The board voted 3-1 to increase the substitutes' daily rate from $130 to $135 and the long-term daily rate from $175 to $180 at the first meeting of the new school year Tuesday night. A long-term assignment is 15 days or more.
Based on last year's teacher absences, officials estimate the increase will cost the district about $38,000 more in substitute compensation.
Some substitutes say they love working with children, but it's a difficult job filling in for a teacher with very little notice for what they are paid. Palo Alto's substitute-teacher representatives argued for a $10 per day raise, and while many subs are satisfied with the $5 increase, some say it's not enough.
Board Vice President Camille Townsend and members Barb Mitchell and Gail Price voted for the increase, but board President Mandy Lowell did not support the motion, saying the district's substitutes are already at the "top of the scale." Board member Dana Tom was absent.
"If we can't be No. 1 in classroom-teacher salaries, I didn't see a compelling reason to be No. 1 in substitute teachers'. There wasn't any documentation that we're losing substitute teachers," Lowell said. "This was a close issue for me."
In 2001-'02, the subs' daily rate was increased from $125 to $130 and the long-term daily rate went from $145 to $175. The substitutes have been paid those rates for the last five years.
"I feel it's important to acknowledge and retain high-quality substitute teachers because they help the engine run when the other teachers are away," Price said.
There were no formal negotiations between the district and the substitutes regarding compensation, only discussions held between Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers and a committee of three substitute teachers representing the district's pool of 350 subs.
The committee had originally asked for $10 more a day. Some substitutes are not happy with the $5 increase and have called it "disgusting."
Josephine Tagg, one committee member, said she could not comment on the board's decision without conferring with the two other representatives.
"We can't just fire off the top of our heads. We have to agree. What I say is not necessarily what the committee thinks," she said in a phone interview Thursday. "We did ask for $10, but they chose to give us $5."
The board also voted to give substitute teachers a mileage reimbursement when they fill in for teachers who travel from school to school, such as those on the elementary music and physical-education teams. Bowers said it's the first time the district has offered such a reimbursement, which will be about 45 cents per mile, in line with the Internal Revenue Service's 2006 rate.
One substitute teacher, who has been with the Palo Alto district since the mid-1980s, called the raise "terrible."
"We work so hard. We'll go in for a teacher (who) is paid $400 to $500 a day, and we go in and do everything for them for $135. So often (there's) no lesson plans, and we have to do it all. It's just not fair," said the substitute, who did not want her name printed out of fear of retaliation.
"If we complain and say, 'This isn't fair' or 'That isn't fair,' then we're not called. Ö You don't dare say, 'We're not paid enough,' because that really takes effect and they will lay off calling us," she said.
"Requesting does not come often from the sub office if you're a complainer. We have to play it smart and pretend we're happy with things the way they are," she added.
The Palo Alto district has a pool of about 350 registered substitutes, but there are about 150 subs regularly "on call." On a normal day, said Glenda Duggin -- the district's teacher absence and substitute coordinator -- the district will bring in about 60 to 80 subs. On a heavy day, there will be about 110 subs, she said.
"That's when I come in and I cry. You come in and say, 'Oh, no,'" Duggin said.
Many of the district's substitutes are people in career transitions and college students earning their teaching credentials. She said there are not many retired teachers. Most of the substitutes are attracted to the nature and schedule of the job. And they come from all over the Peninsula.
One even travels from Stockton.
"For most, this is just what they choose to do. It's very flexible. They enjoy being with the kids; they enjoy teaching them," she said.
Duggin said most of the substitutes are pleased with the raise.
"They're all excited. (It's) overdue, of course; that's basically what they said," Duggin said.
Bowers said substitute teachers are more important than ever before. With only three days a year now dedicated to staff development, the district has to hold teacher workshops during the school days and substitutes have to be brought in to take over for the teachers.
While Palo Alto's Board of Education has a goal to keep the district among the eight highest-paying districts in the area when it comes to classroom-teacher salaries, there is no written policy regarding substitute-teachers' pay.
Palo Alto Unified is now the highest-paying district in the area when it comes to substitutes.
Alum Rock Elementary Union School District in San Jose follows closely with a daily rate of $135 and a long-term rate of $155 per day. The Gilroy Unified School District pays $120 per day and $140 per day for a long-term assignment. The Los Altos School District pays its subs $115 per day, with a long-term rate of $130.