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Board discusses teacher salary increase

Palo Alto Unified School District’s (PAUSD) school board discussed a collective bargaining agreement between the district and its employees at their May 10 meeting.

Two unions, the Palo Alto Educators Association (PAEA) and the California School Employees Association (CSEA), negotiated a deal with PAUSD primarily concerning wages.

The discussion centered around whether to give school district employees, particularly teachers, raises based on a 5-4-3 scale by approving the recently negotiated agreement or a 3-3-3 scale by renegotiating the contract. The 5-4-3 scale gives a 5 percent raise to teachers in the first year of the contract, a 4 percent raise in the next year and a 3 percent raise in the third year. However the 3-3-3 scale, proposed at the meeting, would provide a 3 percent raise every year for three years. Four board members were in favor of the 5-4-3 scale, while board member Ken Dauber was the only supporter of the 3-3-3 scale.

Supporters of the 5-4-3 scale argued that it would attract and retain better teachers while Dauber argued that the 3-3-3 scale would allow the district to hire more teachers, providing smaller class sizes for students. Dauber pointed out that in addition to meeting the district’s long sought-after goal of smaller class sizes, a lower raise scale would still provide a significant wage increase over time. Supporters of the 5-4-3 scale responded by pointing out that the district is already putting significant amounts of money into reducing class sizes.

“We’re putting almost $2 million towards reducing class size and if we look at changing some other investments it could be more than that,” board member Melissa Baten Caswell said. “The challenge is [that] we are out of compliance with our board policy on class size in some places. We need to work to get into compliance or we need to adjust the board policy.”

Those in favor of higher raises claimed that they are necessary to keep Palo Alto competitive in the teacher market and compensate for high property costs in the Bay area, which makes living in Palo Alto unaffordable for most teachers.

According to evidence presented by assistant superintendent Scott Bowers, the number of individuals that applied for teaching jobs has decreased in recent years.

The primary source of funding for the salary restructure is the parcel tax approved by Measure A on May 5, 2015 which increased property taxes in Palo Alto in order to raise funding for schools.

Other sources of funding include an operating budget deficit that the board will run next year, which means that PAUSD will operate with more expenditures than revenue.

Dauber pointed out that the higher raises do not fulfill all of the goals proposed by Measure A, which are to reduce class sizes, attract qualified teachers and advance health and equitable opportunities for all students.

Additionally, Dauber worried that the higher raises focuses too much on fulfilling the goal of attracting retaining teachers while neglecting the other goals of Measure A.

Historically in PAUSD, most labor contracts have been 1-year deals in which annual salary renegotiations play a prominent role. This year, the school board and the labor unions broke from this tradition and negotiated a deal that set salaries over a 3-year period.

“If we did not have to negotiate every year we could spend more time focusing on teacher evaluations, professional development and other things that would make our teachers and school district even stronger,” Caswell said.

Discussion of the CSEA and PAEA contracts will continue on May 24, the board’s next meeting, where they will either adopt or reject the contract.

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