Salary hikes could put pressure on Palo Alto school district budget | News | Palo Alto Online |


Salary hikes could put pressure on Palo Alto school district budget

Dauber: Achieving smaller classes is at risk

A historic new compensation agreement with teachers and classified employees that the Palo Alto school board is likely to approve Tuesday night could potentially be budget-busting in future years if property-tax revenues, which largely fund the district, fail to increase at near double-digit rates.

The proposed contract, already ratified by the teachers union, provides a 12 percent pay hike over three years, plus up to 4 percent in "off-schedule" bonuses, which don't factor into the salary base.

Over three years, the contract would cost the district $21 million.

The cost for the first round of salary increases, $7.3 million, will eat up almost all of an $8.5 million budget surplus that had been set aside in the 2015-16 budget for both salary increases and program additions. The remaining surplus dollars will be used to fund the first 1 percent off-schedule bonus in the 2016-17 school year, according to Chief Budget Officer Cathy Mak, and program additions will instead be funded through the usual property-tax revenue.

The size of the salary increases and ability to fund program additions rely on unprecedentedly high assumptions for the next three years about the rate of increase of secured property taxes, which provide about 70 percent of the district's revenue, in order to achieve balanced budgets.

For the current school year, the district is projecting an increase of 11.5 percent, followed by 9.4 percent in 2016-17 and 8.4 percent in 2017-18.

This is far above the approximately 5.5 percent property-tax growth projection the school district has been using this school year. Past projections have been even more conservative, generally 2 or 3 percent. The district shifted its practice last year to align itself with the City of Palo Alto, whose estimates have historically been more accurate than the school district's, officials have said.

Mak said the higher property-tax projections are the minimum amounts the district needs to balance its budget with the proposed salary increases. Given data that the district receives monthly from the County Assessor and property-tax growth this year, she told the Weekly that the projections are "reasonable."

"We feel comfortable we can offer this raise based on the monthly data we see from the county," she said in an interview.

With the majority of this year's surplus going to teacher salaries, the district is also relying on high property-tax revenue to generate the funds necessary to pay for $3 million in proposed program additions over the next two years.

Some of these additions have been increased and others pared down or cut entirely since they were first proposed. The school board unanimously approved at its May 10 meeting $1.8 million to hire 12 middle and high school teachers over the next two years. The board will also vote Tuesday night on the remaining six budget proposals.

Budget requests that have been "deferred for future discussion" include: expansion of Gunn High School's Small Learning Community and Palo Alto High School's Together Everyone Achieves More (TEAM) program, enhancement of summer school, the addition after-school and enrichment programs at the middle schools, the hiring of district-level world-language coordinator and a part-time Teacher on Special Assignment focused on libraries and emergency-preparedness training.

Ken Dauber, the sole board member to oppose the new contract, has argued that the level of pay increases is "fiscally irresponsible" and is forcing the district, unnecessarily, to make hard budget decisions during an unusually financially healthy year. A critical budget trade-off, he said, is having less money available to reduce class sizes across the district.

The district has long relied on taxpayers to help fund class-size reduction through parcel taxes. The first parcel tax was passed in 2001 with a primary purpose of keeping class sizes small, and voters approved measures again in 2005 (following a failed attempt to renew in 2004), 2010 and 2014.

Since 2010, the parcel tax has provided approximately $25 million to fund class-size reductions, according to the district's parcel-tax expenditure plans.

In 2015, Measure A funds provided $5.9 million to reduce class sizes and $2.9 million for new teachers to accommodate enrollment growth, according to the plan.

Yet classes are still large at many of Palo Alto's schools -- particularly at the secondary level, where two parents' recent data analysis showed middle and high school classes are larger than board-established class-size targets.

Dauber, for his part, argued at the May 10 board meeting that it should not be an either/or budget decision: The district could still offer a healthy raise to teachers while having the funds necessary to bring class sizes down.

He suggested the district offer 3 percent pay increases each year over the next three years, plus one-time bonuses. This would free up an estimated $2.9 million this year and $4.4 million in the next two years -- the equivalent of 35 new teachers -- to support smaller classes, according to Dauber. Thirty-five teachers could reduce class sizes at the high schools by an average of six students, the same number at the middle schools or by three at the elementary schools, he said.

The board will meet on Tuesday, May 24, in the district office at 25 Churchill Ave. starting at 6:30 p.m.

