The Standards and Criteria Committee — a group that includes PUSD administrators, teacher representatives, and a school board member — presented their report on how current compensation for Piedmont teachers compares to neighboring and comparable districts to the Board of Education on Wednesday night. Using mutually agreed-upon criteria, the committee determined that Piedmont teachers currently rank eighth in total compensation among a group of 19 other school districts.* That ranking is below the joint committee’s stated objective of achieving “the top position among non-basic aid, unified school districts.”
The report is the first comprehensive review of teacher pay since 2006. The joint committee has been meeting since August to create a common set of datapoints for PUSD and APT to use in labor negotiations. The committee includes PUSD’s Chief Business Officer Ruth Alahydoian and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Ariel Dolowich; Wildwood Elementary School teacher Shoshana Beary and Piedmont High School teacher Gabrielle Kashani; Linsey Sandrew, a speech and language pathologist at Havens and PUSD Preschool, and school board member Cory Smegal.
The collaborative effort was hailed by board members on Wednesday, both for the amount of time and effort expended on developing the report and for the clarity it provided.
PUSD and APT are at loggerheads over compensation and benefits and were slated to enter into state mediation on Dec. 14 in an attempt to resolve the impasse. APT seeks an 8.22% increase in salary and a 25% increase in the district’s contribution toward employee health care; PUSD has said it can offer a multiyear increase of 9% over three years: 2% this year, 4% next year, and 3% the third year, to be used on salary or benefits, or a combination of both. PUSD teachers received a 7.5% raise last year, made possible mostly because of the passage of Measure H.
Teachers and parents wearing “Red for Ed” filled City Hall chambers at a rally before Wednesday night’s meeting. As they have over the past months, many shared stories of personal financial hardship, particularly with regard to the impact of healthcare increases. PUSD offers a fixed contribution to employees, so rate increases are borne by the employee, which means many saw their rates more than double this year with Kaiser. (According to the Superintendent, last year PUSD saw a 10% rate increase, and this year, that increase was even higher at over 17%.)
With PUSD and APT at odds over compensation and benefits, the report provides some insights into funding structure, enrollment size and trends, geography and socioeconomic status, working conditions, and total compensation package among school districts PUSD most often compares itself to. (The committee chose to use the highest salary as a basis of comparison because it said that a substantial number — 23% — of Piedmont teachers have 25 years of experience and masters’ degrees.)
PUSD faces a number of pressures on its budget: Assistant Superintendent Ariel Dolowich highlighted the decline in Piedmont enrollment and average daily attendance (ADA) numbers — an issue that has preoccupied district administrators predating the pandemic. As a non-basic aid school district, over half of PUSD’s funding is linked to attendance, he said. (A basic aid school district like Palo Alto receives all of its funding through property taxes and receives no state aid.)
PUSD has also had difficulty hiring and retaining staff for a handful of SPED and co-curricular positions in the last three years. Linsey Sandrew, the speech and language pathologist on the committee, told the board that existing staff have taken on more work due to the inability of PUSD to fill positions and have had to cover vacancies with contractors including a travel psychologist and tele-therapists. According to the PUSD budget information shared by Chief Business Officer Ruth Alahydoian later in the meeting, PUSD saw a $649,000 net increase in special education costs for outside therapy because of the lack of in-district educators.
(*That rank could change depending on the outcome of labor negotiations in other districts.)
Despite the collaborative spirit of the effort, some of the tensions bubbling beneath the surface between PUSD and APT emerged during the presentation. PHS teacher and committee member Gabrielle Kashani expressed frustration over what she called prioritization of “program” over “people” in PUSD’s budget and wondered aloud about the size of the district’s administrative footprint in a time of declining enrollment. (PUSD added, and then cut, its director of communications position after one year in 2023.) “You have the money to build a STEAM building,” she said. “But there isn’t money to pay the people in that building.” (PUSD developed a Facilities Master Plan in 2015 and Piedmont voters approved the Measure H1 school facilities bond in November 2016. The building was completed in 2021 and bond revenues did not cover staff salaries.)
“We can’t separate program from teachers and staff,” responded school board member and committee member Cory Smegal. “The ‘program’ is you” she said. Currently, “over 80% of the district’s expense budget is dedicated to salary and benefits. Forty-two percent on certificated salaries, 13% on classified salaries, and 27% on benefits. The remaining 18% is spent on books, supplies, services, and operating expenditures,” according to a budget explainer on the Piedmont Education Foundation website.
(Budget) reality bites
As part of its annual budget approval process, the Board approved the first interim report with multiyear projections. Unless a new ongoing source of revenue is identified, PUSD is facing million-dollar budget cuts starting in 2024-2025. If the district’s compensation proposal is accepted (APT rejected it as too low), it will require budget adjustments of $1.4 million in 2024-25 and $2.8 million in 2025-26, according to the school district.
You can view the full budget presentation HERE.
The next Budget Advisory Committee to review the budget is Dec. 20 from 4 – 5:30 p.m. in the District Board Room. (Virtual attendance is possible.) View the agenda HERE