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Change was on the agenda

Change was a hot topic Monday for the Farmington School Board. And it wasn't just the new faces at the board table.

The school board, which added three new members, discussed changes to its meeting schedule, changes to meeting times, even changes to how much board members will be paid.

Most of the proposed changes started as suggestions from new board member Tim Burke. Early on Monday Burke suggested board members take a pay cut -- a symbolic gesture, he said, with negotiations coming up. He also suggested changes to a number of board policies.

Burke suggested cutting the board chair's salary from $5,250 to $4,200 and board members' salaries from $4,200 to $3,600. The $4,050 that cut would have saved is less than a drop in the district's overall budget bucket, but Burke pitched the cut as a way for board members to show solidarity with the teachers whose contracts they will soon negotiate.

"I think it is appropriate to set an example with our salaries to take a modest and some what symbolic cut in our salaries," Burke said. "We understand what's ahead and we as board members are not exempt from that."

Julie Singewald seconded Burke's motion, but there wasn't much support beyond that. Longtime board member Julie McKnight said the board salary, which board members increased a year ago for the first time in two years, gives her a way to thank her family for putting up with the hours she puts into board work.

"I have to have something to give back," she said.

Other board members agreed. The board ultimately voted 5-1 to keep board salaries as they are.

Burke had plenty of other changes in mind, though. He proposed several changes to board policy, from when meetings are held to whether board members could get reimbursed for traveling out of state on district business.

Burke said the changes he proposed were about making the district's operations clearer to district residents.

"Transparency was part of the campaign not just for me but for other people that ran," Burke said. "I think what I proposed had a lot to do with transparency."

Some of the proposed changes got a good response from board members. There was support for doing away with a monthly work session and going back to two business meetings each month, and for starting meetings later in the day. Currently board work sessions start at 5 p.m. and business meetings start at 7 p.m.

Other changes were less popular. Board members said a proposal to limit travel for district functions would restrict board members' ability to attend conferences and training sessions that help them do their job more effectively.

"I think you're doing us a disservice by not allowing us to take advantage of those opportunities," board member John Kampf said.

There was a lot of discussion about each of the proposed changes, though. Burke, who had a tendency to rub board members the wrong way before he was sitting next to them, said he was happy to see that.

"I won't say I was surprised, but I was pleased that there was so much thought and that apparently folks had read all that stuff ahead of time," Burke said. "I felt it was very productive."

All of the proposed policy changes will come back for second and third readings before any decisions are made.