Mónica Ratliff learned the hard way: in Los Angeles, there's no such thing as a "part-time" school board member.
Halfway through her four years on the L.A. Unified School Board, Ratliff took a part-time teaching job in another district. She said the job didn't pay enough on its own — about $45,000 annually for anyone without outside income; about $26,000 for "part-time" board members with other jobs.
"I thought, well, people will understand. 'She's a school board member who's a teacher,'" Ratliff said Monday during testimony before a committee exploring whether to raise L.A. Unified board members' salaries.
"And I'm telling you," Ratliff added, "people still didn't like that … You get emails all the time, in the middle of the night, and people expect you to respond. And the excuse, 'I'm sorry, but I'm a part-time school board member' — nobody wants to hear that."
Ratliff said her performance as board member suffered. She couldn't visit campuses or observe classrooms during the normal school day. Staff members had to step in and take meetings she felt she should be attending.
"I don't think I did as good a job, in a way," said Ratliff, "the second half as I did in the first half" — when she was a "full-time" board member. Her term on the L.A. Unified board ended last month.
It appears Ratliff will be part of the last class of L.A. Unified board members to face this trade-off.
On Monday, members of the appointed "Board of Education Compensation Review Committee" approved a salary increase that, once finalized, will make L.A. Unified board members among the best-compensated local elected officials in California.
As early as September, the annual base salary for full-time board members will increase to $125,000, a 174 percent increase. Board members who earn a salary or honorarium elsewhere will make $50,000.
In education terms, the move means board members' salaries will jump from just under the minimum salary for an L.A. Unified teacher — a little more than $50,000 — to a level befitting a fairly experienced principal in the district.
The increase also means L.A. Unified board members will soon command an annual salary higher than any California state lawmaker — including the Assembly Speaker and Senate President Pro Tempore ($119,734 each), according to figures compiled for the committee.
L.A. Unified board members will make more than city council members in San Francisco ($122,000 per year), San Jose ($92,000), Oakland ($85,000) or San Diego ($75,000).
But they won't earn quite as much as Los Angeles City Council member or L.A. Superior Court judges, whose salaries last year were set at $191,616.
Even before the raise, L.A. Unified paid its board members more than any other California school district. Corona-Norco Unified in Riverside County came the closest, paying board members around $27,000 annually, according to a State Controller's office database.
The Long Beach, San Diego and Fresno school districts pay board members around $18,000 a year each, on average. One board member in the William S. Hart Union High School District, anchored in Santa Clarita, earned $50,000 in 2015, according to the Controller.
While board members George McKenna, Richard Vladovic and Scott Schmerelson are all retired, several of their colleagues have had to seek outside employment.
Mónica Garcia works on a modified schedule in the L.A. County Probation Department. The board's new president, Ref Rodriguez, has worked as an adjunct college professor.
The increase also cures an oddity in L.A. Unified board offices: the board members will no longer make half of what their chiefs of staff earn. The top staff members in board members' offices earn salaries as high as $118,000 a year.