The Palo Alto Unified School District and its teachers union have tentatively agreed that if the union foregoes a 2 percent one-time bonus this year, the funds -- about $2.2 million -- will be used for schools' per-student funding.
On Tuesday night, school board members discussed a proposed memorandum of understanding with the Palo Alto Educators Association (PAEA) and appeared likely to approve it at the board's next regular meeting. The memorandum states that if the union foregoes the bonus, the board will put the dollars toward increasing the per-student allocation from $85 to $115 for the next six years, starting with the next school year.
The board had decreased schools' per-student funding from $105 to $85 during budget cuts last year.
The cost over six years will be $2.25 million, or $375,000 per year, according to Anne Brown, the district's interim human resources director. Principals can use the funds at their discretion for a wide range of purposes, from paying for reading specialists to purchasing books for classrooms.
A majority of the teachers union ratified the agreement this past week, PAEA President Teri Baldwin told the Weekly. She declined to comment further, considering the union to still be in confidential negotiations until the agreement receives formal board approval.
Board members repeatedly thanked the teachers union for being willing to return to the table to renegotiate the bonus. President Ken Dauber called the agreement a "win-win for the district and the teachers."
The district has also reached a tentative agreement with its classified-employees union but its membership has yet to ratify it, Brown said. Meb Steiner, president of the Palo Alto chapter of the California School Employees Association (CSEA), declined to state whether the classified union is pursuing the same agreement as the teachers union given it is still in negotiations.
Staff had asked the board to waive its two-meeting rule to approve the agreement with the Palo Alto Educators Association, but a majority of board members declined to do so in order to provide more time for public comment. The agreement will come back for approval on Feb. 27.
The teachers union negotiated over the bonus at the district's request, following an error by district administrators last year that resulted in the district spending $4.4 million in unbudgeted raises for unionized teachers and non-teaching employees.
District administrators failed to formally notify the teachers and classified unions by a contractual deadline in spring 2017 that the district intended to reopen negotiations so as to negotiate cancellation of a 3 percent raise this year. The contracts also provided for a 1 percent off-schedule bonus that would double if actual property tax revenue received is greater than the amount used in the board-adopted budget by 1.5 percent or more, hence the bonus of 2 percent.
In other business Tuesday, the board unanimously approved a list of criteria for the district's next superintendent. The list was compiled by a firm the board hired to lead its superintendent search. Consultants from the firm gathered feedback on desired characteristics in the next superintendent and the overall state of the district through focus groups and an online survey of administrators, teachers, staff, parents, students and community members.
The board made several edits and additions to the list, but it largely remained the same as presented.
Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates consultant Carolyn McKennan said the firm is now "recruiting in earnest" for the job and has at least 40 candidates interested. The consultants will return to the board on March 27 to identify a slate of semifinalists, plan initial interviews and develop questions for the candidates.
On Tuesday, the board also approved a proposal from board member Todd Collins to place a measure on the November ballot proposing two-term limits for board members. The board voted 4-1, with board member Melissa Baten Caswell — who is currently serving her third term — dissenting. The estimated cost of the ballot measure is $70,000 and up to $12,000 in legal services.