AIKEN - Aiken County school board members have doubled their paychecks - at least for a month or two.
Without taking an official vote, the group decided to try meeting each Tuesday, a deviation from the twice-monthly schedule they're on now, to keep meetings from running so long. Because they're paid by the meeting, that means extra money as long as they follow the new game plan.
Chairman John Bradley made that decision after member Larry Murphy criticized The Augusta Chronicle's repeated editorials accusing the board of spending too much time in closed-door sessions. One appeared Sunday before the board met on Tuesday.
But Dr. Bradley said Wednesday that Mr. Murphy's comments did not influence his recommendation. He called the writeups an "irritant" that simply made his decision more "salable."
The real reason for the temporary change is that board members are spending hours on discipline and zoning issues, he said. Both require executive sessions because it's illegal to disclose the particulars. And that means meetings sometimes do not adjourn until 11 p.m. or later - four or more hours after they start. Most of that time is spent behind closed doors.
On Tuesday, for example, the board was supposed to hear six student appeals. Each one usually takes at least 20 minutes. Facing the possibility of a meeting that lingered past midnight, members decided to postpone those cases until Thursday, which meant setting a special session. That also happened several times last year, Dr. Bradley said.
During a two-month survey conducted by The Chronicle in February and March, the board used closed sessions at each of the three meetings it held. And 59 percent of its time - 311 minutes - was spent in executive session, mostly discussing appeals by students facing disciplinary action.
Probably starting Dec. 5, the board will hear student appeals on one Tuesday and conduct regular business the next Tuesday, Dr. Bradley said. If there aren't enough appeals to warrant a meeting, board members likely will hold work sessions, talk to teachers, or just not meet at all.
"We'll try this a month or two, and this way we can put a clock on how much time we actually spend in executive sessions," Dr. Bradley said.
He also said hearing discipline appeals on a designated night is better for students because they have to come before the board on a school night. And with those appearances came after other board businesses, that meant staying up late.
"I start nodding off about 10, and I don't think it's fair for us to sit and make decisions that affect students late at night," Dr. Bradley said.
Extra meetings also mean more money for board members. Each time they convene, trustees make $100. Trustees who don't attend don't get paid.
But money isn't an issue, Dr. Bradley said. "I'd meet for free if people prefer," he said. "My wife already gives all my money to the church because she doesn't believe in making money for public service."
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