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Manteca board sidesteps change to compensation

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POSTED August 20, 2014 12:27 a.m.

They met. They discussed. They left it alone. For now.

That was the action taken Tuesday night by the Board of Trustees on Manteca Unified School District’s Bylaw No. 9250 which spells out trustees’ “Remuneration, Reimbursement, and Other Benefits.”

At issue was the word “hardship” and how it’s interpreted when the board decides if panel members qualify for compensation under that category when they miss a meeting. Each trustee receives a stipend of $400 a month, with some also receiving health benefits from the district.

“There’s no proposal for change right now,” and since there was “no proposed action, we’ll leave the policy as it is,” commented Board President Don Scholl. However, any proposed changes in the future will be evaluated as “they come in,” he added.

Borrowing words from an old cliché, Trustee Manuel Medeiros commented succinctly that there’s no need to tinker with the language of the policy if it’s not broken. It has worked “all these years, I don’t think we should change it now,” he said.

Trustee Teicheira, who requested that this item be placed on the agenda for discussion and consideration, likewise admitted that there is nothing to change at this time since the definition of hardship is “already spelled out in our policy.” She noted that the current bylaw states that excused meeting absences where trustees don’t have to lose per diem compensation or stipend include illness, jury duty, “performing services outside the meeting for the school district or districts,” and that “hardships will not include recreation, gainful employment, or additional income.”

However, Karen Pearsall, Manteca resident and frequent speaker at board meetings, wanted to see more light shed on the matter.

She commented that her own interpretation of hardship means illness, whether it be the trustee or close family member, an accident, hospitalization death, or catastrophes such as a house burning down or events where the general public reacts by saying, “Oh, that’s too bad.”

But a grandson’s birthday or other celebratory events – “all those in themselves are not hardships,” Pearsall pointed out. If that happened to her as a member of the board, she would skip the meeting in favor of the grandchild’s birthday but that she would not expect to be compensated.

“Where do you start the line? It seems to me you’re just approving each other’s happy plans, which is not a good message to send to the public,” she told the board.

However, she qualified that exceptions to those celebratory events would be if a meeting date was changed at the last minute which impacts plans already made by a board member.

Pearsall suggested the board “clean up your policy a little” and that cleaning it up will be not only for their benefit but for that of the public as well.

Pearsall, however, prefaced her comments by pointing out that what she was about to say was “not a personal attack, or in any way, maligning (Trustee Michael Seelye’s) character,” and that her focus was on the board members’ benefits policy.

One of the two incidents used by Teicheira as an example involved Seelye’s excused absence several months back to attend the birthday party for his first grandson who was turning one.

“It’s only fair to note,” Pearsall said, that on several occasions, Seelye donated his stipend as a trustee to help support students in the district, student events and other student causes, “which is really commendable.”

Seelye, a retired university professor, is “not a man who is just after the money,” added Pearsall.

While Pearsall was right on the money on Seelye’s philanthropic actions, the truth is that the two-term trustee – he’s in the middle of his third term – has been donating the money he receives as a member of the board all these years. For the last 10 years, he also has not taken any insurance benefits from the school district.

Seelye, who made his comments at the end of the meeting, thanked Pearsall for bringing into light what he does with his monthly compensation because “I feel very strongly for the poor children” in the district who are in need of help. He and his wife often buy meal tickets for these students as well. There was also the occasion when he learned about a “homeless boy” whose bicycle was stolen. The boy wanted to graduate and finish his studies but would need the pedal-powered means of transportation to go to school. Seelye came to the homeless boy’s aid and bought him a $500 bicycle.

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