Nancy Van Doren discusses long-term planning

Arlington School Board member Nancy Van Doren explains how proposed high-school boundary adjustments fit into the growth plan for the school system during remarks at the Nov. 3, 2016, School Board meeting.

The chairman of Arlington’s School Board says she’s happy a measure allowing the board to set its own pay has gotten half-way through the General Assembly – and on its first try, no less – and looks headed to final passage.

“Arlington is the only jurisdiction that has an elected-school-board-member salary cap, and we need the same flexibility that other jurisdictions in Virginia have to consider salary increases from time to time,” School Board Chairman Nancy Van Doren said after the measure, patroned by Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th), won passage in the House of Delegates on a 54-44 vote.

A number of Republicans, including House Speaker William Howell, voted to support the measure, which was forwarded to the state Senate for disposition prior to the end of the legislative session in late February.

Van Doren said the legislation sticks with Virginia’s general rule for pay raises for local elected officials: Changes to salaries can only be made once every four years. For the Arlington School Board, the first chance to raise its pay would be January 2021.

“We are not asking to change that timing,” Van Doren told the Sun Gazette. “This legislation simply provides the flexibility to consider a salary increase if the Arlington community wished to do so in the future.”

In a decision whose origins are lost in the mists of history, the General Assembly years ago capped Arlington School Board salaries at $25,000. Through the years, board members have periodically raised their pay, and as of Jan. 1 are at the maximum.

It’s a pay level higher than for most school boards in Virginia, even in districts far larger than Arlington’s. Until last year, members of the Fairfax County School Board – which oversees the largest district in the commonwealth – were paid $20,000 a year. It has since increased to $32,000, after board members rejected a proposal to go as high as $40,000.