Lawmaker says salary hike for school board members is illegal

CHARLESTON COUNTY, SC (WCSC) - A state lawmaker says Charleston County school board members broke the law when they voted to give themselves a pay hike.

Four of the seven board members at Monday night's meeting voted to give themselves a $14,428 raise.

One board member abstained. Officials say the pay hike for county and constituent board members will cost nearly $500,000.

State Senator Chip Campsen says he was approached by some concerned folks who questioned the legality of the pay raise. Campsen says according to state law the school board members are only entitled to $25 dollars per meeting plus mileage.

He says it would take a change in the law to allow the board to have a salary.

"The school board can't amend state law to give itself a salary," Campsen said Tuesday.

State Representative Wendell Gilliard believes the board members deserve a pay raise.

Gilliard introduced a bill in the last legislative session to allow the school board to set their salaries.

The bill died.

Gilliard doesn't believe the board intentionally tried to break the law last night.

"In their hindsight it was a vague law. Nobody was really coming out and saying this is the way it is supposed to be," Gilliard said.

Campsen says taxpayers may have a right to sue to take away the pay raise from the board members.

On Tuesday night, Rev. Chris Collins, who is a boardmember, said the school is well within the law to increase pay.

Collins cited the following state law as well as an attorney general's opinion which Collins says governed the board's decision to create a salary for school board members:

SECTION 59-1-350. Compensation of members of boards of trustees and boards of education.

Members of the county board of education or board of trustees may serve without pay. Each member of the board may receive a per diem for attendance at board meetings and may be paid mileage to and from such meetings. No member may receive per diem and mileage unless in actual attendance upon a meeting of the board. When any member of a board is directed to travel outside the county or school district on official business of the board, he may be allowed actual expenses incurred as a result.

HISTORY: 1962 Code Section 21-19.2; 1974 (58) 1937.

"A previous Opinion of this Office noted that increases in pay for certain public off ices are restricted but concluded that no constitutional provision prohibits increases in compensation, as to all offices generally, during the terms of the officeholders. Ops. Atty. Gen., January 29, 1973. I have not located any general constitutional or statutory provision that prohibits such increases as to members of boards of trustees or county boards of education during their terms." - May 22, 1989 SC Attorney General Opinion

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