How much does your local school district pay its elected trustees for their service?
The answer has nothing to do with how well the students grasp reading, writing and arithmetic. In fact, an analysis by this newspaper of compensation and academic performance data found exactly the opposite.
Districts in the region that pay trustees the most in cash and benefits ranked lowest in student success rates, while districts that pay trustees nothing at all ranked the highest.
Only three of the 15 highest-achieving districts in the region that released compensation data paid their trustees. Those districts -- Palo Alto, Kentfield in Marin County and Cupertino -- averaged $28,716 to compensate their boards last year.
But 24 of the 25 lowest-ranking school districts -- including Oakland, West Contra Costa Unified and Ravenswood in East Palo Alto -- compensated their boards an average of $54,941 in 2012, data shows. Oakland topped all districts in the region, spending $167,348 on pay and benefits for its seven trustees.
Some education experts suggest there may be an underlying reason: Low-scoring districts like those in Richmond, East Palo Alto and on San Jose's east side that give trustees cash and health coverage serve low-income communities where schools have struggled historically and it is sometimes difficult to draw qualified candidates to the posts. Benefits may serve as an incentive to broaden the candidate pool.
In affluent Piedmont, Hillsborough, Orinda and Los Gatos, where trustees aren't paid, the talent pool is larger and people tend to cover health insurance through private employment.
"The concern is people running for school board just for the health benefits and not to serve the school districts," said Lawrence Picus, a University of Southern California education professor who studies school districts. But, he added, "you want people with the time to be able to read and review materials and provide policy guidance." At Jefferson Union High School District in Daly City, board president Thomas Nuris,¿ 60, an attorney, received health benefits that cost $28,000 last year -- more than 10 times his cash pay, and were more expensive than those of any other Jefferson Union employee, data shows. Nuris ranked first in the cost of health benefits among trustees across the region serving at more than 100 school districts that released compensation data for 2012. He did not return repeated messages.
"I don't think anyone runs for school board to get benefits," said Dennis Myers, a spokesman for the California School Boards Association. "It's another way to help some people be able to do the work that goes into the job."