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Trustee Stipends Come Under Fire
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With both their stipends and health insurance benefits targeted for possible cuts in the 2012-2013 budget, trustees of the Riverbank Unified School District voted last week to postpone a decision until the May 15 meeting.

A proposal to eliminate their stipends of $240 each per month, which for the five of them would total savings of about $13,745 a year, appeared on the May 1 agenda.

The suggestion to cut the trustees district-paid health insurance benefits came from two speakers at the podium, Diana Gonzalez and Nancy Ferguson, who are both employed by the district and members of the California School Employees Association.

The amount involved appeared to be up to $19,000 for any one trustee and a total of about $45,000 for the two or three who accept the benefit. Ferguson and Gonzalez also noted many employees at the district office including administrators and confidential personnel enjoy heavily discounted health insurance benefits.

The district has been advised by the Stanislaus County Office of Education it must find savings of at least $400,000 this budget year and the same again in 2012-13 to put their financial house in order.

Trustee Egidio "Jeep" Oliveira supported eliminating the stipends. When the health insurance benefit also came under discussion, he said that should be considered for elimination also.

A local teacher said it would appear to the public "as a nice gesture" but urged the board to suspend, not cancel their benefits, for a year or so to avoid deterring candidates for the school board who might consider the job not worth the effort without some monetary rewards.

Trustee Ron Peterson, recovering from triple bypass surgery appeared unexpectedly to warm congratulations and said the board should set a good example in accepting cuts in reimbursement. He supported Oliveira in saying they should look at the subject again.

Fellow trustee Steve Walker said the $13,000 a year they might save on trustee stipends "would not even save an aide's job." But cutting back on health insurance benefits would save a worthwhile sum, said Oliveira, adding $19,000 a year plus $200 a month was more than many district employees made in their regular job.

Walker asked other board members whether they had private health insurance and received an affirmative answer in each case. He alone voted against reviewing the possible cuts on May 15. Trustee John Mitchell left the meeting early when called away by a family medical emergency and was not present for the final vote.