Related content:

Palo Alto Unified officials express concern, but state data shows district pays well


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29 people like this
Posted by budget hawk
a resident of Barron Park
on May 20, 2016 at 11:07 am

There is tremendous waste in education spending.

Teacher salary is not among of them.

Ask any teacher at your elementary school how often they use the mandated SmartBoard in their classroom, and whether they saw a "need" for such technology spending in the first place.

Look at groundskeeping: do we really need our schools blown and raked clean of every leaf once a week?

PAUSD seems to have done a much better job in the last 5 years with energy saving. They have a talented point-person covering this topic, and evidently the savings she creates pay for her salary.

But there is still much low-hanging fruit to pluck, before the typical online vilification of teachers begins.

16 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Barron Park
on May 20, 2016 at 11:15 am

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Friday morning, May 19th

Hurrahs to Ken Dauber for keeping his head, and for following his heart for kids and teachers, in remaining sensible, staunch, and independent.

He's exactly right. We could have both: a healthy salary increase for our faculty and at the same time a healthy decrease in class sizes.

Classes of a friendlier size are not only indispensable to the social and emotional well-being of our kids. They're not only one of the best things we can do for our high-schoolers' mental health.

In addition, they would greatly improve working conditions for our faculty.

According to District records, last semester at Gunn and Paly, 780 classes had 25 or more teenagers in the room together. And no fewer than 407 classes had 30 or more teenagers in one room together. Some teachers have loads of 125-150 teenagers all at one time.

If you're an adult, just try looking after the minds and hearts of 150 young, growing human beings all at once!

Or if you're a teenager, amid such overcrowding just try to get your hand called on, your homework returned quickly (and with rich, tailored feedback), your grade reconsidered, your essay read closely, a one-on-one conference during class or at brunch or at lunch--not to mention an empathic look from your favorite teacher that says, "Geez, I can see you're having a bad day."

(A look that may be the only really good thing that happens for you that day.)

The Board and Superintendent should be acting more responsibly with our money--as Ken Dauber is superbly pointing out.


Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator, Save the 2,008

P.S. To support class-size reduction, check out It's our coalition's number one proposal.

11 people like this
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2016 at 11:18 am

From those of us on a fixed income, THANKS, we really need to be pushed further onto the back burner with our needs, not our wants.

Community leaders and Unions have been ignoring us and our needs and each salary increase given out pushes us the same percentage into the hole.


8 people like this
Posted by Dean
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2016 at 11:36 am

As to class size reduction, let's see if it actually happens, which I doubt. In a year or two check it out again to see if it was the sham that has been foisted upon us for the past 75 years.

Again thanks for your understanding that those of us on a fixed income will manage even if it means doing without necessities. The costs keep rising, but our fixed incomes don't. THANKS

14 people like this
Posted by 38 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2016 at 11:39 am

@ budget hawk.....I agree with your first statement. There is tremendous waste in public education. However, groundskeeping costs are like a pimple on an elephant's behind compared to the bloated salaries of administrative staff and faculty.

California is rated 45 in the nation academically (depending on source). While our schools here fare better than most of the state, throwing more money at education won't solve a thing.

Liberal progressives and teachers unions have ruined what was once the top state in the nation to get a public education. There is no denying this fact.

4 people like this
Posted by money talks
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2016 at 12:37 pm

@ 38 year resident,

Coincidentally, California ranks 44th in spending per student. Our "lighthouse" district is spending the national average per student. Bottom line is that if people want smaller class size along with high quality staff, it's going to cost $$.

39 people like this
Posted by Parent and non PAUSD Teacher
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 20, 2016 at 2:11 pm

I agree 100% with Ken Dauber. There needs to be more financial responsibility. We need to address the classroom size and there can also be a teacher salary increase that is 3%. For those with children that have classroom sizes less than 33, you are lucky but your luck may run out soon. I would encourage you to let the board know that class size is VITAL for our children. A 3% pay increase is terrific for the teachers. Remember, the PAUSD teachers are paid much more than other teachers anywhere in the bay area. Please let the board know. VOTE NO ON SPENDING $21 MILLION PLUS.

Remember, unlike in corporate, there has never been a time (nor likely will there ever be a time) when the teachers were provided even a temporary pay decrease in order to retain their jobs and suffer through economic challenges. Once the pay is increased, it only continues to increase.

