Raising Local Teacher Salaries (part 1)

San Mateo / Foster City School District salaries have not been competitive with nearby districts for years. This discussion (part one) is an attempt to understand and address this issue.

On October 4th I was talking to a client and learned that a large number of teachers had left our local Borel Middle School at the end of last year.  With the rising cost of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area and the wave of baby boomer teachers retiring, I was concerned that the conditions might finally be developing for a “perfect storm” in which replacements might not be found due to cost of living issues for new teachers.

Our district has always been funded differently from surrounding districts, since before my children started attending the local schools about 25 years ago, and it seems that these problems still have not been resolved.

I opened a discussion on Nextdoor.com in our neighborhood to try to gather additional insight into the teacher departures from Borel, and am reproducing parts of that discussion here because Nextdoor access is limited to our local neighborhood.  Text other than mine below has been quoted with permission of the author.  Horizontal lines separate posts which are also quoted in italicized text.

October 6, 2016, DK:

The good news is that I was told that all of the open positions at Borel were filled, but that now there is apparently another new opening in science.

Both of the following replies were from parents, not staff, so please understand that these are opinions, NOT official statements.

First reply:

“Here are the teachers from last year :


and here is the staff for this year :


2 Math teachers left, one was the geometry teacher and since there is no more geometry is middle school…
2 Spanish teachers,
2 special Education teachers
1 English teacher
1 Social Studies/PE teacher
1 Social Studies teacher
2 science teachers
1 music teacher

Most of them lived very far away and didn’t have the means to live nearby. They might have found jobs near their homes.

I think the district found a replacement for all of them except one Science teacher. A lot of the new teachers are excellent.”

Here is the second reply:

“I’m not sure of an exact number, but quite a few did leave at the end of the year. It wasn’t any one reason (or smoking gun) but I do know there were engagements/marriages that caused relocations, a few retirements, promotions to the district, and a number who left due to cost of living or long commutes. All positions were filled by the first weeks of school. The cost of living has been a major issue for our district at all grade levels and especially the 4 middle schools. We’re surrounded by districts that pay more and in an area that traffic is making the commute longer than ever.””

These comments made it look like we had dodged a bullet and were still able to attract new teachers, but I was still concerned about salary disparities with surrounding districts:

“…we are apparently always losing teachers to surrounding districts and to the SMUHSD which all pay more. 

Why in an area that is pretty well-to-do has this not been challenged and changed years ago? I’d appreciate it if someone could enlighten me (possibly once again 😉 ), on this topic. 

The good news out of the discussion thread on Borel is that they are still able to hire teachers and fill their openings, but it is becoming more challenging due to recent economic trends. Hopefully we can take action soon. Ignoring this problem and simply leaving public schools for private ones is not the solution. Private schools are not going to be able to pick up the slack if the public school system were to fail. Prices will skyrocket even more than they already have (tuition at Menlo is already $42,830 per year!) and many kids will be hurt.”

Oct. 7, 2016, DK:

“This is what we pay our SMFCSD teachers:


…By contrast here is the teacher salary schedule in Belmont next door:


First year salaries in Belmont range from $52,775 to $59,364 depending upon units taken after a BA. In SMFC the range is $51,070 to $52,419! After 12 years the top salaries are $86,670 versus $83,563 here. Without additional stipends the scale tops out here after 22 years at $96,042 versus $100,482 after 24 years in Belmont.

This sends a clear message that, compared to our “nearby neighbors,” not only do we not value teachers, we don’t care either about their level of experience!!!”

A teacher, Grant Conour, who formerly taught in our district but moved to Menlo Park, replied:

As a former teacher in the SMFCSD, and now in Menlo Park, I’d highly encourage any and all concerned parties to continue pushing this issue with the school district. The teacher’s union is constantly pushing for a higher salary so teachers in the Bay Area can earn a livable salary, but the district does little just because teachers ask for it. The public (parents, community members) are the ones who have their attention and the ability to pressure them to make a change. A comparison to Belmont is apt in terms of geographic proximity, but districts like Menlo Park and Palo Alto are on a whole other level and are drawing teachers away from San Mateo. I did not leave SMFCSD specifically because of salary, but I can tell you that I saw a $13,000 a year raise when I did – who could possibly expect highly qualified teachers in the Bay Area to stick around when offers like that are on the table?”

