Lukewarm on teacher housing, school board doesn't direct staff to pursue further

Palo Alto trustees take wait and see approach to need for housing

The Palo Alto Board of Education is taking a wait-and-see stance by not directing staff to explore what it would take to build housing for teachers at this time. On Nov. 5, the board opted instead to watch the progress of Santa Clara County's plan to develop up to 120 units of affordable housing for local teachers at this county-owned site at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

Despite the rise in interest in building affordable housing for teachers and staff in school districts across the Bay Area, Palo Alto Unified trustees signaled on Tuesday they have little appetite for pursuing such a project at the moment.

Staff had asked the board for direction on whether to take the next step of launching a feasibility study with a site assessment, financial analysis and other elements. Bond Program Manager Bob Golton presented local examples of districts that have built or are building employee housing, including the Jefferson Union High School District in northern San Mateo County, which he called "our case study." The 4,800-student district is building a 122-unit, $61 million development to address high turnover and difficulty hiring staff.

"Color me skeptical," board member Ken Dauber said about the need to build teacher housing in Palo Alto. "There's a motivation question. Jefferson Union had apparently and has apparently a pretty serious recruitment and retention problem that motivates their interest in this project and their willingness to undergo the cost. I don't believe that we have a similar problem so don't have that motivation."

If teacher recruitment and retention are a problem locally, he said he'd prefer to examine a range of solutions before jumping to one that is as complex and costly as building housing.

Vice President Todd Collins said that conceptually, teacher housing is a "good thing" but would come at too great of a financial, time and attention cost to the district, absent of any "pressing need" to address teacher retention.

However, that could change, he said, and the district should watch closely how other local projects progress in case it decides to build housing.

"At this point, in the calculus of where we should spend our time ... this doesn't feel like the next big thing we should invest in," Collins said.

Board member Shounak Dharap said he is supportive of teacher housing but wanted staff to further study three points: whether there's evidence that having teachers live closer to where they work directly impacts student engagement and wellbeing; the feasibility of taking on such a project for staff; and possible funding models. None of the other board members present (Melissa Baten Caswell was absent) expressed support for this direction to staff.

When Board President Jennifer DiBrienza was a public school teacher, shorter commutes made her a "different teacher," she said. It allowed her to attend evening events and have a better work-life balance. But even she wasn't explicitly supportive of moving forward, instead saying that "we've done a lot of our homework in understanding our current state and the possibilities" and keeping in mind that "that could change over time."

Though Palo Alto Unified won't be building its own workforce housing any time soon, the district is still involved in a county-led project for regional teachers and staff at 231 Grant Ave. in Palo Alto. The project recently received an injection of support with a $25 million donation from Facebook that will increase the number of units that can be built and districts the site can serve.

Collins said the county development is a way for the district to "learn something without the investment and distraction" of building and managing its own housing. "We invest a little but we learn a lot."

The district is also in the midst of drafting with the City of Palo Alto a new lease for Cubberley Community Center, including a provision that by 2021, the district will submit an application to develop housing at 525 San Antonio Road, which is adjacent to Cubberley but not technically included in the master plan for the site, or notify the city that district will not pursue housing in the near term there, under the proposed lease terms.

School districts throughout the Bay Area are either considering or moving forward with teacher housing projects, including the Mountain View Whisman School District, San Francisco Unified School District, San Mateo High School District, Santa Clara County Office of Education, Eastside High School District and San Jose Unified School District.


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28 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2019 at 8:57 am

The average PAUSD teacher makes more than the average valley tech worker. Let that sink in.

Next, compare quality of life, work hours, stress... not even close...

As the quoted Board members indicate, teacher retention is not even close to being an issue. These PAUSD jobs are coveted and quite cozy already.

So, for me it's a hard "no" paid teacher housing. Use your salary, like everyone else does.

14 people like this
Posted by Jay
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2019 at 9:16 am

Do you have a source on those salary figures please? The numbers posted on the PAUSD website suggest that the average PAUSD teacher does not make more than the average valley tech worker. Web Link

5 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2019 at 9:28 am

Samuel L. is a registered user.

I believe it's an hourly comparison. The average tech worker works more than 180+/- days per year.

