The Shoreline Unified School District’s board meeting on July 16 was a disappointment. For over a year the subject of ending school trustee health care benefits has been discussed at meetings, sometimes as agenda items and sometimes through public comment. I attend these meetings regularly, more so than some school board members, and I am tired of the foot dragging and poor excuses for keeping lavish health benefits for volunteers who, by the sloppy appearance of their policies and bylaws, don’t do their jobs to the fullest.
Just four of the seven board members were present at this month’s meeting, where the issue was hashed out again, this time to discuss correcting an error the board made when it unwittingly passed bylaws in April 2014 that expanded trustee health benefits to also cover family members. The plan is to fix this mistake at the August meeting, but I urge the board to go the extra step and do the right thing by ending health benefits for incoming board members starting with the election this November.
Shoreline’s benefits are an anomaly in Marin County. Over half of the 15 districts in the county do not offer health benefits at all. Only 20 percent of trustees (16 out of 77) accept benefits when they are offered. For many years, five out of seven of Shoreline trustees have received benefits. But in January of this year, Jill Manning and Monique Moretti joined Jim Lino and Tim Kehoe in giving up their benefits voluntarily. Ms. Manning, the board president, said at July’s meeting that the cross-county statistics don’t apply to Shoreline because it is such a unique district. The most unique aspect of the district is that it was the only one last year whose budget was not approved by the Marin County Office of Education. A year of budget cuts followed this lack-of-confidence vote by the county, but the leadership for these difficult decisions came from the staff and the community, not the board.
Trustee Jane Healy has been the greatest lamenter of the proposed cuts to board benefits. At the recent meeting she cried again that she could not afford to be on the board without the compensation, yet trustees have said more than once that budget decisions must be made not on the basis of the needs of an individual, but on the basis of what is best for the students: cuts will be made that least affect students. This was certainly the argument for halving the groundskeeper’s hours at the same meeting (affecting a man with two disabled children).
Ms. Manning declared that comparing the board benefit decision to staffing cuts was like comparing apples to oranges. I disagree. It is simply a matter of dollar and cents—and common sense. A budget is nothing more than a presentation of a plan for the year in numbers; it reflects the same values and prioritization of a strategic plan. (The district’s written plan, by the way, is outdated by over a year.) Clearly, the board’s actions and inaction define their priorities. The June meeting showed a deep cut in the reading intervention staffing. The July meeting showed a cut in the hours of a staff person who helps maintain the physical safety and upkeep of two campuses. These priorities are out of alignment with the competent administration of a school district.
In fairness, some trustees have shown leadership around the issue of board benefits. Ms. Moretti was the first to give up her benefits, and she asked her colleagues to do the same. Mr. Kehoe, near the end of the July meeting suggested a vote on ending benefits at the next meeting. Interim Superintendent Nancy Neu concurred that keeping board benefits during a time of austerity makes a bad impression.
It’s high time for the more reasonable board members to stand up for what is best for the district and not protect the privilege of their own members. Such an action, although belated, would be a start for re-building trust and re-establishing the integrity of the leadership our district. Our students deserve nothing less.
Donna Faure is a West Marin School parent with 20 years of experience in nonprofit administration.