News

School board weighs in on teacher housing

Proposed project would build 60 to 120 units in Palo Alto

Palo Alto school board members directed staff on Tuesday to begin talks with Santa Clara County about a collaborative proposal to build affordable housing for teachers in Palo Alto, with some caution about the project's financial feasibility.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian proposed last week, with the unanimous support of his colleagues, that a piece of county-owned land at 231 Grant Ave. be developed into 60 to 120 units of affordable housing for local teachers. He has stressed that the project would require "innovative" funding partnerships, and is looking to the Palo Alto school district as well as Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View Los Altos, Los Altos and the Foothill-De Anza Community College districts and local cities as potential partners.

While most Palo Alto board members signaled their support for the idea of adding more housing for teachers in an increasingly expensive market, some questioned how school districts would actually help pay for a development. The school district was advised by attorneys not to issue a bond for teacher housing, which might technically not be considered school facilities, staff said.

"The happy case is that construction costs would produce, in the presence of free land, a financial situation that wouldn't require much in the way of contributions in addition to that," said board President Ken Dauber. "Otherwise it's going to be hard to see how we can make significant contributions."

Simitian has estimated that construction of a multifamily complex could cost $500,000 to $600,000 per unit.

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Board members agreed to send a letter of support, as other school districts have done, but were careful not to include the action "initiate cost-sharing discussions."

Leadership from other districts and teachers unions, including from Palo Alto, have already penned letters of support that describe the economic hardships teachers face as part of the "missing middle" — making too much to qualify for low-income housing but not able to afford to rent or purchase homes in the city they work in. In Palo Alto, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $3,080 at the end of 2017, according to ApartmentList.com.

Simitian argues that the housing will help districts that are struggling to retain and attract teachers.

The "vast majority" of Palo Alto Unified teachers cannot live in Palo Alto, Palo Alto Educators Association Teri Baldwin wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors, and the long commute "takes a toll on our teachers' quality of life and decreases the value of their salaries."

At a town hall at Gunn High School last week, teachers described living with parents, in-laws or multiple roommates to afford to stay in the area, and increasingly long commutes that prevent them from attending events or connecting with students after school hours.

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Data provided by the school district shows that the number of teachers living in Palo Alto and neighboring cities has dropped slightly over the last three years.

In the 2015-16 school year, just 21 percent of Palo Alto Unified's 898 teachers lived in the city, down to 19 percent in 2016-17 and the same percentage this year. The total number of teachers employed has not changed significantly over those years.

Three years ago, about 32 percent of teachers lived in cities within roughly 7 miles of Palo Alto, from Mountain View to Redwood City. That number dropped to 30 percent last year and 29 percent this year.

Data provided by Palo Alto Unified in May 2016 showed that 70 percent of district teachers would earn salaries in excess of $100,000 for the 2016-17 school year. The county's median income, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is $74,200 for a single person and $113,349 for a family of four.

On Tuesday, board member Terry Godfrey urged staff to approach this as a regional problem and to better understand where the most need is, which she said might not be in Palo Alto. She noted a Mountain View Whisman School District survey found that over one-third of employees there were paying more than 30 percent of their paycheck on housing costs.

"If we're looking at a regional solution I'd rather partner with the other districts to figure out what the needs are … (and) how we can best serve the students in the region versus just ourselves," she said.

Board member Todd Collins offered a potential alternative, which he said he has also floated to Simitian's office: The county could ground lease the property to the Palo Alto school district, which could then build its own housing project there.

Even if the project was built as proposed, units would be split amongst multiple districts, meaning the impact on one district's needs could be small, Dauber noted. He suggested the district view the proposal as a catalyst to spur "our own thinking and efforts" rather than a "solution to the problem."

"If we really are serious about addressing teacher housing in the district then we need to look at things like where in the district do we have land here we can build," Dauber said.

The board ultimately voted 4-0, with Collins abstaining, to direct staff to engage with the county.

County staff plan to return to the Board of Supervisors with a financing plan no later than May, with the goal of having a partner or partners selected no later than August.

