School board members said Tuesday that a proposed salary structure and pared-down contracts for top district administrators will bring clarity and transparency to how senior leadership gets paid in Palo Alto Unified.
The new salary schedule ties future raises to satisfactory performance evaluations rather than salary increases negotiated with the district's bargaining units, as long has been the practice.
The new two-year contracts no longer include add-ons, including stipends for car allowances, advanced degrees and cellphones, that inflated administrators' base salaries.
"The public has an interest in what compensation is for senior management and it should be easy to figure it out, not hard to figure it out," said board member Ken Dauber. "I think we've made it easy to figure out."
The changes, when approved, will affect the district's new chief business officer, Carolyn Chow, whose contract the board approved Tuesday night; Deputy Superintendent Karen Hendricks; Assistant Superintendent of Strategic Initiatives and Operations Lana Conaway; Chief Elementary Academic Officer Anne Brown and Chief Secondary Academic Officer Sharon Ofek.
Under the new salary schedule, each position is given a starting salary that increases annually with positive evaluations. Chow, for example, will earn $240,000 in her first year, then $247,200 the following year and $254,616 the next year. Her starting salary is tied to the deputy superintendent's, Austin said, so they start at the same amount and increase at the same rate.
For the assistant superintendent positions, Austin used Conaway's starting salary from last year ($206,400) as the first step on the schedule.
Austin is proposing Brown, Conaway and Hendricks receive no raise, but a 2% off-schedule bonus for the current school year.
Ofek's 2016 contract, set to expire this year, is the only remaining one with compensation still tied to the teachers' union's negotiated salary increase. Austin is proposing to honor that for her this year and then phase out the "me too" raises practice for senior contracted managers. If approved by the board, Ofek will receive what the teachers recently did following negotiations with the district: a 2% mid-year raise and 2% bonus.
Vice President Todd Collins said that the revised contracts were initially prompted by a revision of the superintendent's contract when Austin was hired last summer. His predecessor, Max McGee, had received a monthly $750 car allowance, up to $15,000 relocation reimbursement and a $1.5 million loan to purchase a house in Palo Alto, among other benefits.
The simplified contracts are not the norm for school districts, Collins said, and represent a "radically different approach which I think will pay dividends for all of us in the long run."
The board will vote on the contracts and bonuses at its next meeting on June 11.
The board evaluated Austin during closed session on Tuesday and gave him a satisfactory rating, according to President Jennifer DiBrienza. They will discuss his contract at a future open-session meeting.
The board also approved several new appointments on Tuesday, including Chow, the replacement for Jim Novak, who is retiring at the end of the school year. Chow is currently the chief business official for the San Mateo-Foster City School District and has worked in district finances since 1993. She is expected to begin in Palo Alto Unified on July 1, pending release from her current job.
Miguel Fittoria, the program director at Palo Alto tutoring nonprofit Dreamcatchers, was approved as the district's new community outreach coordinator. He will be focused on helping the district to better support and engage low-income and minority students and families.
The board also approved Leslie Crane, currently the principal of the TK-8 Clifford School in Redwood City, to replace Chris Grierson as principal at Duveneck Elementary School. (Grierson is leaving to become principal at JLS Middle School; JLS Principal Lisa Hickey is moving to the district office to become director of certificated human resources.)
Annora Lee, the assistant principal for Escondido and Ohlone elementary schools, was promoted to principal of Palo Verde Elementary School, where Principal Hillary Miller has resigned due to personal reasons.
In other business Tuesday, the board discussed ongoing efforts to support underrepresented students spelled out in Austin's draft districtwide plan, the PAUSD Promise. A high-level goal in this area, he said, is to develop stronger systems across the district that support these efforts rather than relying on individuals or one-off programs.
While some board members asked for more specifics to be included in this section of the plan, at least two board members urged staff to prioritize a small number of realistic goals related to students' academic performance rather than spread themselves thin in a high-stakes area that the district has tried for years to improve.
Collins said he will be looking carefully at how and whether progress has been made in next year's performance evaluations of senior staff.
"If (the needle is) not starting to move, why should we wait another year and just pour more money into it and see if it works?" he asked, urging staff to "focus laser attention ... on a few things that will actually work."
DiBrienza, however, said that without examining the entirety of what creates inequities for these student, including non-academic factors such as connection and engagement, the district won't make any progress on their academic performance.
"The only way we make a dent in achievement is by looking at the whole picture," she said.