It is troublesome enough that the powerful California teachers' union has achieved a system where performance doesn't matter and teachers all receive exactly the same pay and pay increase within a school district based only on their longevity and number of advanced degrees.
But it is an abdication of basic management responsibility that highly paid school administrators, principals and other managers and directors also do not receive performance-based pay increases and instead get whatever amount the teachers union was able to successfully negotiate for its members.
Year after year, school boards here and elsewhere are complicit in a system that is all but invisible to the public, quietly approving identical "me too" raises for even the most highly paid administrators without regard to their performance. In Palo Alto, the top six administrators reporting to Superintendent Max McGee now each earn more than $200,000. (McGee, who is paid $316,000, is the one person who doesn't get a "me too" increase.)
Here's how the system works:
Union contract negotiations take place behind closed doors between representatives of the teachers' union, the classified employees' (aides, maintenance and clerical staff) union and Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers. These negotiating sessions are open to the public under the terms of the contract unless either side elects to close them. In reality, they are always closed. Whenever the Weekly has asked to attend, both sides have agreed to close the meeting. There has never been any transparency to the process.
Bowers, who ultimately receives a pay increase himself equal to what he has negotiated with the unions, takes his direction on negotiating strategy from the school board in closed meetings. The only time there is even an opportunity for public discussion on labor negotiations is prior to when they initially begin, when both sides decide which provisions of the current contract they wish to "open" for negotiation, and then again after the school board has already agreed in closed session to a new contract but is required by law to hold a public hearing. At that time, only a summary of their provisions are included in the board packet.
These contract approval agenda items pass in a flash at board meetings and with typically no discussion. (This year was a rare exception because trustee Ken Dauber opposed the contract.)
Following the formal, public board vote approving the contracts that had already been approved in closed session, two more votes are taken with no discussion. One approves identical salary and benefit increases as negotiated in the union contracts for all management employees; the other approves the same increases for the Supervisory/Confidential employees.
Then, in the ultimate example of bootstrapping, the top district administrators automatically get the same increase, regardless of performance and without even a vote of approval by the school board. Why? A provision in each of their contracts states that they will receive any increase that is approved for the larger management group.
No progressively run, modern organization would consider operating this way, and the fact that other school districts have a similar lazy and opaque practice is no excuse for this system continuing in Palo Alto. There is no justification for manager compensation not being tied to performance. Mediocrity and exceptionalism should not be rewarded equally; managers should be accountable for their performance.
When the school board approved the latest me-too management increases in May, at the urging of Dauber and colleague Terry Godfrey it committed to looking at this practice during its August retreat, scheduled for this Thursday. We urge the board to end the practice and to form a citizens committee of HR and business executives to recommend changes in how district compensation for management employees is best structured so it is tied to performance and not the union contract.
In light of the district's recent errors in budgeting property-tax revenue for this year and the multi-million dollar deficits that will result, we also urge the board to immediately roll-back the 4 percent management increases implemented on July 1 (which came a month after a 5 percent retroactive raise back to July 1, 2015).
Nothing can be done to undo the raises given to union employees in May that took effect July 1, but nothing prevents the board from modifying the raises given to managers. If the board knew in May what it found out in early July -- that property tax increases were insufficient to support the raises given -- it surely wouldn't have approved those raises.
This isn't about the need or value of supporting our school managers and administrators. It's about following responsible compensation and budgeting practices.
• Editorial: A school budget crisis some feared | July 15, 2016