At last week's town hall, Simitian said he's asking school districts to embrace taking an "off-the-shelf approach" to a regional problem.

"This isn't anything any one of us can do by ourselves, but if we all do our part, I think we can do something," he told a full room of teachers, school leadership and housing advocates.

In other business Tuesday, the school board approved a revised comment letter on Stanford University's proposed general use permit. They are asking the university to set aside land for a new elementary school to accommodate future growth and to commit to not seek property-tax exemptions if the university purchases housing in Palo Alto as it expands, among other requests.

The board approved the letter 4-0, with Dauber, whose wife is employed by Stanford, recusing himself.

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School board weighs in on teacher housing

Proposed project would build 60 to 120 units in Palo Alto

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Jan 31, 2018, 9:35 am

Palo Alto school board members directed staff on Tuesday to begin talks with Santa Clara County about a collaborative proposal to build affordable housing for teachers in Palo Alto, with some caution about the project's financial feasibility.

Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian proposed last week, with the unanimous support of his colleagues, that a piece of county-owned land at 231 Grant Ave. be developed into 60 to 120 units of affordable housing for local teachers. He has stressed that the project would require "innovative" funding partnerships, and is looking to the Palo Alto school district as well as Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View Los Altos, Los Altos and the Foothill-De Anza Community College districts and local cities as potential partners.

While most Palo Alto board members signaled their support for the idea of adding more housing for teachers in an increasingly expensive market, some questioned how school districts would actually help pay for a development. The school district was advised by attorneys not to issue a bond for teacher housing, which might technically not be considered school facilities, staff said.

"The happy case is that construction costs would produce, in the presence of free land, a financial situation that wouldn't require much in the way of contributions in addition to that," said board President Ken Dauber. "Otherwise it's going to be hard to see how we can make significant contributions."

Simitian has estimated that construction of a multifamily complex could cost $500,000 to $600,000 per unit.

Board members agreed to send a letter of support, as other school districts have done, but were careful not to include the action "initiate cost-sharing discussions."

Leadership from other districts and teachers unions, including from Palo Alto, have already penned letters of support that describe the economic hardships teachers face as part of the "missing middle" — making too much to qualify for low-income housing but not able to afford to rent or purchase homes in the city they work in. In Palo Alto, the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $3,080 at the end of 2017, according to ApartmentList.com.

Simitian argues that the housing will help districts that are struggling to retain and attract teachers.

The "vast majority" of Palo Alto Unified teachers cannot live in Palo Alto, Palo Alto Educators Association Teri Baldwin wrote in a letter to the Board of Supervisors, and the long commute "takes a toll on our teachers' quality of life and decreases the value of their salaries."

At a town hall at Gunn High School last week, teachers described living with parents, in-laws or multiple roommates to afford to stay in the area, and increasingly long commutes that prevent them from attending events or connecting with students after school hours.

Data provided by the school district shows that the number of teachers living in Palo Alto and neighboring cities has dropped slightly over the last three years.

In the 2015-16 school year, just 21 percent of Palo Alto Unified's 898 teachers lived in the city, down to 19 percent in 2016-17 and the same percentage this year. The total number of teachers employed has not changed significantly over those years.

Three years ago, about 32 percent of teachers lived in cities within roughly 7 miles of Palo Alto, from Mountain View to Redwood City. That number dropped to 30 percent last year and 29 percent this year.

Data provided by Palo Alto Unified in May 2016 showed that 70 percent of district teachers would earn salaries in excess of $100,000 for the 2016-17 school year. The county's median income, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is $74,200 for a single person and $113,349 for a family of four.

On Tuesday, board member Terry Godfrey urged staff to approach this as a regional problem and to better understand where the most need is, which she said might not be in Palo Alto. She noted a Mountain View Whisman School District survey found that over one-third of employees there were paying more than 30 percent of their paycheck on housing costs.

"If we're looking at a regional solution I'd rather partner with the other districts to figure out what the needs are … (and) how we can best serve the students in the region versus just ourselves," she said.