Also, a PAUSD salary schedule does not show the average of anything

16 people like this
Posted by PAUSD Parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2019 at 10:23 am

PAUSD Parent is a registered user.

Sally, I think you do not understand what a teacher's job entails if you think that the quality of life and stress levels are lower than that of an average tech worker. Think about this. An elementary school teacher works with 20+ children, each with a different temperament and needs. School starts around 8, ends around 3. Teachers have to be in school before children get to the classroom; and have to stay many hours after preparing lessons for the next day, working through problems that arise during the day, etc. Most teachers I have encountered are very dedicated to their students and work extremely hard to make sure they are doing as well as they could. If they can't afford housing in Palo Alto, which most younger new teachers cannot, they have to commute long hours as well. Would you want a teacher who spends 2+ hours commuting teaching your child?

6 people like this
Posted by Sally-Ann Rudd
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2019 at 10:26 am

Sally-Ann Rudd is a registered user.

I've also heard that teacher retention isn't currently an issue. What may become an issue is hiring young teachers to take over positions from an aging teacher population, especially in areas such as technology, comp sci, science and math. Young teachers may find they cannot afford to take jobs in Palo Alto schools, which is a shame.

3 people like this
Posted by 525 is not part of Cubberley. The lease should not touch it.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2019 at 11:43 am

525 is not part of Cubberley. The lease should not touch it. is a registered user.

I am puzzled by the Cubberley lease info that is tagged on to the end of this article. I don't understand why a decision to build housing at 525 San Antonio should be linked to the Cubberley lease. It never has been before. These are distinct, completely separate parcels with different zoning. One parcel, 525 San Antonio, is zoned for housing. The other parcel, Cubberley, is zoned PF (for public facilities like schools or a community center, not housing).

It seems to me, the city is overstepping.

PAUSD would be wise to get a land use attorney on this ASAP if they don't want their future development rights restricted unfairly.

8 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 6, 2019 at 12:11 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

I agree with the PAUSD - housing is not in their charter and would require a number of new positions in the PAUSD board just to manage housing. I checked out San Antonio Road off Middlefield - next to the major road and there is plenty of housing in that area - mixed apartments and houses. Also - the county and city is going to build housing near the courthouse which is dedicated to teacher housing. Also the pressure is on for the Fry's site to put housing in that location which would include teacher housing.

As a side note I visited my niece's high school in Baltimore suburb which provided teacher housing. The teacher's would stay for a year then leave. They do not want to be at the beck and call of the students 24/7. Teacher's want their own personal lives to live as separate from their professional lives.
Yes - many are looking at this option but Looking and doing are two separate efforts. Most look but do not proceed.

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Posted by Bean
a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2019 at 12:21 pm

@Resident 1-Adobe Meadows--do you know what the rents are for those units? Yes, they are apartments, but when you start talking $2500+ a month, that's a major percentage of your salary gone. And if you want to have a partner, your own kids, a yard for the kids? There's just no feasible way.

The city as a whole needs to look at affordable housing for everyone, not just teachers. Emergency workers, non-doctors at PAMF or Stanford, etc. are all people that we would want close by in case of an emergency, and if they are commuting hours to Palo Alto, we won't have them.

4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 6, 2019 at 1:13 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Many good points made, for and against. Thank you PAUSD Parent and Sally-Ann Rudd. And I think the Board is wise to take the watch and wait approach to see how the County's efforts play out. I never did understand how that property could get special attention for housing for a special designated group without lawsuits and courts getting involved. If Joe Simitian has addressed that as a potential issue I'd like to know more about it.

21 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Nov 6, 2019 at 1:16 pm

There is no retention or recruitment issue. Very few openings at PAUSD for certificated teaching positions. 2nd highest paying unified school district in California. Meanwhile Pausd owes teachers $187 million in unfunded pension liabilities, and $65 million to the classified staff. If Pausd doesn't get on that, Pausd property owners will have to pony up for that. Take care of that first, school board. Make sure our retired teachers have their pensions, and make sure we don't have any additional property assessments to pay for it.

21 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 6, 2019 at 1:22 pm

Why schoolteachers, and not police officers? Is this all just because they have a more powerful union? While we're at it, shouldn't we subsidize housing for mail carriers and tax collectors?