21 people like this
Posted by Write to board members!
a resident of Downtown North
on May 20, 2016 at 4:48 pm

Take some action! Send an email to school board members at and cc Tell them you want your letter included in the board agenda. It's not too late!!!

9 people like this
Posted by Taking action
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 20, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Thanks writing email now.

19 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2016 at 6:09 pm

It is true that California's spending on education measured in dollars per pupil is the 44th highest in the country. However this statistic alone gives a very misleading picture when it relates to the current topic. In fact, average teachers' salaries in California are the THIRD highest in the country Based on this, teacher salaries are probably not the first place to look when deciding how to bring our schools up to the national standards in spending.

8 people like this
Posted by Read the contract
a resident of Downtown North
on May 21, 2016 at 7:02 am

Read the contract. This is wrong on the facts. There are safe guards in place if property taxes don't rise at the expected rate. More ace reporting from Kadvany. The bias here is palpable.

15 people like this
Posted by Yes read the contract
a resident of Community Center
on May 21, 2016 at 8:18 am

The problem with the contract is that it doesn't make sense even if property tax meets the projections. Spending all of the surplus on large raises and none on hiring teachers to reduce class sizes is just wrong.
The "safe guards" for lower revenues don't fix that problem, and actually just address the one time bonuses that the board is agreeing to in addition to large raises.

4 people like this
Posted by sort your own house out first
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 21, 2016 at 10:15 am

The problem is there is no will to reduce the class sizes. The average math class size in middle school meets the required standard but there is no will in the schools to spread the load to meet that requirement.

When the recent middle school issue was raised the responses were:

- They want to keep next year's eighth grade classes at 29 or fewer students, which is an improvement on the classes with 33 but nowhere near the require 24
- The reason they can't get to 24 is they want to preserve the "pure team" so all teaches have the same free period

What is most annoying about this is that they don't need more money to reach the size objective. In Math, they have some classes with 17 students and others over 30 students. The only reason they can't get to 24 is this abstract "pure team" concept and lack of will from the school and administration.

Sure you can get around this by hiring more teachers though Max has explicitly ruled that out. However, I'm on Max's side in this. Unless we can get the schools to sort out their complete mismatch between class sizes, we're just throwing more money at the problem.

The editorial misses the point by focusing on a solution without fully understanding the problem. The district needs to start focusing on the problem they can solve now if they have the will.

7 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2016 at 1:39 pm

The reason there is disparity in math class sizes is because of the parents who waive their students into an accelerated class that is not developmentally appropriate for their students. The classes sizes start balanced until all of the waiving starts over the summer...

17 people like this
Posted by alas
a resident of Downtown North
on May 21, 2016 at 2:00 pm

" The classes sizes start balanced until all of the waiving starts over the summer..."

Ironic that the class size issue is now being positioned by this paper as the fault of "greedy teachers".

13 people like this
Posted by Yes read the contract
a resident of Community Center
on May 21, 2016 at 3:04 pm

Middle school class sizes don't meet the district standards. They wouldn't meet them if they were all the same size. They don't meet them because there aren't enough teachers. The problem is far worse in the high schools.
I don't blame greedy teachers, I blame a school board majority that didn't balance teacher raises against the need for smaller class sizes.

3 people like this
Posted by data 101
a resident of Community Center
on May 21, 2016 at 6:25 pm

"They wouldn't meet them if they were all the same size. They don't meet them because there aren't enough teachers. "

As per the SARC reports, in 2014-2015, Jordan had an "average" math class size of 21, with one class having 33+

The goal is 24 and their average is way under that.

The problem certainly doesn't look like lack of teachers. Odd that one board member is pushing for even more teachers when they would have plenty if they were willing to ask the district to do their work and organize the ones they have.

5 people like this
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 21, 2016 at 8:31 pm

At the next Board meeting I would like to hear an honest discussion about the negotiation process. What were the instructions to the District negotiation team and how did the outcome differ from the same set of instructions? I would also like to hear what Dauber had to say during the meeting when instructions were set and how does that compare with what he is saying now? I know Dauber will stand in front of teachers and say one thing and then say something nearly opposite when they are not around. My understanding is that many teachers will be at the next Board meeting so it should be very interesting to see which Dauber shows up.