Board member Todd Collins offered a potential alternative, which he said he has also floated to Simitian's office: The county could ground lease the property to the Palo Alto school district, which could then build its own housing project there.

Even if the project was built as proposed, units would be split amongst multiple districts, meaning the impact on one district's needs could be small, Dauber noted. He suggested the district view the proposal as a catalyst to spur "our own thinking and efforts" rather than a "solution to the problem."

"If we really are serious about addressing teacher housing in the district then we need to look at things like where in the district do we have land here we can build," Dauber said.

The board ultimately voted 4-0, with Collins abstaining, to direct staff to engage with the county.

County staff plan to return to the Board of Supervisors with a financing plan no later than May, with the goal of having a partner or partners selected no later than August.

At last week's town hall, Simitian said he's asking school districts to embrace taking an "off-the-shelf approach" to a regional problem.

"This isn't anything any one of us can do by ourselves, but if we all do our part, I think we can do something," he told a full room of teachers, school leadership and housing advocates.

In other business Tuesday, the school board approved a revised comment letter on Stanford University's proposed general use permit. They are asking the university to set aside land for a new elementary school to accommodate future growth and to commit to not seek property-tax exemptions if the university purchases housing in Palo Alto as it expands, among other requests.

The board approved the letter 4-0, with Dauber, whose wife is employed by Stanford, recusing himself.

Comments

dtnorth
Downtown North
on Jan 31, 2018 at 10:50 am
dtnorth, Downtown North
on Jan 31, 2018 at 10:50 am
24 people like this

Many people don't live where they work and I don't think the city should be playing this game. I think it is okay for teachers not to live in the city they teach in. We have police and firefighters up against the same situation for that matter city workers. We can't be building housing for some and not others.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2018 at 11:36 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2018 at 11:36 am
16 people like this

I'm disappointed that the board didn't just say, "This proposal hasn't been thought through clearly. Return to sender."

A perfect example of "The Abilene Paradox". (Google it.)

Web Link


Kind a like tenure?
Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2018 at 5:55 pm
Kind a like tenure?, Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2018 at 5:55 pm
5 people like this

So if you have teacher housing, it's kind of like granting tenure and all the limitations that go along with it...


Manager
Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2018 at 6:39 pm
Manager, Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2018 at 6:39 pm
6 people like this

The city should list all professions and score their value/worth to the community between 1 and 100. Then order them by their score and award housing in proportion to the valuation. City management might be ranked highest and should therefore get the most housing. Support staff and stay at home parents add the least value and would get the smallest proportion of the housing. Engineers and lawyers would probably get none. I’m not sure where teachers would fit in the priorities, maybe in the middle somewhere.


Political
Green Acres
on Feb 1, 2018 at 12:04 am
Political, Green Acres
on Feb 1, 2018 at 12:04 am
27 people like this

So the School Board voted to move forward with this plan for housing for Santa Clara County teachers in PA despite the well-founded concerns with this plan outlined in the Weekly's editorial last Friday. Most likely Board members are appealing for the make-or-break PAEA endorsement in the upcoming election.


Really?
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2018 at 7:38 am
Really?, Old Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2018 at 7:38 am
13 people like this

Wow. Just . Wow.

Free land, and the per-unit cost is $500,000 - $600,000!

That’s what, like $300/sq foot ? $400?

Spendin-Joe has cooked up a real money-waster.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2018 at 11:11 am
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2018 at 11:11 am
10 people like this

Posted by Political, a resident of Green Acres


>> Most likely Board members are appealing for the make-or-break PAEA endorsement in the upcoming election.

More likely is that Board members just haven't thought it through clearly, because, if they did, they would see a massive amount of administrative headaches for a minimal (if any) benefit to the district, or even the county. Somebody needs to start asking "Why?" "How would this actually work in practice?"


Less commute means what?
Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2018 at 2:03 pm
Less commute means what?, Palo Alto High School
on Feb 1, 2018 at 2:03 pm
12 people like this

Maybe the teachers will start staying after school to help students instead of leaving at the ring of the bell to avoid rush hour traffic or catch the train.

