Denver school board votes to increase pay to $33,000 a year for new members

Three school board members sit at a dais during a meeting. The backs of the audience’s heads are visible.
Denver school board member Carrie Olson, center, speaks as board member Scott Baldermann, left, and board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson, right, listen during a meeting in April. (AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)

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Three newly elected Denver school board members will be eligible for $33,000 in pay per year, after the current board voted 6-1 Thursday to quadruple members’ compensation.

Board members said they hoped the higher pay would attract more diverse candidates to run for school board. Denver Public Schools is the largest district in the state, and board members have compared serving to a full-time job that was, until recently, unpaid.

“We owe it to our students to ensure that we remove barriers that prevent a school board that looks like and reflects them,” board member Scott Esserman said.

Board President Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán was the sole no vote. She said she couldn’t justify increasing pay for board members when that money could be spent in classrooms. Her son’s high school only has one Spanish teacher who is stretched thin, she said, and the school recently cut a jazz band elective that her son enjoyed due to a lack of funding.

“These funds could be redirected to address critical needs in southwest Denver schools,” Gaytán said, referencing the region of the city she represents.

Incoming board members John Youngquist, Marlene De La Rosa, and Kimberlee Sia, who were elected Nov. 7 and are set to be sworn in Nov. 28, will be able to invoice Denver Public Schools for up to $150 a day, five days per week, which is the maximum allowable under state law.

The board doesn’t meet in July, so members are paid 11 months of the year, hence the $33,000 in annual pay. The board previously voted in 2021 to pay members up to $150 a day, five days a month. That’s $8,250 per year, with public employee retirement benefits on top of that.

The other four members on the seven-member board are not eligible for the higher pay. State law doesn’t allow sitting board members to raise their own compensation.

District records show that only three board members — Esserman, Gaytán, and Michelle Quattlebaum — were paid in the last fiscal year. Carrie Olson did not collect any money.

At least two other Colorado school boards, in Aurora and Sheridan, have voted to pay their members, though their members’ compensation is much lower than in Denver.

Melanie Asmar is a senior reporter for Chalkbeat Colorado, covering Denver Public Schools. Contact Melanie at masmar@chalkbeat.org.

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