5 people like this
Posted by Data please
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2016 at 8:49 pm

@data 101, sorry but you're wrong. The averages in the middle and high schools include many small "classes" of 0 or 1 students that don't really exist, pulling down the average. This was extensively reported only a couple of weeks ago. See Web Link

@Alphonso, sorry but I can't make sense of what you are saying.

2 people like this
Posted by actual data
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 21, 2016 at 9:04 pm

@Data please,

Here you go - the above referenced Jordan SARC report. See page 11. Web Link

I believe the point that is being made is that there are underutilized teachers. Why are we paying teachers to teach classes with only a few students? If there are classes with only a few students they should be removed and the teachers re-distributed.

It doesn't make any sense to employ more teachers when there is no-one in the district trying to fix this. Start thinking smart instead of wasting more money.

21 people like this
Posted by Uh Huh
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2016 at 11:39 pm

These large teacher salary increases are being funded by Measure A, right? The parcel tax increase that was lobbied as NECESSARY for keeping class sizes small (or was it for reducing class sizes)? So many of us knew where the money would go, but the majority voted like sheep.

Such an incredibly wealthy district and somehow the kids are last in line to get the benefit of their hard-working parents. No wonder the private schools are doing so well. Better (and much cheaper!) to live nearby and attend private than live in PA and attend public.

God bless Ken Dauber. Keep fighting for the kids, Ken! Tell us when and where to show up and we will!

12 people like this
Posted by Vic
a resident of Downtown North
on May 22, 2016 at 8:57 am

Boy, if this isn't the most ridiculously obvious conclusion ever. Money spent at Churchill Ave does seem to be much more important than money spent in the classroom for educating kids, you know, the whole reason for PAUSD.

5 people like this
Posted by Vic
a resident of Downtown North
on May 22, 2016 at 9:28 am

Clarification: my previous comment reflects on the apparent complete lack of perspective by most of the school board and the Sup. with respect to the proposed raises, and not the report. Thank you Elena for an excellent report.

2 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 22, 2016 at 12:26 pm

"I would also like to hear what Dauber had to say during the meeting when instructions were set and how does that compare with what he is saying now?"

+1; spot on.

6 people like this
Posted by Nope
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 22, 2016 at 12:34 pm

To all conspiracy theorists out there watch the Behind the Headlines video, Johnson asks him if he said all these things in closed session and he said yes, and Heidi dod not disagree.

7 people like this
Posted by Not Pleased
a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2016 at 12:49 pm

Thank you Ken Dauber for being a voice of reason.

To The Community:

Is there a legal process for the removal of School Board Members and the Superintendent?

The Sup and Board members other than Dauber should resign.

2 people like this
Posted by Citizen responsibility
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2016 at 12:54 pm

If anyone wants to do something instead of bellyaching on TS, there are ways. Because the biggest consequence of Measure A was that
A) the new superintendent realized his staff were right, that they could do whatever they want without regard to criticism or laws, and
B) the people of this town are basically a school cash cow. Say "school" and they open their wallets no matter how poorly performing the administrators. So, buying off the teachers will have nothing but upside, because they can come back to residents ignore any criticism about the bald-faced lies they told to get the last tax passed, and ask for more money for the same things.

The most drastic way to get off this road is force a reorganization of the district, for example to a nonunified school district. Or unify with Los Altos Hills. Then it would be legally possible to do all kinds of things like reduce salaries, dump excess administrators, etc. Web Link

The way to make that happen is to create powers for citizens through a city charter amendment. Our city charter is what establishes the board and superintendent positions, and establishes what rules and powers they have. That can all be changed. A power equivalent to citizen referendum for enacted board policies and initiative could be instituted. Then there is a clear path to reject bad policies, which has the effect of getting administrators to check themselves.

Of course, charter amendment could be used for direct reform, but success is more likely if there are examples around the state of others doing so first. Does anyone have any idea how many of California charter cities establish school districts through their charters - or, is there an online repositry of California city charters? (If not, shouldn't there be!)

If you want to fix things, realize there will be opposition. Care about our kids? Don't wait for someone to do this for you.

4 people like this
Posted by Enough
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2016 at 1:00 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by More than angry
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 22, 2016 at 2:17 pm

Measure A

Was it Bait and Switch?

The school district and the board beat the drum yet again for another Parcel Tax so that they could do whatever they wanted to.

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