Raises for subs, new elementary report cards move forward

Board to take official action on salary increases and revamped progress reports June 3

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.

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Like this comment
Posted by Addison Mom
a resident of Downtown North
on May 21, 2014 at 9:48 pm

I think the raise for subs stinks. Palo Alto School teachers are top notch, but subs are not, at least the subs my children have had in the last four years. (No offense to some of the good subs, but unfortunately we have had more bad than good.) I guess we get what we pay for....

Like this comment
Posted by Unanimously incompetent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2014 at 7:23 am

Charles Young is being given a raise for three more years, taking in about $200,000 per year, because the board renewed his contract for three more years, unanimously. Didn't Young actually demonstrate a pattern of incompetence as the compliance officer? OCR? Bullying policy? Lawsuits? These are all things that land at his feet. Would we hire him today if he were a new applicant?

Like this comment
Posted by keep up
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 22, 2014 at 8:00 am

Given that all the OCR lawsuits are being thrown out, the opposite would be true.

Like this comment
Posted by teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2014 at 10:09 am

I am a long-time teacher and I'm taking some time off from full-time teaching. I considered subbing in PAUSD this year until I saw the pay rate. Even at $152, a 7-hour work day (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) works out to roughly $21.71/hour. Given the sporadic and challenging nature of sub work, it's not worth the hassle. Especially for experienced teachers. I think you do get what you pay for.

Like this comment
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 22, 2014 at 11:22 am

I am glad that the substitute pay has been raised but disappointed at the lackluster increase. We expect our subs to be more than "a warm body in the room" and they should get paid accordingly. In recent years, PAUSD has fallen behind other districts in teacher pay and substitute pay. We have had such a dire shortage of subs this year (who can blame them for taking other jobs instead?) that teachers sometimes come to school when we are sick because we know if we call in sick in the morning, we likely won't have coverage for our classes. That's pretty sad.

I wish that the school board valued all of us more than they do.

Like this comment
Posted by One of the substitutes
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 22, 2014 at 12:22 pm

Addison Mom, did you attend the recent board meeting to hear us substitutes speak ? Do you have any idea what is expected of us on any given day, starting with the 5:30 AM phone call which may send us to an advanced Math class first period and then into a classroom where almost no one speaks English ? It's happened to me. I have taught in classrooms int he PAUSD and subbed since retirement for a total of 50 years. It saddens me to read that you think our prospective raise "stinks." How much would they have to pay you to do what we do ? And… are you qualified ?

Like this comment
Posted by LowPay
a resident of Mayfield
on May 22, 2014 at 12:34 pm

I used to work-out at one of Palo Alto's Community Centers. We were charged $7/class with $4/person going to the instructor. Some classes have 7 participants but some have 30+. In the more popular classes the instructor makes $120/hour. In my opinion (I am not a substitute or a teacher nor do I have school age children), teaching children is more challenging than teaching Zumba, aerobics, etc. The substitute teacher wages should be increased.

Like this comment
Posted by the other sunshine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2014 at 10:09 pm

"@keep up
"Given that all the OCR lawsuits are being thrown out, the opposite would be true."

First of all, there aren't a bunch of OCR "lawsuits". There have been complaints. When people are at their wits end, they may file a complaint with the OCR as a last resort.

From the OCR's FAQs, which I found using Google:
"if you proceed with your claim in a court, OCR will not continue to pursue your OCR complaint."

"What if I am already pursuing my complaint within the school district or college or with another agency?
"OCR does not handle cases that are being addressed by another agency or within a school's or college's formal grievance procedure if OCR anticipates that the agency you filed with will provide you with a resolution process comparable to OCR's. "

You got that? If you have a legitimate complaint, but your district is trying to apply the procedures they have under the law, then OCR does not take the complaint.

OCR is also not a police agency. Their purpose is to get districts to follow the law. There are a whole bunch of circumstances under which they will not pursue complaints (as above), but it does not mean a person does not have a legitimate complaint. As their FAQ says, they do not usually handle cases that are being addressed by a school's grievance procedures.

When OCR does decide to investigate a complaint, it's usually because it affects a lot of people, or something is very wrong at a district. When they find something wrong, the vast majority of the time the district is already figuring it out and closing the case. It is only in a very rare number of cases, on the order of 20 out of 2,000, where the districts are found to be violating the law and the OCR has to tell them what to do to get back into compliance, and make them sign an agreement because they don't voluntarily do it on their own. Palo Alto had 2 of such agreements in a single year.

Kevin Skelly's bad was signing them without letting the school board know. Charles Young's, as compliance officer for the district, was allowing things to get to that point by completely not doing his job for years.

One of the resolution agreements was because PAUSD did not even make available, know how to work with, or even admit to having procedures for extending 504 protections to students with disabilities, even though the law requires districts to actively identify and inform parents of their rights and extend those protections to the students proactively because it ends up being better and cheaper for everyone that way, especially the disabled student.

Realize, the 504 procedures are written by the districts themselves, the government doesn't just give them a list of things to do, the district writes it's own guide for how it will follow the law, clears it with the government, and then is supposed to give it to parents. Our district had such procedures and was pretending to parents that it didn't.

There COULD have been lawsuits as a result of that, in which the district could have paid damages, but there weren't, because parents mostly just want their kids to get and education and for the protections they deserve to be extended in this district.

That some of the complaints to OCR later were not investigated or pursued by OCR is not even the same as saying the kids did not have cause to complain. But the fact that you think a bunch of "OCR lawsuits" were "thrown out" shows quite an uninformed bias. What's at stake for the families and kids who need those protections is nothing less than their kids' education and future. Please get a little better informed.

Like this comment
Posted by the other sunshine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2014 at 10:12 pm

I have never been anywhere where the subs are as competent and integrated into the program as they are here. I have also been dismayed to hear that our district does engage in some heavy-handed tactics with part-time workers and wages. We're all familiar. Yep, they happen here. Pay the subs for the work they do.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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