Palo Alto teachers seek pay raise
Citing increased living costs, responsibilities, teachers say it's a matter of 'basic decency'
As Palo Alto schools cheer a surplus for the first time in years, teachers are asking for a pay raise.
Dozens of teachers crowded the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night, Feb. 26, to say that the Bay Area cost of living has gone up nearly 8 percent since their last raise in 2008.
"Society keeps score by the almighty dollar, and we've failed to score a run," Gunn High School computer science teacher Josh Paley told the board.
"I'm really tired of being told I'm not worth it."
The average Palo Alto teacher salary is $85,721, ranking fifth among nine nearby districts, according to a comparison published in February by EdData.
The last pay raise for Palo Alto's 800-plus teaching staff was a 2.5 percent increase in 2008. On Jan. 15 of this year, the board approved a one-time bonus for faculty and staff amounting to 1 percent of 2011-12 pay.
Teachers said their salaries have been further eroded in recent years because of union contracts that boosted employees' share of health care costs.
"The salary increase we propose is less than the cost-of-living increase we face," Palo Alto Educators Association President Teri Baldwin said.
"This area is very expensive, and it's hard for teachers to live here," she said, noting that few can afford to live in Palo Alto.
"When I grew up in Urbana, Ill., teachers didn't make top dollar, but they could live in the community. Now, the overwhelming majority drive in from out of town," Paley said.
Paley said the only reason he can afford a house is because of his previous work in high technology and his wife's current job in tech.
"There's no way I'd tell a young person to plan on a career in teaching. There's a principle of basic decency I feel is being violated," he said.
Additionally, teachers also cited increased class sizes as well as new responsibilities associated with district efforts to include students with more severe disabilities in regular classrooms.
"We're going to be having full inclusion of very, very special-needs students in our classrooms with very, very little support from the administration," Escondido Elementary School teacher Elena Melendez said.
The teachers' testimony came as the school board discussed a financial outlook that is the best in years, due to higher-than-budgeted property-tax receipts and passage of California Proposition 30 tax hikes in November.
The school district's original $162 million operating budget for 2012-13, passed last June, included a $5.5 million deficit. But February 2013 property-tax estimates were $4.4 million higher than budgeted and passage of Proposition 30 eliminated the potential for $5.4 million in state funding cuts, according to the school district's Chief Business Official Cathy Mak.
Mak cautioned that increasing enrollment still means that per-student funding is 2 percent less than it was in 2008-09.
She also warned of likely increases of up to 1.5 percent in rates charged by the California State Teachers Retirement System to fund pensions.
She proposed restoration of about $2.6 million worth of the $10 million cuts made in recent years, to be allocated to teacher staffing, counseling, technology support and professional development as well as restoration of cuts made to principals' budgets and the possible hiring of a communications officer for the school district.
Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at email@example.com.