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Editorial: Increase School Board stipends in exchange for moving election

There could be a germ of a good idea in the proposal to raise the stipends of Buffalo School Board members. There is no doubt they do more than $5,000 worth of work each year (though, it’s fair to say, so do members of other school boards, whose work is unpaid).

The question is, will increased pay on its own produce a greater field of qualified candidates for school board positions? It’s certainly not uncommon for the public sector to have to increase pay scales to attract top-flight prospects who could otherwise make more money in the private sector.

Yet there are a couple of reasons to be doubtful. First of all, the stipend would have to be raised tenfold or more to attract any professional who wanted to create a living income from what is challenging, frustrating work. It’s doubtful that an increase to $10,000 or even $20,000 would interest any candidates beyond those who are already willing to devote the time to public education in Buffalo.

The other problem is that the Buffalo Teachers Federation has already shown great skill in ensuring that the candidates they support are elected to the board. It’s likely that an increased stipend would simply pay more public money to the union’s favored candidates.

The compromise here is to provide some increase in the stipend in exchange for a change in the date of the election. Together, the two strategies might draw a greater number of candidates, in part by increasing voter turnout for the school board election.

That vote is now held on a Tuesday in May – this year on May 7, when all nine seats will be up for election. If the date wasn’t actually designed to depress voter turnout, it has the effect, anyway. Americans are used to voting in November and, while turnout can be low even then, it offers the best chance of drawing voters’ interest.

But holding the election in May gives the BTF an unwarranted advantage. Those with the biggest stakes in the outcome – such as the BTF – have the biggest motivation to turn out their voters. Other voters may pass – if they’re even aware of the election. Teachers surely deserve a seat at the table, but a more competitive election would serve the public by better balancing the interests of parents, teachers, taxpayers and students.

Increased turnout could also boost the number and quality of residents interested in seeking election. The reason: Those candidates would perceive a better chance of winning than they do when turnout is low and disproportionately favors the union. In that context, increased pay might also act as an additional incentive to run.

Beyond that, though, there is little reason to increase the pay of Buffalo School Board members. It would be unlikely to change the dynamics of who runs and who wins and, without that, what would be the point?

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