Time to pay school board members? (Thinkstock)

Lynne Varner, in her Seattle Times column, argues that the race to fill a vacancy on Seattle's School Board highlights a stark need to pay members.

Everyone should occasionally rethink closely held convictions. In this summer of watching Seattle School Board candidates on the political hustings, here's mine: It is time to pay board members.

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I mean a salary, not the current per diem capped at $4,800 a year. In the past, I bought into the notion that community service comes gratis. You don't get paid for giving back.

That rule may still hold true in small, homogeneous districts. But those vying for a seat on Seattle's School Board are seeking responsibility for a large, complex, billion-dollar enterprise. While district watchers can be like the proverbial blind men feeling different parts of an elephant — knowing everything about the trunk, little about the legs — board members must understand the whole.

But too often they don't. I recently called on the public to send me questions for board candidates. The breadth and depth of queries underscored a public expectation that board members deeply immerse themselves in policy and personnel issues. I agree. But that's more than a volunteer role.

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Among the dozens of questions about bilingual and special education, alternative schools, math curricula and nutritional policies, questions about board governance underscored a public desire for a board that plays more of a devil's advocate role.

Read Lynne Varner's entire column in the Seattle Times.

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