Maybe the English teachers at Jordan and Paly will have enough time to start correcting papers with a red pen/font as this is the real way to teach writing skills, verses the current peer editing or no feedback at all.

Maybe the teachers will stay organized instead of postponing tests/due dates or cramming at the end of the semester.

Maybe more of the teachers will use Infinite Campus to report grades so the students know where they stand.

What will the teachers do with more time on their hands? Dedicate it to the students? Will they be improved teachers?


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2018 at 2:07 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2018 at 2:07 pm
22 people like this

Since the housing is for teachers from all over Santa Clara County, they will probably be getting into their cars and driving to Milpitas or Cupertino. Don't expect it to make much of a difference to the overall picture of where Palo Alto teachers live.


Wait a minute
College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2018 at 6:37 pm
Wait a minute, College Terrace
on Feb 1, 2018 at 6:37 pm
5 people like this

@political: when have we ever known Ken Dauber to court PAEA? Or Todd Collins for that matter? Aren't they ones up for re-election, or am I mistaken?


bemused
East Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2018 at 8:32 pm
bemused, East Palo Alto
on Feb 1, 2018 at 8:32 pm
2 people like this

@Less commute, as a side note, I completely agree about peer editing. What a crock! It's very frustrating to see this 'trend' take hold. Even middle school teachers have jumped on the bandwagon.


Resident
Midtown
on Feb 1, 2018 at 10:24 pm
Resident, Midtown
on Feb 1, 2018 at 10:24 pm
Like this comment

@wait a minute, it's Dauber and Godfrey this time. PAEA didn't endorse anyone in the last election. I can't remember before that. I would think their endorsement would be a pretty double-edged sword.


Northneighbor
Downtown North
on Feb 2, 2018 at 12:05 am
Northneighbor, Downtown North
on Feb 2, 2018 at 12:05 am
5 people like this

PAUSD teachers are the highest paid in the bay area. Perhaps the city should give housing priority to service workers. The focus of affordable housimg should not be on school teachers. They commute here because of the pay and benefits. It's a personal choice.


Would they?
College Terrace
on Feb 2, 2018 at 3:52 am
Would they?, College Terrace
on Feb 2, 2018 at 3:52 am
Like this comment

Would they then have time to get to know and teach all their students or just the pre-tutored ones still?


Wait a minute
College Terrace
on Feb 2, 2018 at 5:28 am
Wait a minute, College Terrace
on Feb 2, 2018 at 5:28 am
4 people like this

@Northneighbor: highest paid based on salary schedule is Mt.View/Los Altos by about 10k. And that's without add-ons like extra degrees or certification.


Out of the bubble
Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2018 at 6:48 pm
Out of the bubble, Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2018 at 6:48 pm
2 people like this

Most of the teachers in Palo Alto have no desire to live in the town, even if they could afford to which none of them can. They simply do not get paid enough to have to deal with and put up with all of the ridiculous expectations the parents in this town have of them and their children. You think they want to run into these people at the store, or downtown and have to deal with it there? Not a chance. Ask any teacher in this district in an honest moment and they will tell you it's the parents that are the problem,the students are great. Most of these teachers are struggling to find decent housing within 1hr of the district, even with above average salaries they simply cannot afford housing this close in unless they have a high earning spouse or partner. Pay them more, a lot more, they can afford San Jose maybe but not for long as a city of over a million people with an average home price of over a million dollars the window is closing. It's a big town, and contrary to popular belief there are some very nice areas that teachers might be able to get into still if their salaries were adequate. PAUSD is in danger of losing its greatest institution it's public schools if they do not go all in on salaries that actually show they want the best and brightest. Not just above average per local industry standards but salaries that show a true commitment to recruiting and retaining the best.


Show me the money
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 4, 2018 at 7:46 pm
Show me the money , Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 4, 2018 at 7:46 pm
12 people like this

@bubble, first, most teachers actually do live in and around Palo Alto. Second, they are among the most highly paid in the area. Third, how would you propose to pay them significantly more? The district is in deficit and gave raises the last two years it couldn't afford.

