It's probably never a perfect, or even good, time to ask for a raise, but the subject recently brought up by School Board member at large John Licata is worth discussing.
Licata, as reported in News education reporter Mary Pasciak's "School Zone" blog, waded into the topic during a joint meeting of the Common Council and School Board.
"Asking for money is one of those taboo subjects," he said. "Culturally, it's difficult to turn to somebody and ask for a raise."
School Board members haven't had an increase in salary from the current $5,000 since 1974, when the post became an elective office. While a raise may be in order, certainly the $20,000 Licata would like to see is not.
Buffalo School Board pay is set by City Charter.
It's true that almost none of the nearly 700 suburban school boards in the state pay their members. Of the state's Big Five cities, three pay school board members. Rochester, with a school district roughly the same size as Buffalo's, pays board members $23,000 and the board president $30,000. The city several years ago tied board pay to 75 percent of that received by the city council.
Syracuse, as Pasciak reported, is about two-thirds the size of Buffalo, with board members making $7,500 plus district-provided health benefits. Yonkers School Board members are unpaid; New York City doesn't use a board of education system.
There are good reasons a raise should be considered for Buffalo School Board members.
The nine School Board members put in long hours grappling with a public school system weighed down by poverty. Beyond the issue of fairness is the hope that the higher pay would help ensure the best possible candidates for the difficult job.
Still, the proposal will frustrate those who see it as the ultimate in tone deafness. The district is facing a big budget gap, and teachers, whose contract expired in 2004, have received step increases but no official raise since then. And, of course, the board hasn't exactly wowed the city with its leadership.
Licata is right – it's a difficult time to ask for a raise. But it's time to at least begin the discussion with an eye toward increasing the compensation for a difficult job.