19 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 6, 2019 at 1:23 pm

A poster named Trainfan did the salary analysis. Pausd Teachers make more per day than the average tech worker. And have way better benefits. We're not talking about building housing on public land for the average tech worker. Seniors and the disabled are low income, but Pausd teachers are not ...

Will try find analysis to post it.

6 people like this
Posted by Livablepa
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 6, 2019 at 1:46 pm

Interesting there was not mention of how classified employees of the district such as food service, classroom aides, custodial than a certified teachers are unable sustain the ever rising rents of housing costs . . . how many classified non management people work for the PAUSD district and where are they forced to live or commute from? Is it just about teachers?

14 people like this
Posted by Don't do anything extra
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2019 at 1:58 pm

What about the gardeners, and the cashiers at Whole Foods, and those who work at CVS, or the plumbers and electricians who come do jobs here, and what about the caregivers and healthcare workers, and nannies, and housekeepers and housecleaners, and so forth and so on? We shouldn't build housing for them too, since they do some work here?

Like this comment
Posted by dorbir
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2019 at 5:43 pm

dorbir is a registered user.

The school board seems not to think in terms of prevention and will respond after a problem has arisen.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2019 at 5:49 pm

Here is a link from a Weekly article that pointed out that more than 2/3 of Palo Alto teachers make more than $100,000 annually -- and don't forget that's for 9 months work.
Web Link

This is higher than the per capita income, and considerably higher than household income if two people make a similar salary and make a household. If you factor in the 9 months versus year, teachers come out even better.

I don't know why these discussions always assume that the salary should allow a single young person just out of college to afford a home, that never used to be the case in Palo Alto or the Bay Area, or really any high-cost-of-living place I've ever lived.

I know a lot of teachers, young and retired teachers, who live in Palo Alto, not just with PAUSD, too. They are too a one better off financially than we are.

If we are as a community going to get involved in buying up property to stabilize prices and civic life, the very first thing we should do is to buy up the downtown and other retail areas, so that we can afford to remain a town with retail. That's the only way we've been able to remain a town with schools and community space.

Like this comment
Posted by ribrod
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 6, 2019 at 6:09 pm

@dorbir: "The school board seems not to think in terms of prevention and will respond after a problem has arisen."

That logic makes sense when you are talking about a $25 flu shot that takes a couple minutes. When you are talking about making a $50+ million investment that will last over 50 years, and you've got limited capital and effort available, it makes sense to be pretty sure you actually have the problem you are trying to solve. The good news if it they decide in the future that they do have the problem, they can still pursue the solution.

8 people like this
Posted by Resident too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 6, 2019 at 7:18 pm

The other problem with building housing is the fairness issue. Who gets it? Won't this cause resentment among the other teachers? If they build one building, will they have to build more? Who runs the place? What happens if a teacher is fired, disciplined, wants to leave, etc? Would it increase complaints against supervisors if young teachers wanted to leave but didn't want to lose their cheap housing?

Getting housing in the Bay Area has long been a really tough proposition. It's a nice idea to provide teacher housing, but it's a pretty expensive experiment.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 6, 2019 at 9:13 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Back to the Fry' site - put four towers on that property and you can address all of the concerns noted above. Make it happen.

Like this comment
Posted by Math Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2019 at 8:00 pm

While tech workers in San Jose earn a median income of $122,242 per year, the average PAUSD employee makes $94k (according to the Daily last year) My math tells me that’s 23% below the average. This is just math. Judge it as you will.

5 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 7, 2019 at 9:39 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

@ Math Guy
Are you going to compare the median to the average? Also "tech workers" is rather vague. Is that everyone that works at a tech company or is it the tech employees that work at all companies?

Either way, let's compare your numbers. The tech worker making the median wage works 250 days per year (unless it's a tech worker at a school), which works out to $489/day of work. The PAUSD employee making the average wage works 182 days/year which works out to $516/day of work.

Given that the PAUSD employee works over 25% fewer days, it makes sense that they earn 23% less pay. Doesn't it?

Like this comment
Posted by Sophat
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 9, 2019 at 8:11 am

Dear PAUSD Parent

I have over 50 customers a day, of many different moods, abilities and cultures. I make minimum wage and have a very long commute. Oh, and when I do get home I share a small space with others.
Do you want me preparing your food?

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