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Extra Pay During the School Day
School Administrator, August 2022
When a suburban school district hired a new middle school band director, he was asked to continue the school’s prior involvement as a host site for a series of one-day music festivals for students throughout New England. The band director scheduled the popular music festivals at his school over five Fridays, all during the school day. He received his usual band director salary and was paid a stipend totaling $1,800 by the nonprofit that ran the festivals for his work as a site coordinator and a judge. Did the band director commit a conflict of interest by accepting the stipend?
Maria G. Ott:
Although receiving a stipend for extra responsibility may seem innocent and be much appreciated by the band director, it is important to check the district’s policies on extra pay. If the official policy prohibits this, there could be a potential conflict for the band director, one not worth the extra pay. There is also the possibility the band director is subject to a collective bargaining agreement, and there may by stipulations within the agreement about stipends. Some agreements define how stipends are offered to employees and define terms and conditions for extra play. This type of language is intended to ensure fairness that makes extra pay opportunities available to eligible individuals through an open process.
Stipends are usually provided in lieu of regular pay. In the case of the band director, the individual already receives base pay for the assignment, which includes the expectation of continuing involvement as the host site for the music festivals. On the other hand, it may be possible to get approval through a board action that would allow the individual to receive the stipend for extra responsibilities. This type of approval would only work if there were no violation of collective bargaining agreement language. An employee is advised to check with HR before accepting or agreeing to accept a stipend for extra responsibilities or duties whether within or outside of the regular assignment. Make sure there is a record of the approval and avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest.
Extra pay is an important area for payroll clarity. Individuals may not understand the concept of extra pay for additional duties if these occur during the workday. For example, someone is paid for a full day and accepts additional responsibility during their assignment. The person offering the extra pay may see this as a fair incentive because the individual’s assignment does not require performing the additional duties. This could be a point of confusion for both the employee and the person offering the extra pay. A slippery slope of error may occur, leading to discipline for both parties.
A district should consider including a statement about pay in the code of conduct. Pay issues can lead to confusion when supervisors lack clarity about what is allowed, and employees take guidance from misinformed supervisors. It is difficult to correct payroll errors as this may mean asking an employee to return funds or having to explain what occurred to others who become aware of the error. It is always best to ask before moving forward with additional compensation during regular work hours. This protects the employee, the supervisor and the reputation of the organization. Transparent payroll practices communicate how public funds are used, building trust in the system and communicating that the district is practicing its stated values and commitment to an ethical culture.
Because the school district has prior experience hosting these festivals and the new band director does not, the burden rests with the district to make clear what the expectations are for both work product and compensation on festival days. If, based on experience and precedent, the district has made clear up front that no additional stipend should be accepted, it would clearly be a conflict of interest if the band director consents to take it.
However, if district has not provided clarity on expectations, then the band director has likely not committed a conflict of interest. A new employee probably would not want to compromise his livelihood by being intentionally insubordinate. He likely feels justified in accepting the stipend due to all the work he did on his own time to organize the festivals. He might even be using those days in some capacity as teaching opportunities for his students and is not needing a substitute. If the district is unhappy about the acceptance of the stipend it should look inward and consider what district leadership could and should do in the future to avoid this situation.
It would help to know if this was past practice with the previous band director. As a new staff member, the director should request clarification from the principal about the arrangement with the nonprofit. Board policy typically offers a definition regarding what constitutes a conflict of interest.
In this case, unless the music festival required extra time outside of the school day, it would be difficult to justify a stipend. Further, state law often requires that any compensation come directly from the district so as to ensure the appropriate taxes and retirement contributions are deducted. If the nonprofit chooses to donate funds to the district, this would be handled in accordance with board policy as well.
If the organizing work for the festival is an expected part of the band director’s responsibilities, the school district has put the new director in an awkward position. Given the need to contact band directors in other districts and to make internal arrangements for the events, it is unlikely that all of these tasks could be accomplished outside the workday. Knowing he will work on the festival preparations during the school day and be paid by another organization gives the appearance he is “double-dipping.” Because he is receiving a personal benefit of remunerations from the nonprofit for actions taken in his professional capacity, this could be a conflict of interest.
The conflict could have been avoided had the district and the nonprofit handled it differently. There are numerous positions in school districts that reward added responsibilities with district-approved stipends. If the nonprofit donated the funds for hosting the festival to the district and the district created and posted a stipend-approved position for organizing the festival, the band director could be appointed to that position and awarded the stipend.
Alternatively, the work on the festival could be written into the band director’s job description with the posted salary indicating the addition of the stipend. In some districts, the creation of the stipend would entail both negotiation with the teachers’ union and approval by the school board. If the nonprofit stopped donating toward the stipend or the festival did not continue, the district could simply not post or fill the stipend portion of the position. Serving as a judge should be a voluntary activity when judges are employees of the participating districts and judging during work time.
Because the conflict of interest already has occurred, the district should consult its attorney to determine how best to provide a correction to avoid any state consequences for this ethics violation. Because the district’s past practice was to have the nonprofit pay the teacher directly, the district also should revisit its conflict-of-interest policies and provide additional training to administrators to avoid such conflicts — or even the appearance of impropriety — in the future. Such policies are important to both public trust and staff morale.
The Ethical Educator panel consists of
SHELDON H. BERMAN,
AASA lead superintendent, Redmond, Ore.;
the Pomerantz endowed professor in educational excellence, University of Northern Iowa;
former Missouri commissioner of education; and
MARIA G. OTT,
Irving R. and Virginia A. Melbo chair in educational administration, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California.