Do you think there a big cuts to make outside of teachers to fund raises? Do you think we should increase class sizes significantly so we reduce the number of teachers and pay the survivors more? Should we add another parcel tax to the existing one to fund raises (voter approval required, good luck)? Where should the money come from?


Money pit
Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2018 at 7:50 am
Money pit, Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2018 at 7:50 am
10 people like this

@show me

Cut super Max’s pay to what the President of the US gets.
Stop buying houses and free $1.5 M loans for him.
Eliminate car allowances for the Admins
Fire the lawyers and asst admins.

Done. I just found you over $2.5 M. You can now put to teacher pay.


Show me the money
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 5, 2018 at 8:13 am
Show me the money , Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 5, 2018 at 8:13 am
2 people like this

Sorry, @pit,that won't quite do it. The US president has been paid $400k plus free housing, etc., since 2001,which is more than McGee (who left last October, btw). The interest on 1.5 million is about $20k a year down at the county treasury. The car allowances I agree, but that's probably $30k a year across all of them.

Firing all lawyers and asst admins (not sure who those are) might help, though I think we need some of them. But even if that were 1.5 million in savings, it would produce a 1% raise for teachers - not exactly a game changer.


Money Pit
Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2018 at 11:28 am
Money Pit, Barron Park
on Feb 5, 2018 at 11:28 am
4 people like this

[Portion removed.]

u sed > "The interest on 1.5 million is about $20k a year"

On what planet ?
With those numbers we should borrow $100M and invest in the S&P500 at 25%.

u sed > "car allowances I agree, but that's probably $30k a year across all of them."
McGee alone was over $10k per year. So you're way low when you add them all. Even Cathy Mak got a car.

u sed "it would produce a 1% raise for teachers - not exactly a game changer."

Nice of you to turn down a 1% raise (that was your low ball estimate BTW from funds that I very easy to come up with) on behalf of the teachers. I'm guessing you must work for the school board.

Bottom line is you said where is the money. I spent 1 minute and found $2.5 M of waste in just a few places. The money is there.

We can spend all day telling each other who's math is right (and yours is clearly wrong and trivializing the numbers). You can also spend all day telling me that no matter how much money I come up with it isn't significant (in your opinion) to make a difference to a teacher (how would you know ?). But at the end of the day, everyone knows that the school board wastes our money on Admin and perks and lawyers to fight its own citizens against OCR cases brought by our own government.

Time for the School board to grow up and act like adults. The irrefutable point is that there is money being wasted on things that don't benefit our kids. There is money available.


Show me the month
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm
Show me the month, Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 5, 2018 at 5:40 pm
5 people like this

@money pit, the school district is required to keep its reserves in the county treasury, which for the last number of years has paid about 1% interest. So unfortunately your investment plan is not an option for them (and looking at today's market downturn, probably not a great idea).

McGee's car allowance was $750/month - that's $9K/year. Mak is $450/month - that's $5.4K. There are only a handful of other fixed car allowances. I actually think $30K might be a high estimate.

The question I was answering was from "out of the bubble," who said "pay them more, a lot more" and said the district needed to go "all in on salaries" - hence my view that 1% wouldn't do the trick. The average raise for the last 5 years is more than 3% a year, so 1% is not much - about $20 a week for the average teacher.

Unfortunately, your approach makes it easy for the board to ignore a valid suggestion, since it is error ridden and not thoughtful. Serious efforts to raise salaries would require some serious changes. It might be the right thing to do, but the proposals need to be thoughtfully made.


Comment
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2018 at 11:26 pm
Comment, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 5, 2018 at 11:26 pm
2 people like this

I think the above poster meant to suggest cutting the superintendent salary to what the governor of California makes. Although you didn't quite compare them properly to the POTIS salary because I think superintendent and other employee pay is only 9 or 10 months, prorated annual is more.

Dauber is thoughtful in most respects but ideological about affordable housing and will probably never delve deeper.


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