The following article (enclosed between two horizontal lines) was recently published in my community newspaper, the Highlands Lowdown. Some additional thoughts follow the article below.
Skyrocketing housing costs are a fact of life in the Bay Area. There are daily news stories about how difficult it is for teachers and other middle class workers to afford to live in the area.
At the end of the 2015-2016 school year, our local Borel Middle School lost 12 teachers. While cost of living was not the only factor in these departures, it was a significant concern.
I investigated the problem and wrote three articles about ideas to raise San Mateo Foster City School District (SMFCSD) teacher salaries on my blog at https://eduissues.com. Due to space limitations here, I refer interested readers to that site for details.
Unfortunately, the recent (March ’17) failure of Measure Y has derailed these efforts. Measure Y attempted to renew an existing parcel tax which raised $7,000,000 for a district of about 12,500 students or about $560 per student. It received a 65.2% approval but need 66.67%. Voter turnout was a dismal 28% !
The District also learned that property tax revenues would be less than expected, leading to an additional $2,400,000 shortfall.
In case this was not sufficient good news, the SMFCSD teachers’ contract expired in June 2016, though the contract provisions remain in place until the lengthy, ongoing negotiations are completed.
Superintendent Joan Rosas sent a letter regarding these issues to the community (see this link).
Julie MacArthur, president of the San Mateo Elementary Teachers Association union wrote a reply posted at the SMETA website (see this link).
The main question in the current contract negotiations appears to center on the use of the district’s reserves which is addressed in both letters.
There will be a special Board of Trustees meeting at the district office, 1170 Chess Drive in Foster City, on June 8th from 5-7 PM. Teachers have been urging parents to attend to show their support.
This is an issue that reasonable people should be able to resolve through discussion. While we definitely need more public involvement as evidenced by the shameful Measure Y voter turnout, I am not in favor of drowning out rational discussion by filling chairs at board meetings with uninformed people. Please take the time to inform yourselves on the issues in advance if you plan to attend.
Note that pay demands that lead to teacher layoffs in the next economic downturn are clearly not a good idea, so one must be cautious about depleting reserves.
Unfortunately, junior teachers with little seniority will be the ones who are let go. These are the teachers that we need to retain if we are going to avoid the coming teacher deficit when baby-boom teachers retire soon.
While I have been trying to find ways to pay ALL teachers more, we have to do the best we can with the resources that the public provides, and when only 28% care enough to vote, that is a sad situation.
However, I am most definitely not in favor of giving more money to people at the top of the salary scale who will retire soon if it leads to hardship for struggling new teachers. They are the ones who struggle the greatest to find housing here. They need the most help.
Unfortunately, teaching contracts are usually across-the-board percentage increases for all teachers. Perhaps it is time to abandon 19th century ideas, and try a novel approach?
As I have more space to write on this blog, I wish to elaborate on the last paragraph of my Lowdown article above.
Across the board percentage raises always favor those making the most money as they obviously receive the biggest raise in terms of absolute dollars.
In the true union spirit of “all-for-one, and one-for-all,” I propose that the board should instead consider something along the lines of my earlier articles. Raise each salary bracket in the current salary schedule by the same fixed dollar amount. This is both “equitable” but gives a bigger percentage boost to new teachers who need the most help. This is what I was trying to calculate prior to the defeat of Measure Y, but those efforts look futile now. I was going to propose an additional tax levy on top of existing funding which now has unfortunately been lost.
The Board should consider what available funding can be used for salaries and think about distributing it in the manner above instead of as a fixed percentage of salary.
If funds are truly available for a percentage increase, so be it, but it is the height of cynicism if the most senior teachers at the top of the scale negotiate a pay raise to pad pension payouts just before they retire, and then confront young teachers who lack seniority with layoff notices when the inevitable next economic downturn hits. Children and parents will then be faced with teacher shortages at a time when their household budgets are stretched by economic hard times… and, of course, the proposed solution will be anther bond measure right at the time it is least affordable and least likely to pass…