News Digest | May 23, 2014 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - May 23, 2014

News Digest

Oregon Expressway slowdown to speed up

For motorists and residents wondering when the Oregon Expressway traffic crawl will come to an end, relief is expected by early September, said Santa Clara County Roads and Airports Department Project Engineer Craig Petersen.

The project to improve traffic flow, which was first proposed in 2008 and approved by the city in 2009, will replace 50-year-old traffic signals along Oregon Expressway from U.S. Highway 101 to Alma Street and along Middlefield Road from Garland Drive to Marion Avenue. The road's need for signal-timing changes to speed traffic flow and safety features for pedestrians and bicyclists is the major catalyst for the project, which since its proposal has been heavily debated and publicly vetted.

The project contract was awarded to Hayward-based Golden Bay Construction, Inc. in June 2013, and construction was to be completed in February. But the work came to a crawl last fall and this spring after a subcontractor failed to perform.

At times, one lane has been closed for roadwork during non-peak weekday hours, causing traffic backups.

The county has "lit more of a fire" to get the job completed, and work is now picking up, Petersen said. "The curb is in now and the median paving is done. They are standing up poles (for the lights) and looking at switching one signal on next week."

Additional poles are still needed; there is also underground wiring, striping and road surfacing to be completed.

The signals will be switched to their new configurations as they are installed. The first signal change will be at the intersection of Cowper Street, Petersen said.

Raises for substitute teachers move forward

Palo Alto school board members on Tuesday threw their support behind increasing salaries for substitute teachers.

Despite testimony from a group of substitutes that the district's offer to bring their salaries up to 51 percent of a starting teacher's salary is inadequate, the board gave the green light to the offer. Historically, the school district has set pay for substitute teachers at 51 percent, though it has fallen off that standard over the past seven years.

The adjustment would increase the regular day rate from $135 to $152, the long-term day rate from $180 to $202 and the partial day rate from $74 to $83.

The substitute teachers, many of whom said they have taught in the district for decades, said that $152 falls short in light of other school district employees' raises over the years, a seven-year stagnancy in their pay and the ever-increasing cost of living in the area.

One substitute teacher who spoke said: "Sometimes we're referred to as 'warm bodies,' and it's obvious we're being paid that way."

Lawrence Markosian, speaking on behalf of his wife, who has been a substitute for 10 years, said the pay is similar to that of babysitters, gardeners and housekeepers in the area.

The board will take action on the proposed raises at its June 3 meeting.

New bullying policy set for approval

The Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday effectively gave its stamp of approval to the district's revamped bullying prevention policy, adding it to the consent calendar — reserved for items routinely approved — for its June 3 meeting.

The board's discussion of the proposed policy, which has been developed over the past 18 months, focused on making sure the proper tools are provided to school administrators to evaluate the legal category under which alleged cases of bullying fall.

That issue related to whether the student with the bullying complaint belongs to a legally protected class, such as a person with disabilities, or is non-protected. The proposed policy only covers cases of bullying of non-protected-status students.

The board in February approved policies for how the district will respond to complaints of bullying from protected-class students. Those complaints are to be handled by district-level administrators. Under the proposed policy for non-protected-status students, school staff — rather than district staff — would investigate the complaints.

Some board members expressed concern that each bullying complaint that is addressed under the new policy be properly documented and passed along to the district level.

Superintendent Kevin Skelly suggested modifying the language to indicate copies of all documentation be passed on to the coordinator of student services to compile district data.

Board President Barb Mitchell and other members asked how quickly the necessary resources and tools for staff, parents and students will be available after the policy is put into place. Skelly said if the board approves the proposal on June 3, information can be put online as soon as the next day.

— Elena Kadvany


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