Should we pay a school board member for doing a TV interview?
On March 21, the Argus Leader published a story I wrote about a proposed change in Sioux Falls School District policy concerning searches of teacher’s personal property. Teachers were upset with the policy, and they eventually got their way.
After our story ran, KELO-TV did its own story on the same subject. Katie Janssen spoke with the union president and with Debbie Hoffman, one of two school board members who serve on the policy review committee.
For that TV interview, Hoffman later submitted a claim to the school district’s business office for $75. During the April 25 board meeting, the rest of the board approved that claim.
I’d never seen that before. An elected official was paid for participating in a TV interview. She was paid not by the TV station, which is another matter altogether, but by the tax-supported governing body on which she serves. In other words, us.
I’d have written a story about it, but it turns out our Brenda Wade-Schmidt basically did the same story for the newspaper in 2003. She wrote:
“Sioux Falls School Board members get paid for reading to elementary school children, attending Chamber of Commerce events, doing newspaper and television interviews, and handing out diplomas.
Last year, the five members earned $31,680, ranking them among the highest paid school boards in the state.
They earned payments for attending dozens of meetings. But they also were paid for activities such as attending a press conference with Gov. Bill Janklow, taping a program for the district’s OWL-TV station and lobbying legislators in Pierre, an Argus Leader analysis of district pay records shows.
That story did not lead to a change in district policy - or perhaps more to the point, state law - although I’ve noticed it’s fairly rare for board members today to submit claims for payment.
The statutory language that allowed Hoffman to get paid is as follows: The per diem may be paid for each meeting actually attended by such member and also for each day a member was actually engaged in the service of the board when authorized by the board.
If it weren’t for KELO, Hoffman would not have been “engaged in the service of the board” on that Monday.