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Board vote on minimum wage improper

Walt HellmanCould a responsible public body take up one of the most controversial and complicated issues of the day and, with no previous input or discussion, pass a comprehensive resolution on the issue in 30 minutes?

That’s just what the Hillsboro School Board did regarding minimum wage increase legislation at its Jan. 12 work session. By a 4-to-3 vote it went on record as opposing both bills being proposed for the February legislative session.

The Board took this unusual political stance so quickly despite the fact that none of its over 20,000 students and families who might be affected by their decision had a chance to testify or even know the Board was taking its vote. The same was true for the numerous school district classified employees earning less than $13.50 an hour and would be affected by the legislation. The community has strongly held views on the minimum wage issue. Not a word of this was heard.

Four of the seven board members were responsible for the action: Erik Seligman (who made the motion), Wayne Clift, Monte Akers and Glenn Miller. It’s not as if these four Board members weren’t cautioned.

Superintendent Mike Scott responsibly pointed out that 50 percent of Hillsboro School District students live below the poverty level and that District classified workers have a large stake in the minimum wage issue; this was a sensitive matter.

Board members Lisa Allen, Janeen Sollman and Kim Strelchun opposed the political stand.

The Board normally approves a “legislative priorities” list before a legislative session. With the legislative session coming up soon, Scott’s team had drafted that list. It included the actual and potential financial impacts of a minimum wage increase to the district. These figures could be given to state legislators without passing the larger resolution.

Allen, Sollman and Strelchun were perfectly willing to approve bringing these numbers to the Legislature but wisely felt it inappropriate for the board to weigh in on an issue that wasn’t primarily school related. But the four men on the board insisted on the vote.

Seligman later blogged that a minimum wage increase would damage society and students’ lives, but there are numerous respected studies that counter those arguments. None of the numerous positive factors that result from a minimum wage increase were discussed at the session.

What about the actual financial impact to the district? The only sure thing would be a new obligation of $32,000 per year to raise minimum wages for those workers below the new minimum. In an over $270 million budget this cost would hardly be a problem.

A much higher $4.4 million cost figure was given if all the other workers above the new minimum wage were “indexed” up accordingly. But, as a former bargaining chair for the Hillsboro teachers union, I can say that the District would never be under any obligation to index that way. The board has control of how much money is on the table. While there would likely be some additional cost, it would be spread over years.

Ironically, had the Board followed its own adopted policy (BE) of not taking actions at a work session, the mistaken vote would not have occurred.

Occasionally a school board needs to take a moral or social stand on a life or death issue such as war or an issue of conscience. The minimum wage issue is neither of these. Sometimes there is obvious near universal community sentiment on an issue that a board could fairly represent. Again, this is not the case with the minimum wage. There was no emergency.

At the very least the minimum wage decision was made too hastily and with insufficient input. The vote should not have been taken at the work session both because it was out of the Board’s area of responsibility and proper procedure was not followed.

For these reasons, the Board should negate its improper vote at the first opportunity.

While circumstances were different, the Hillsboro City Council earned much respect from the community when it turned around on the two-way downtown conversion project. The School Board can gain that kind of respect by acting similarly.

Walt Hellman is a retired Hillsboro High School physics teacher and longtime member of the Hillsboro Planning and Zoning Hearings Board. Walt can be reached at  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..