The Palo Alto school board unanimously approved 2% raises for its teachers union and senior managers on Tuesday night.
The three-year labor agreement with the Palo Alto Educators Association provides an ongoing 2% raise — though compensation will be renegotiated each year — and a 2% one-time bonus this year. This year's raise, effective retroactive to Jan. 7, 2019, will 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 will cost the district $2.4 million.
The new agreement replaces the expired collective bargaining agreement, which was thought to be the district's first-ever multiyear union contract and heralded at the time as a successful change for Palo Alto Unified and its bargaining units. Then, senior leadership's failure to formally notify 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 in the face of budget cuts, cost the district $4.4 million in unbudgeted raises.
By also approving a revised memorandum of understanding with the Palo Alto Management Association (PAMA) on Tuesday, the board has now tied salary increases for senior administrators to those negotiated with the teachers union for the next five years. (The memorandum does not apply to members of the district's executive cabinet: the superintendent, assistant superintendent, deputy superintendent and chief business officer.)
School board members who had criticized this practice in the past, known as "me too" raises, explained Tuesday why their thinking on this changed, primarily because the agreement was a worthwhile tradeoff in light of unrest among a senior management group ready to unionize.
President Jennifer DiBrienza expressed regret at the board's failure to explain that reasoning to the public, however. No one on the school board raised a question or made a comment about the five-year lock-step pay increase when it was discussed on April 23.
"It's a good reminder for me that even though we know we spent a lot of time ... over several (closed) sessions really talking this through and weighing different reasons why we might do something, the community doesn't know that," said DiBrienza, who was absent at that board meeting.
In a lengthy prepared statement, Vice President Todd Collins called the revised memorandum of understanding a "meaningful win." He described why he came to see the creation of a performance-based compensation system as challenging to accomplish for the Palo Alto Management Association, a non-unionized group that represents 85 principals, assistant principals, directors, coordinators, school psychologists and other administrators. The group "resisted" the idea, he said, and the district has also been limited in its ability to make big changes in the wake of high leadership turnover.
"PAMA leaders were telling us that they may unionize, which would significantly and likely permanently change our ability to work with them as part of our management team — a very big negative in my view," he said. "Our capacity to make changes is limited, and we need to focus on the things that will have the biggest impact on student achievement. If we did this, we'd need to do it well, and that means there are other things we aren't doing."
He noted that the district has started to shift the way its highest-level employees are paid — including having individual contracts with some senior leadership and eliminating perks like automatic raises, degree stipends and car allowances — and hopes that those shifts will at some point lead to a partial or total replacement of the "me too" practice.
Austin and PAMA leadership agreed to pare down the memorandum of understanding from nine pages to one, eliminating details on hiring and grievance procedures, in the hopes of encouraging partnership rather than opposition between the district and its senior managers.