“As a quick addendum to further illustrate the point, the salary schedule for a veteran teacher in Menlo Park/Palo Alto tops out at nearly $25,000 more per year than SMFC…”

and this led to the following exchange between Grant Conour (GC) and myself (DK):

DK:Thanks for your reply. I would also appreciate your opinion on the $64,000 (now $164,000 😉 ) question: if teachers want to be paid like other highly paid professionals, are they willing to give up tenure protection and/or at least be evaluated on the basis of merit as other professionals are?  This is what taxpayers will be asking (along with asking for adjustments due to the lengthy vacation periods).

This does not automatically mean being annually reviewed solely on the basis of test scores. Group reviews by the principal, department head, and peers should suffice (though if test scores are consistently dismal for a teacher the reviewers should, of course, look into the cause of this).

The teachers unions seem to avoid this discussion like the plague, and I think this is part of the reason why this issue never gets addressed adequately.

I should add that the reason I ask this question is because if we just add, say, $13,000 to bring SMFC salaries in line with Menlo Park, a $64,000 salary is still pretty paltry when it comes to being able to afford housing in this area. If one purchased a $1 million house (and that is somewhat modest around here), $20,000 alone would go toward paying the annual property taxes and then there would be the mortgage payments to make on top of that! One’s family would be subsisting on rice and beans!”

GC:David, while I can’t speak for all teachers, I know that personally I would be fine trading out the tenure system for a substantial increase in compensation and a fair evaluation system not based solely on test scores. That being said, I would agree that the issue may be taboo, as I’ve never once heard anyone on either the teacher union side or the district/state side even mention the possibility.

As for the “substantial” vacation time (I assume you’re referring to summer vacation), many people do not know that this is not paid vacation time for teachers – our salary is paid 10 months out of the year, and the other 2 we receive no compensation. Additionally, nearly every teacher I know works at least a few weeks out of the summer (unpaid) packing up and setting up classrooms for the new school year and attending professional development opportunities. We also work a few hours of unpaid overtime nearly every workday, and some teachers are regularly seen in their classrooms on the weekends. All of that being said, as long as those work hours were taken into account and not counted as “vacation” time when determining fair compensation/salary, I think an agreement could be reached with teachers.

You’re completely right that even a $64,000 salary for an experienced teacher pales in comparison to other jobs in this area, where entry salaries in tech are often $100,000+, and leaves us unable to afford rent in many cases, much less a home!”
DK:Thanks again for your opinion. I have also worked as a teacher in addition to other professions during my long career, and I am aware of the issues that you raise above about summer breaks, but, nonetheless, that is a question that one always hears when teacher salaries are discussed, and it must be addressed.

The bills do not stop coming in just because one is essentially unemployed (though with benefits at least) for a couple of months.”


In the next few days following the conversation above, I found several articles in the local newspapers which indicated that concern about this and the related housing issues were on the rise:

In the Oct. 9, 2016 Chronicle:


From the Oct. 10th San Mateo Daily Journal about SMFCSD efforts to solve the housing problem:


On Oct. 20th I posted:

Update on the teacher housing issue for the SMFCSD in yesterday’s DailyJournal:


and also today’s issue for SMUHSD:


and on the 22nd I posted:

“The latest from the Daily Journal:


It was time to investigate further and talk to the SMFCSD superintendent Joan Rosas (to be continued)…

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired Ph.D. scientist, teacher (after retiring from industry, taught in private and public high schools and then worked a decade in my own private tutoring business), bioinformatician (managed both the NIH-funded GenBank National Nucleic Acid Sequence Databank and the BIONET National Computer Resource for Molecular Biology), IT director at Eos and Raven Biotechnologies, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist, and backpacker!

2 thoughts on “Raising Local Teacher Salaries (part 1)”

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