SARASOTA, Fla. -- Should school board members work for free? Sarasota County Commissioner Eric Robinson thinks so. He’ll need to change Florida’s constitution to do it.

All Florida school board members receive a salary ranging between $25,000-$45,000.

Robinson submitted his proposal to the Florida Constitution Revision Commission and one of its members picked it up.

Collier County School Board Member Erika Donald sits on the commission. She’s one of 37 members who meet every 20 years. They have the power to place constitutional amendments directly on the November ballot for 2018.

Robinson practices what he preaches.

“I’m a public servant not a public master,” he says.

Robinson donates his $40,728 salary and benefits back to the school district. The first-year board member uses his salaries to fund programs he likes.

Robinson says he’s donated $5,000 to a reading program at Booker Elementary, $10,000 to Booker High School for a college/career readiness program, $10,000 to the Social Black Belt program at North Port High School and another $10,000 to start up a volleyball team at Venice High School.

Robinson said it’s “very rewarding” to see his salary at work in schools.

Sarasota School District shouldn’t be spending $300,000 a year on school board salaries and benefits, according to Robinson. He said, “It takes money out of students’ pockets puts it in the pockets of politicians. We know only 22 percent of school boards in the country are paid; 78 percent are unpaid.”

According to the National School Board Association:

  • 75 percent of small-district school board members receive no salary.
  • 40 percent of large-district school board members work 40 hours per month on board-related duties in return for a modest salary.

Sarasota School Board member and chairwoman Caroline Zucker says school board members can’t all be lumped into one group.

“The misconception is these other school boards don’t have the same responsibilities we do. They don’t have the same taxation ability, the same liability. We can sue and be sued. We are constitutional offices they are not,” said Zucker, who’s served on the board for 19 years.

“This is a passion of mine It’s not just a job,” she added.

Here’s a look at local school board member’s salaries:

Citrus $32,926

Hardee $27,556

Hernando $36,276

Highlands $33,389

Hillsborough $44,443

Manatee $39,952

Pasco $41,329

Pinellas $44,163

Polk $42,262

Sarasota $40,728

Robinson says all school board members should work for free.

“This school board meeting we’ll approve an accountant position, and that person will make $10,000 less than me. As a school board employee, he works full time. I work part-time. How can I in good conscience say I should get more than him? I’m a public servant, not a public master.”

Zucker’s responded to Robinson’s comment that being a school board member is a part-time job.

She said, “He has no value for the true meaning what it is to be a school board member.”

Zucker says she works more than 80 hours a month.

“It takes complete dedication. I work until 12 at night making sure I answer emails from constituents,” said Zucker.

Parent Dave Hall agreed with Zucker. He said, “Sarasota County has a pretty good school board system it works…why fix something that’s not broken.”

Zucker says her office is a constitutional office elected by voters. She says if Robinson is asking school board members to work for free then he should also ask the sheriff and county commissioners and all other elected officials to do the same.

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