The Palo Alto school board approved Tuesday night in a 4-to-1 vote a 12 percent base salary increase for teachers over three years, with all but one board member arguing that that level of pay hike is necessary to help the district retain and attract high-quality teachers.
Trustee Ken Dauber cast the sole dissenting vote, unsurprising given his previously voiced opposition to spending money that he has argued could be spent on both "healthy" teacher raises and significant class-size reduction at the district's middle and high schools. He has also pointed to data that suggests the district has remained competitive in teacher pay and is not facing any dire retention or recruitment issues.
A standing-room only crowd of teachers wearing Palo Alto Educators Association (PAEA) T-shirts and sweatshirts in the district board room cheered and gave a long standing ovation after teacher Teri Baldwin, president of the teachers union, challenged Dauber's concerns directly. She said that in eight months of negotiations between the district and the union, class-size reduction was never discussed, though Dauber noted in his response that his goal was not to negotiate class sizes in the contract, but rather to have enough money to significantly reduce them.
To imply that teachers "intentionally" chose larger salaries over smaller classes is wrong and "misleading," Baldwin told Dauber.
"When a member of the school board publicizes misinformation, it looks like you intend to mislead the community and discredit teachers rather than work with them," Baldwin said. "Furthermore, it reflects poorly on the district as a whole.
"PAEA stands behind the reasonable and fair contract negotiated this year," she continued. "To suggest it is at the expense of what is best for students is misleading."
Dauber responded that his criticism has not been aimed at the teachers union, but rather at his own colleagues on the board.
"It's the board's responsibility to assess the cost of the contract in relation to the other needs of the district and strike a balance," he said. "That, I think, is what the board has not done."
Though no changes could be made to the new contract on Tuesday night, Dauber had suggested that the district offer teachers instead a 9 percent base salary increase over three years over three years with 1 percent one-time bonuses a raise he said would maintain the district's position as one of the higher-paying districts locally and across the state.
Dauber estimated that the level of compensation increase would free up an additional $4.5 million annually the equivalent of 35 teachers, which 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 has said.
Class sizes have become a focal point at board discussions in recent weeks after two parents published their own data analysis showing that the district is not meeting its official staffing ratios in a significant percentage of classes across the three middle schools and two high schools.
The staffing ratios are included in the teachers' contract, but was not an article the union and district opened this year for negotiation.
Baldwin told the board that the article has been "opened many times in the past in an effort to reduce middle school and high school class sizes, to no avail" and that the union would "welcome" negotiating language that guarantees lower class sizes. The last time class sizes were discussed as part of negotiations was in the 2011-12 school year, according to Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers.
Dauber said the goal was not to negotiate that particular article with the teachers union because "frankly ... opening up the clause with the teachers union to try to reduce class size is not going to work because we're not going to have the funds to do that."
The other four board members, however, expressed strong support for the contract, which is also thought to be Palo Alto Unified's first-ever multi-year agreement. This year's pay bump of 5 percent is also the largest increase the district has given teachers since the 2006-07 school year.
"The most important thing is excellent teachers," said trustee Melissa Baten Caswell. "The market reality is that there is a price for excellent teachers and the reality is we have less resumes coming in the pipeline right now at the price that we're paying."
"We must continue to attract and mentor and support and retain the best teachers we can," echoed board President Heidi Emberling. "Let us continue to be a destination district for educators."
While board Vice President Terry Godfrey supported the contract, she suggested that the district could "make some revisions" to the negotiations process itself particularly to "sunshine" (to be open or available to the public) negotiations and have more public discussion informed by concrete data on key issues that affect the contract such as retention, attrition and competition.
Under the new contract, teachers will immediately see a 5 percent retroactive raise to this school year given negotiations for the current year just ended. Next year, salaries will increase by 4 percent and in 2017-18, by 3 percent.
Teachers could also receive up to 2 percent each year in "off-schedule" bonuses, which don't factor into the salary base. These bonuses are set at 1 percent but would be bumped up to 2 percent both years if property tax revenues exceed the district's projections by at least 1.5 percent, and they will be eliminated if revenues are below budget by 1.5 percent or more.
If the difference between the property tax revenues actually received in 2016-17 is either more or less than 1.5 percent of the adopted school district budget, then either party the union or the district can reopen negotiations on the 3 percent increase in the 2017-2018 school year, according to the new contract.
The contract will cost the district an estimated $21 million over three years. The first round of increases will cost about $7.3 million, the majority of an $8.8 million 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. Program additions will instead be funded through the usual property-tax revenue, according to Mak.
The contract also provides that all non-union managers and supervisors, including senior administrators, receive the same increases as union members, a practice followed in previous years. The board approved in a 4-to-1 vote, with Dauber dissenting, two years of compensation increases rather than the proposed three for this group of employees at an amendment made by Baten Caswell. Her amendment included the caveat that the board will review this summer the compensation process for management employees.
Dauber made a failed motion to defer the vote on non-represented management employee raises to the board's next meeting and ask staff to return with a justification for the proposed increases beyond the "me, too" practice. Godfrey seconded his motion but the other three board members opposed it.
The board also approved in two separate 4-to-0 votes, with Dauber abstaining for each, its agreement with its classified employees union as well as compensation increases for non-represented confidential and supervisory employees.