The Palo Alto Unified School District and its teachers union have reached a tentative three-year labor agreement that would provide an ongoing 2% raise and 2% one-time bonus this year.
In a statement, Superintendent Don Austin called the tentative agreement, which has not yet been ratified by the Palo Alto Educators Association, a "positive outcome resulting from professional interest-based bargaining.
"On behalf of our Board of Education, I would like to thank the PAEA leadership for their willingness to embrace the process and advocate on behalf of our certificated employees and students," he said.
The current collective bargaining agreement, thought to be the district's first-ever multiyear union contract, was negotiated by former superintendent Max McGee and heralded at the time as a successful change for Palo Alto Unified and its bargaining units. Then, in 2017, in the midst of a budget shortfall, the district discovered that no one had formally notified the teachers and employee unions that the district planned to exercise its option to reopen negotiations, as required by the contracts, with the intent of canceling a 3% raise. The error cost the district $4.4 million in unbudgeted raises. The contracts also provided for a 1% 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% or more, which it was.
The teachers union ultimately agreed to return the 2% bonus, which was reallocated to schools' per-pupil funding.
Under the new three-year contract, raises would be negotiated each year, unlike the now-expired contract, which contained three year's worth of salary increases and bonuses.
This year's raise, effective retroactive to Jan. 7, 2019, would cost the district $1.2 million and $2.4 million in each of the following years. The off-schedule 2% bonus is based on employees' salaries after the raise is applied and would cost the district $2.4 million.
Chief Business Officer Jim Novak, who given budget restraints recommended in March that the board take a "judicious" approach to spending, said that higher-than-projected property tax revenues have boosted the district budget to help pay for the raises. Property tax revenue is currently estimated at 7.4%, up from 2.8% in this year's adopted budget, he said.
There was little discussion of the contract at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting; the board members were limited in what they could say given the union has not yet ratified the tentative agreement, Vice President Todd Collins said.
"I'm really appreciative of the interest-based approach and it's allowed us to really come together around what we both view as important," said board member Shounak Dharap.
"Even though it's not the norm" to bring a union contract to the board without ratification, Dharap said, it brought transparency to the process.
A contested provision added to the previous union contract, which requires secondary school teachers to use online school management system Schoology, was not renegotiated this year but will remain in the new agreement, said Palo Alto Educators Association President Teri Baldwin. The Schoology requirement was formally added to the contract after the airing of a grievance the teachers union filed against former Gunn High School Principal Denise Herrmann, accusing her of violating the union contract by asking all teachers to use the online tool to post homework.
However, a pilot of end-of-year course surveys for high schoolers to give targeted input on specific teachers and classes will not continue in the tentative agreement. The student surveys were approved as part of a separate two-year memorandum of understanding and extended for one additional year, then expired and were not discussed during negotiations this year, Baldwin said.
Chris Kolar, the district's director of Research, Assessment and Evaluation, told the school board at a January retreat that feedback about this new survey itself was generally positive.
Baldwin, however, wrote in an email Tuesday that "teachers expressed that they didn't receive the course-specific and instructional feedback they had in the past when creating their own surveys. ... The teachers wanted more direct feedback, not the general feedback that came from the pilot survey."
An existing section in the contract on student input, which requires teachers to collect feedback before the end of the first semester and again prior to the end of the school year, still applies, Baldwin said.
Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks said that neither the district or the teachers union brought the survey memorandum of understanding forward to negotiate in the new contract. She declined to state why, citing the confidentiality of interest-based bargaining.
"Both parties sunshine articles and brought forward articles and topics that were pertinent and those were addressed at the table," Hendricks said.
The district and teachers union already settled medical, dental and vision insurance benefits in October because they run through the calendar rather than the fiscal year, according to the district. The benefits represent a budget increase of $440,000 for the district. The total annual cost for employee insurance benefits is approximately $20.6 million, according to Novak.
If adopted, the contract would last through June 30, 2021. It also includes a memorandum of understanding to reopen four provisions on compensation and benefits; hours, leave positions; and working conditions during the next school year's negotiations.
The PAEA contract will come back to the school board for discussion and action at a later date.
Negotiations are still ongoing for a new contract with the Classified School Employees Association, Hendricks said.
The school board also briefly discussed on Tuesday a new memorandum of understanding with the district's management association, which represents certificated and classified managers and school psychologists. The proposed five-year agreement would tie managers' salary increases to those negotiated with the teachers union. The agreement does not apply to members of the executive cabinet: the superintendent, assistant superintendent, deputy superintendent and chief business officer.
Under the proposed memorandum of understanding, members of the Palo Alto Management Association would also receive a $1,000 annual professional development allocation, which can also be used to reimburse staff for the cost of a master's or doctoral program, credential programs or Association of California School Administrators membership dues.
Austin told the board that there are provisions in the existing memorandum that are "not standard in other districts" and created a "barrier to some degree with us having a partnership relationship."
"On the back end they (the PAMA leadership) talked to me about compensation and how some changes over time had been a barrier over time for them feeling like partners," he said.
Trustees largely commended the effort to reduce the scope of the memorandum of understanding and did not comment on the proposed five years of umbrella compensation.
"I think this is really a step forward and I hope that we can continue (to) work with our wonderful administrative and leadership employees to work together as a team to accomplish great things for students," Collins said.
The board will vote on the proposed memorandum of understanding at its next meeting on May 14.