Amidst a flurry of legislative signings and vetoes, Gov. Gavin Newsom greenlit a bill that allows local education agencies to pay student board members.
The bill, introduced by San Diego Assemblyman Chris Ward, amends California’s education code to allow school districts to compensate elected student board members financially, with course credit or both.
San Diego Unified board sponsored bill, but Ward said the idea originated from the district’s student board members.
“Student trustees directly presented the idea that they work hard and review documents and do the same work as adult board members,” Ward said. “Having the option to have students be compensated is the right thing to do,” he said.
San Diego Unified board member Richard Barrera was enthusiastic about the bill and hopes the change will bring more equity to the position and allow students who hadn’t considered running to do so.
“Student board members put in probably the equivalent of 20 hours a week,” Barrera said. “Students in a situation where they need to work to help support their families, they’re not going to even consider running for the board, unless it’s a paid position.”
The law goes into effect at the beginning of next year, but it doesn’t instantly make the student board member position a paid one. Educational organizations have to approve the change. Barrera said he expects Superintendent Lamont Jackson to bring the issue up for a vote in the coming months and is confident it will pass.
Background: In 2019, San Diego Unified created the student board member position – elected by fellow students. Last year, they added another student board member slot, and stipulations to make the positions more representative of the district. The two board members cannot come from the same school and at least one of the two must come from a school where at least 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced priced meals.
More changes ahead?
But big changes to the way student board member positions function haven’t always been smooth sailing. San Diego Unified’s board has for years displayed a striking degree of unanimity during votes. The only issue the board has voted down in recent memory was a 2022 resolution introduced by former student board member Zachary Patterson to support state legislation that would have granted student board members full voting powers. Currently, they generally only have preferential votes, which do not count toward final vote totals.
But many high school students are not yet old enough to vote for adult board members whose votes do count in final vote totals, Barrera said.
“So, you’ve got an incredibly important constituency in a school district that is disenfranchised,” he said.
Barrera supported the resolution and continues to support student board members having full voting rights. The process to get there is complicated and involves a change to the city’s charter, but Barrera hopes the potential upcoming changes to the position move the district in that direction.
“If we get there, it’s going to have to be students who drive the advocacy and I’m optimistic that’s going to happen,” Barrera said.
Ward, for his part, said that while more work needs to be done to determine the feasibility of the change, he was “open to vetting through additional options that will respect and enhance the service (student board members) provide.”