $690 per trustee per month at Elk Grove Unified, one of the biggest in the area.

Given the time trustees spend on their duties, this money seems reasonable and deserved in most cases.

There is some variance in the way trustees are compensated for travel to conferences. Mileage reports can be fudged. We hope school staffs scrutinize these.

However, it must be noted that many school trustees turn down the perks of public office. These good souls deserve a taxpayers' badge of honor.

What revolts us is the wide-ranging and expensive use of health insurance benefits.

Some districts cap the amount they give trustees who take this benefit. But others still have a policy of granting health insurance for life. This is an expensive anachronism.

Health benefits for trustees must be balanced against the need for more teachers and classroom supplies. They must take millions of dollars out of California classrooms.

Our attempts to drill precisely into these costs were often met with objections by district officials claiming that disclosure would violate the trustees' privacy protections under federal HIPPA law.

Nonsense.

The public's right to examine school budgets would undoubtedly trump HIPPA if tested in court. Nobody's asking about a school trustee's medical records; we want to know what they're being paid. The districts are one taxpayer's suit away from having to cough this up.

But it shouldn't come to that.

The legislature should use its power to regulate trustee compensation and bring some standardization to how much schools pay towards trustee's doctor bills.

We would suggest a very simple standard: zero.

You shouldn't run for a board of education because you need health insurance.

You should be there to assure that our kids get a good education.

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