Raising Teachers’ Salaries – Part 3 – Initial Cost Data

This article provides the background financial data on the teacher salary issue that I have been able to gather to date.

I have exchanged several messages with Superintendent Rosas in the last few days and have another in-person meeting with her set up for next Tuesday.

Last Wednesday I also met with the president of the local teachers union in the SMFCSD, Julie MacArthur.

The purpose of these exchanges and meetings is to get an idea of the dollars involved in making our elementary and middle school salary scale more competitive with adjoining districts at the very least, or, better yet, in taking steps to treat teachers like other professionals and pay them a wage which would enable them to afford housing in the Bay Area.

As I mentioned in earlier articles, our Borel Middle School lost about 12 teachers at the end of last year and other local schools and districts are also facing staffing problems due to cost-of-living issues.

We are also faced with a demographic transition that is exacerbating this problem.  As the older generation of teachers (who have local housing) retires, new hires can not find lodging at anything close to comparable rates.

We need to deal with this problem before it becomes a crisis.

To begin the discussion, I tried to get the data to determine how much money it would cost to raise all of the brackets in the current SMFCSD salary schedule by $1,000.  By comparison, the salary schedule in Belmont just across Highway 92 runs about $2,000 higher each year for the first five years of experience.

I received the following response from Dr. Rosas:

“Salary increases are typically done by a percentage on a salary schedule, not a flat dollar amount.  There are 655 certificated teachers in the San Mateo – Foster City School District.  Some of these teachers are part time so there are 586.4 FTE.  There are 515 classified staff, 4 confidential staff and 61 managers.  The  total number of employees is 1,235.  An increase of 1% on the salary schedules for all employees in the SMFCSD right now costs approximately $850,000.”

I replied,

“I know you just said that salary increases are done on a percent basis across the board, but this gives the biggest benefits to the people at the top of the salary scale and also increases pension liabilities which are a looming state problem.

I’m trying to help new teachers afford to live in the area, and giving a $1000 increase in each salary bracket would put larger percent raises at the bottom of the scale instead of at the top. ($1,000 alone would not do much, but that figure is the basis for calculation of higher raises.) The bottom brackets are where the money is clearly needed the most.”

If the public did vote to raise funds to increase each salary bracket by $1,000, given the figure of 586.4 FTE (full-time equivalent) above, this would seemingly entail a cost of $586,400.

Unfortunately when I spoke with the president of the teachers union, Julie MacArthur, I was informed that the situation, of course, is not so simple.  The support staff in the district has a “me too” clause in their union contract which entitles them to the same raise given to teachers!!

I was very surprised to learn that the 655 teachers make up only 53% of the total employees in the district.  The other support staff are generally in lower paid positions and do work such as assisting with special education students, staffing libraries, office admins, etc.  I will explore this area further when I meet with Dr. Rosas next week.

Leaving aside, for the moment, the union rule complications, let’s return to the teacher salary scale computations.  The current Measure A parcel tax which is up for renewal early next year costs $209.92 per parcel and raises a bit over $7,000,000 per year.  A parcel tax is a constant amount per parcel regardless of the size of the house/building involved. These figures would lead to a number of about 33,350 parcels in the district.

If a $1,000 per salary bracket increase were raised for the 586.4 FTE of teachers only, we would be talking about a total of only $17.58 per parcel per year (=$586,400/33,350 parcels).  If this tax were to be used exclusively for teachers salaries, it would have to be passed in perpetuity or “evergreened” according to tax jargon, otherwise the increase would be for a limited period of time.

To match Belmont’s salary schedule, the SMFCSD parcel tax would be only $35.16 per year.  In a previous conversation I had with a Highlands teacher who moved to Menlo Park, he made about $13,000 more down there.  Matching Menlo Park would entail an annual parcel tax of $228.54.

As indicated above, there are still many rocks and shoals to navigate due to union contracts and other “sticky wickets,” but the numbers in the last two paragraphs do not immediately strike me as being an unbearable burden for our community.

Let me note that this would be in addition to renewing Measure A.  Measure A must be renewed simply to maintain the status quo funding for school programs, but it will not help teachers with their cost of living issues.

I will continue to work to flesh out the details on this issue and talk to all parties involved. I would GREATLY appreciate your support by simply signing up for email alerts from this blog and calling it to the attention of your friends and neighbors, so that we can educate the local public, get concerned voters/taxpayers involved, and work to get this problem resolved before our kids go to school one day and find out that a significant fraction of their teachers are short-term substitutes…

Please note too that I am doing this work even though I am old, retired, and no longer have children in the district, so do not look to me for sympathy if you fall into that category…

I also welcome your thoughts and comments on this article by using the comment form below.  I, of course, recognize that this initial estimate is simplistic, and do not need to be reminded of that.  Besides the union issues, salary increases also impact other items such as pension costs, etc.,  All of this needs to be hashed out, but the initial estimates at least indicate that this effort may not be completely futile and therefore worth some time spent in further investigation.

Author: David Kristofferson

Retired scientist, teacher, bioinformatician, IT director, software product manager, AAAS Fellow, avid cyclist (7690 miles and 724,300 feet of climbing in 2015), backpacker, you name it! Current avocation is tutoring high school students near San Mateo, CA in mathematics, physics and chemistry. Please see the Bio link in the right sidebar for my detailed background information.

3 thoughts on “Raising Teachers’ Salaries – Part 3 – Initial Cost Data”

  1. Great post David, thank you for pursuing this! I subscribed for updates.

    In the search for revenue to boost salaries it may also be interesting to compare SMFCSD’s revenue and cost structure to those of other nearby districts. Perhaps they’re doing things we can learn from. I’m curious how Menlo Park makes it work with higher salaries. It may just be that they have more revenue per capita but I don’t know.

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    1. I’ll look into it, Andy. My wife’s CPA partner lives in Menlo Park and has told me previously that they have TWO elementary school districts in that city. MP may pay higher salaries, but, if what he says is correct, it may not be a model of cost savings. Higher tax revenues can also, unfortunately, sometimes lead to higher waste and funds can be skimmed off for other purposes. Any parcel tax measure would have to be carefully constructed to try to prevent this problem.

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  2. I had a very cordial and productive meeting with Superintendent Rosas today. I should get some additional data from the district soon and will write up another article after the holiday. Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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