The Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday finalized school district-wide calendars for the next three years, ending for now a debate over how early in August the school year should begin.
Tuesday's unanimous vote ended nearly a year of discussion following Palo Alto's major switch in 2012-13 to a calendar in which, for the first time, the semester ends before the December holidays. That change created a work-free semester break for students that was cheered by many, but pushed the school start date to earlier in August.
The calendars adopted Tuesday struck a compromise between parents, who had sought a later August start date, and teachers, who said making the first semester much shorter than the second semester would compromise their teaching.
Also Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a 4 percent pay raise, plus a 2 percent bonus, for all teachers, staff and administrators with the exception of Superintendent Kevin Skelly. In the case of Skelly, they unanimously approved a "one-time annual salary increase" for the 2013-14 school year amounting to 3 percent of his regular pay of $287,163.
Tuesday's raise comes atop a 3 percent raise, plus 1.5 percent bonus for all teachers, staff and administrators except for Skelly, which was awarded in May retroactive to fall 2012.
The raises approved Tuesday will cost the district an ongoing $5 million of its $180 million operating budget, officials said. It will bring the salary of an entry-level teacher from $52,965 to $55,083, plus a one-time bonus of $1,059. A mid-career teacher would go from $85,924 to $89,360, plus a one-time bonus of $1,718. The most senior teachers on Palo Alto's salary schedule now earn $106,951, and an additional 4 percent would bring them to $111,229, plus a one-time bonus of $2,139.
The raises enacted this year were the first for teachers and staff since 2008.
In backing them, board members said they appreciated the district's "positive working relationship" with its two unions, the Palo Alto Educators Association and the California School Employees Association, as well as teachers' willingness to take on slightly larger class sizes and other duties during the lean budget years of the recession.
In other business Tuesday, school district officials reported progress in the percentage of Palo Alto graduates who are "college ready" meaning they have fulfilled the so-called "A-G requirements," which are prerequisites for entrance to California's public four-year universities.
Historically, the "college-ready" rate has hovered around 80 percent in Palo Alto, but officials have pushed to raise that since a recent decision that, starting with the class of 2016, will make the A-G requirements a condition of high-school graduation for all students except those who have negotiated alternative requirements with the school.
District statistician Diana Wilmot reported Tuesday that the college-readiness rate for the most recent high-school graduating class was 85 percent 90.8 percent at Gunn High School and 79.6 percent at Palo Alto High School.
Those numbers are up more than 10 percent from a district-wide college-readiness rate of 74.8 percent in 2008.
But the college-readiness rate for "underrepresented subgroups" remains unacceptable, Wilmot said, at only 46 percent for socio-economically disadvantaged students; 52 percent for English learners; 44 percent for special education students; 50 percent for students in the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program and 41 percent for students whose parents did not graduate from college.
Among the 21 African-American students who graduated this year, only one-third were college-ready, she said. Of the 69 Hispanic graduates, 55.1 percent were college ready, making for a combined college-readiness rate of "underrepresented minorities" of 50 percent.
Also Tuesday, about 20 middle- and high-school counselors attended the board meeting to report on a recent collaboration program through which they have agreed upon a "framework" for counseling activities and outcomes.
The collaboration, which included a two-day meeting over the summer plus a full-day retreat in September, follows years worth of criticism from some parents over the differing counseling models used at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools.
Counselors from both schools Tuesday said they have been sharing ideas, and school district Student Services Coordinator Brenda Carrillo said she has been trying to determine "comparability" between the schools. "Sometimes it's difficult to do a comparison when you call things by different names, but when you look at it, it's actually the same action even if they call it different names."
Parents Ken Dauber and Kathy Sharp, both of whom have been longtime critics of Gunn's traditional counseling model, reiterated that criticism Tuesday.
Dauber said polling data and satisfaction surveys indicate "consistent and large gaps in counseling services" between Gunn and Paly, which augments its small counseling staff through use of about 40 "teacher advisers."
But Gunn counselor Bill Christensen said recent staff additions and changes in Gunn's program have resulted in "dramatically improved" contact between students and adult counselors at the school.
Counselors said they would return to the board in March 2014 with reports from the individual high schools. Board members requested that those reports include data from polls of students and parents taken this school year.
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