TAMPA — Hillsborough School Board member Jennifer Faliero is on the warpath.
She's been tweeting and calling reporters and contacting school board members around Florida since learning that state Sen. Stephen Wise, the Republican chairman of the Education Appropriations Committee, is again trying to cut board members' pay.
Last year, Wise pushed a law that urged board members to lower their salaries to that of a first-year teacher. This year, Wise proposes slashing board pay to the level of a lawmaker.
In Hillsborough County, that would amount to about $8,000 less than the board's current salary of $37,014, which is down 9 percent from a year earlier.
"I get that we have to make budget cuts. These are tough times," Faliero said. "But to single out 35 people and force them to cut their salary is not balancing the budget, nor it is meeting the needs of the people of Florida."
The 35 people she referred to are the board members in Florida's five largest school districts, all of whom make more than a legislator.
Faliero and her two children live off her School Board pay. Trying to find other jobs has proven difficult, she said, because almost every employer she meets does business with the district, creating conflicts of interest.
"I don't think people expect me to work for free," she said. "Altruism does not keep food on the table for your children or pay for medical insurance."
She argued that board members work tirelessly in what amounts to much more than a part-time job, and they should be compensated adequately for their service.
During a committee meeting this week, Wise contended that school board members have only a few responsibilities, and everything else they do should be in dedication to the community and children — not for a paycheck. The University of Florida has a bigger budget than most school districts, he observed, yet its trustees work for free.
What's more, he said, Florida has the highest average salary for school board members of any state. Nationally, the going rate is closer to $100 per meeting.
The $1.5 million that the state would save in cutting board members' salaries is admittedly "chump change," Wise said. But "we're in dire straits."
Faliero acknowledged that her campaign to stop Wise from what she called an "abuse of power" might doom her re-election bid this fall. But if she can't afford to care for her family with the money she makes, she said, perhaps not serving the community wouldn't be so bad.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.