Written by: Chaewon Lee
Though the school board does not have a teacher pay raise scheduled for this year, teachers are speaking out at board meetings for a salary change. According to Palo Alto Employee Association (PAEA) President Teri Baldwin, the potential increase is still in negotiations between PAEA and the district. Neither party can release specific information about the raise yet due to confidentiality.
If their request is granted, teachers will have their salaries raisedfor the first time since 2008, when they received a 2.5 percent raise. In January of this year, teachers were given a one percent bonus, but no changes to the base salary were made.
According to Baldwin, teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade gave direction for the PAEA Negotiations Team to focus on a cost of living raise. Meanwhile, at board meetings in December, January and February, a total of eight teachers commented in favor of a salary change.
For computer science teacher Josh Paley, who spoke at the board meeting on Feb. 26, the continued lack of a planned raise for teachers and rising living costs for Palo Alto pushed him to voice his opinions. He felt that with the current economic position of teachers, the district should have chosen to take action on the teachers’ behalf. “At some point, you just don’t feel valued as an employee when your employers are saying, ‘We’re just not going to give you anything,’” Paley said.
Living costs for teachers have recently gone up, with the cost of residency in Palo Alto rising by 7.6 percent and teachers having to pay for part of their health benefits. “Right now, I couldn’t recommend that anybody become a teacher,” Paley said. “The starting pay is okay, but even if you want to have a house, a family, and a vacation once in a while, two of those three things will be very difficult to afford.”
According to Human Resources center Assistant Superintendent Scott Bowers, an increase in their salary has not been a major topic for the board, mainly because of the district’s financial position during recent years. “Budget cuts and a generally struggling economy necessitated that the board make some sacrifices with its money,” he said.
Regarding teachers, Baldwin also saw that the economy kept teachers from calling out strongly for a raise. “O ver the past four years, [teachers] knew the economy was bad for everyone, and we understood that we would not be receiving a raise or cost of living adjustment,” she said.
However, according to Bowers, with the passing of Proposition 30 in the fall and a general stabilization of the economy, the district is now in a much more secure place financially than it has been in several years.
A recent report on the district’s budget also revealed that property taxes are due to go up this year. “Employees have understood the district’s tough economic position in the past few years,” Bowers said. “Fortunately, we can now see a light at the end of the tunnel, and the district has an opportunity this year to provide employees with a salary increase.”
The school board is currently looking at specific language that might be used in a salary change contract for teachers. However, according to Bowers, the Board needs to balance salary propositions with the costs of other important programs needed at school sites and within the district, such as increasing site discretionary dollars and adding to the staffing allocations.