Palo Alto school board members on Tuesday threw their support behind two significant proposals: the first salary increases for substitute teachers in seven years and new formats for elementary school report cards.
Despite testimony from a group of substitutes that the district's offer to bring their salaries up to 51 percent of a starting teacher's salary is inadequate, the board gave the green light to move forward with the offer. Historically, the school district has set pay for substitute teachers at the 51 percent level, though it has fallen off that standard over the past seven years.
The 51 percent adjustment would increase the regular day rate from $135 to $152; the long-term day rate from $180 to $202 and the partial day rate from $74 to $83.
The substitute teachers, many of whom said they have taught in the district for decades, said that $152 falls short in light of other school district employees' raises over the years, a seven-year stagnancy in their pay and the ever-increasing cost of living in the area.
"I appreciate that you're discussing the issue of pay raises for substitute teachers. That (being) said, I am very disappointed to hear of the offer of $152 per diem that you are currently proposing," substitute teacher Christine Segerhammar told the board Tuesday. "I feel strongly that PAUSD ought to be leading other districts in raising the profile of substitute teachers in recognizing the present day realities and challenges for substitutes in the classroom. In order to attract more committed and qualified subs, PAUSD needs to honor the value of our role in educating the children of Palo Alto by awarding a more significant and fair raise."
She suggested that the regular day rate be set at no less than $160 per day. Other substitutes suggested rates of $175 and $185.
One substitute teacher who spoke said, "Sometimes we're referred to as warm bodies and it's obvious we're being paid that way."
Lawrence Markosian, speaking on behalf of his wife, who has been a substitute for 10 years, said the pay is similar to that of babysitters, gardeners and housekeepers in the area.
Segerhammar urged the board to set up an established process for substitutes' pay raises, such as tying it to the raises of full-time teachers or committing to re-evaluating the rate every few years.
All the board members agreed that the raises need to be looked at more regularly. Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers suggested a minimum three-year review cycle.
"I think it would go a long way for the subs to know when this will be next reviewed," board president Barb Mitchell said to Bowers. "It's a positive step forward, but it would be helpful to know when this would be first reviewed again and how your office would cultivate the relationships between now and then to be having these kinds of conversations."
Board member Dana Tom said that it makes sense to benchmark substitutes' salary against starting teacher salaries and to also compare the rates to neighboring districts, as they would with full-time faculty.
The board will take action on the proposed raises at its June 3 meeting.
The board also heard a presentation from Director of Elementary Education Kathleen Meagher on a proposal to redesign the district's K-5 progress reports, with the goal of improving parent-school communication and aligning the districts' progress benchmarks with newly implemented Common Core State Standards.
A parent advisory group, along with a committee made up of district staff, has conducted research; gathered input from parents, students and teachers; and looked at report cards in school districts similar to Palo Alto to develop the redesign. The most prominent changes include adding a space for teachers to write comments at the very top of the progress report, and requiring that all teachers do so; creating new "performance labels" that change throughout the year; placing more emphasis on social-emotional learning; and simplified language.
Meagher said these changes were made in response to the most common complaints about current progress reports: that the reports are too long, making it difficult to know what is the most important to pay attention to; that they are written in "educator-ese"; that they often look the same for many students; and that they are cumbersome to complete and add little to the parents' understanding of children's' performance.
"The idea was to put together a tool (that would) really be able to be a new way of looking at content contained within report card," Meagher said.
The new performance labels for the first and second trimesters are "S" for strength, "P" for progressing as expected and "C" for area of concern. During the last trimester, teachers will indicate if a student has exceeded standards ("X), met standards ("M") or did not meet standards ("N"). If a "C" or "N" appears, the teachers will indicate their specific concern or reasoning.
The new report card's standards are also aligned with the Common Core, as well as being grade-level specific, Meagher said. They are also in line with the normal progression students should be making in each grade in individual subjects, Meagher said.
The new progress report also focus more on social-emotional learning, with sections on self-management, self-awareness, social awareness and relationship skills.
"I think the saying, 'You get what you measure,' will apply here, especially for social emotional learning," Dana Tom said. "The teachers will be more conscious of (the indicators) when they are looking for them in our students and be able to teach them to our students.
"This serves as more than just a progress report. I think it's going to actually influence what happens in the classroom in positive ways," he said.
All of the board members commended Meagher and the committees that worked on the revision, calling the new report cards a vast improvement from the ones they received when their own children were in Palo Alto elementary schools.
Board member Camille Townsend, however, expressed concern that the language is still dense and not accessible for all parents. She urged Meagher to collect careful and extensive feedback from parents as soon as the new cards are implemented.
At Tuesday's meeting, the board also unanimously approved contract renewals for Associate Superintendent Charles Young, Chief Business Officer Cathy Mak and Bond Program Manager Bob Golton. Young and Mak's contracts were renewed for three years and Golton's for two.
Copies of the proposed contract renewals and the current contracts are posted on Palo Alto Online.