Denver school board pay could increase to as much as $33,000 per year

A man wearing a button-down shirt gestures to himself while speaking during a school board meeting. His eyes are wide.
Denver Public Schools board Treasurer Scott Esserman, center, speaks during a board retreat in August 2022. (Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post)

More than a year after the Denver school board voted to pay new members up to $750 a month, the board is considering raising the amount significantly. A proposal introduced last week but quickly put on hold would quadruple the stipend to as much as $3,000 a month.

The proposal would allow board members to earn up to $33,000 a year: $150 per day for up to five days a week except in July, when the board doesn’t meet. Only a few other Colorado school boards pay members at all, and none pay members more than a small stipend. 

Board Treasurer Scott Esserman said the resolution was indefinitely postponed Thursday because it wasn’t ready, not because there isn’t support for the idea. He and other board members said they expect the board to revisit the issue as soon as next month. 

The goal of raising pay, board members said, is to make serving easier for community members who otherwise couldn’t afford to miss work or hire a babysitter to attend meetings.

“Currently, the majority of the school board is white, and the majority of students in Denver Public Schools are students of color,” said Vice President Auon’tai Anderson, a longtime proponent of board member pay. “This can help for folks who want to run.”

The resolution appeared on the board’s public agenda after a closed session to receive legal advice related to board member compensation. The resolution doesn’t say who asked for it to be drafted, though several members said they agree it needs to be addressed.

Even if the board passes a resolution this spring, no members would receive the increased rate until after November’s election, district spokesperson Bill Good said. Even then, only the newly elected or re-elected members would be eligible for higher pay, he said. The 2021 state law allowing school board compensation doesn’t allow sitting members to raise their own pay.

The seats held by Anderson and board members Scott Baldermann and Charmaine Lindsay are up for election in November. The winners of those seats would be eligible for the new, higher salary, while the other four board members would not be eligible until 2025.

Several board members said they spend from 10 to 40 hours per week on board duties for no pay. Although four of the seven board members have been eligible for the $750 per month stipend since they were elected in late 2021, none have been paid yet because the district is still developing the process, Good said. Once it has, they will be eligible for backpay, he said.

“As a board member that is eligible for board member compensation, I have yet to receive payment,” said President Xóchitl “Sochi” Gaytán, who was elected in 2021. “However, the DPS administration is in process to ensure that that happens very soon.”

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In addition to three public school board meetings and work sessions each month, Gaytán said board members have several optional work sessions and committee meetings, as well as non-public meetings with district staff to understand data and recommendations. The non-public meetings are informally called “two-on-twos” because only two board members attend at a time. Any meeting with three or more board members must be held in public. 

Board members also regularly visit schools and attend events, such as groundbreaking or graduation ceremonies. They also sometimes attend conferences, community meetings, and forums, and meet with parents and other constituents. Board members don’t have aides so they are responsible for returning their own phone calls and emails. Gaytán said she gets about 200 emails in a typical week and many more if the board is debating a hot topic.

A previous Denver school board, which included current members Anderson, Baldermann, and Carrie Olson, voted in November 2021 to allow stipends of $150 per day for up to five days a month, or a yearly maximum of $9,000. The vote was a compromise. Some former board members didn’t want to approve any pay at all given the district’s financial needs.

“The original resolution to pay board members was more symbolic than anything else,” Esserman said. “If the goal is to eliminate some of the obstacles to having board members who are more representative of our communities and people who can afford to spend the time because at least they’re getting paid something for their labor, there’s a need to increase that.”

Many Colorado elected officials draw salaries, though the amounts vary widely. Denver City Council members are paid $101,167 annually. The city council president makes $113,288.

Under the Denver school board’s current policy, members can only be paid for days when they perform official board duties. Those duties include attending board and committee meetings or “other activities approved in the future by the board or the board’s designee.” 

At least two other school boards in Colorado have voted to pay their members. The tiny Sheridan school district south of Denver was the first in the state to allow compensation in 2021: $150 for a full day of board work or $75 for a half day. 

Polly Plancarte, a district employee who serves as executive secretary for the board, said in an email that Sheridan board members don’t get paid to attend board meetings, only conferences like the annual conference held by the Colorado Association of School Boards. 

All together, the five Sheridan board members were paid a total of $1,650 in 2022, Plancarte said. No board members have been paid this year, she said.

The Aurora Public Schools board voted last year to allow compensation of up to $450 a month: $150 a day up to three days per month. But no Aurora board members have been paid yet. The compensation will kick in for new board members elected this November.

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Correction: This story has been updated with correct salaries for Denver city council members and the city council president.

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

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