“It is a priority of the Board of Education to increase employee salaries. . . .”
Thus Alameda Unified School District Board member Mia Bonta declared on December 21, 2018, just 10 days after she was sworn in and immediately elected as president in a move that reportedly “drew outrage” from the black community because an African-American woman had been next in line for the position.
It came as no surprise that the wife of a State Assemblyman who has built his career on serving the interests of organized labor would prioritize employee pay raises once she attained public office in her own right. Regardless, Ms. Bonta has proved true to her word.
Since she took the reins, the School Board has handed out two rounds of salary increases to Alameda teachers, and it is now sponsoring a parcel-tax measure that, if passed by two-thirds of the voters in the March election, will deliver a third round of raises. Moreover, when teachers get pay increases, so do other unionized employees.
By this July, if the ballot measure passes, these three rounds of raises will have boosted the pay of AUSD employees, including teachers, by 17.5 percent since the end of the 2017-18 school year (round 1: 4.5 percent in 2018-19; round 2: 4 percent in 2019-20; and round 3: an additional 1 percent in 2019-20 plus 8 percent in 2020-21).
The Board agenda packages show that the first two rounds of raises cost the district $2.93 million in the 2018-19 school year and will cost $5.41 million in 2019-20, $6.34 million in 2020-21, and $3.32 million in 2021-22. According to Susan Davis, AUSD’s senior manager, community affairs, the 1 percent increase will cost approximately $950,000, and the 8 percent increase approximately $7.6 million, in 2020-21. Both of these amounts, Ms. Davis told us, will go up by about 3 percent per year over the seven-year life of the parcel tax because of “normal growth in salaries – via the salary schedule – and pensions.”
How has AUSD sought to pay for these salary increases?
For the first two rounds, the answer is: budget cuts.
To free up funds for the 4.5 percent raise in 2018-19 (and to cover higher pension and health-care expenses), the School Board slashed the AUSD budget by $3.5 million in April 2018. The cuts resulted in the loss of full-day kindergarten throughout the district; the elimination of a literacy coach, counselor and Spanish teacher at Maya Lin School; and a change to the number of class periods at Wood and Lincoln middle schools.
Similarly, to fund the 4 percent raise in 2019-20, the School Board cut the AUSD budget by another $3 million in December 2019. It came up with that amount by reducing textbook set-asides, deferred-maintenance spending, and CalPERS contributions, and by taking $691,000 from Special Education pre-school funds.
For the third round of raises, AUSD will be relying on Measure A, the parcel tax.
The new tax is estimated to generate $10.5 million per year, of which AUSD will get $9.3 million (the rest will go to charter schools), for seven years. It will be assessed at the rate of $0.26 per building square foot (not to exceed $7,999 per parcel) and $299 for a vacant parcel. According to the East Bay Times, the new tax will add $447 per year to the school taxes already being paid by the average Alameda single-family homeowner, which include $540 per year for the existing parcel tax and $567 for school construction bonds.
The revenue generated by the new tax will be more than the cost of the 1 percent and 8 percent salary increases in the initial years and less in the later years, Ms. Davis told us. Over the seven-year life of the parcel tax, she said, “the revenue collected and the normal increase to salaries (again approximately 3% per year) will balance out.”
For each successive round of salary increases, the District has sounded a similar theme: the raises are necessary because Alameda teachers are woefully underpaid, especially compared to their counterparts in other school districts in Alameda County. “AUSD’s teachers and staff are among the lowest paid in Alameda County,” one of the Frequently Asked Questions on the District website declares, and the ballot argument is even more specific: Alameda teachers, it says, “are the second lowest paid in the entire County.”
In fact, the most recent data published by the state Department of Education shows that the “average” salary – computed by dividing the total scheduled salary paid by the number of full-time equivalents—for Alameda teachers was the fourth lowest in the County for the 2018-19 school year. Since the DOE hasn’t published any similar data for the 2019-20 school year, when Alamaeda teachers got a 4 percent raise, one can only speculate where AUSD’s “average” salary currently ranks.
In any event, if voters pass Measure A, Alameda teachers will get two more raises that will move them up the scale. Based on our analysis, however, it doesn’t appear likely that, even with the 1 percent and 8 percent raises, AUSD will be anywhere near the top of the list of Alameda County school districts in teacher salaries.
To bring these observations down to street level, the Merry-Go-Round decided to follow the lead of Alameda middle-school teacher (and active teachers’ union member) Ron Parodi, who posted an analysis of AUSD teacher salaries on his “Teaching on the Island” blog in December 2018. Mr. Parodi looked at four categories in the salary schedule: a beginning teacher with a Bachelor of Arts degree and 30 hours of post-graduate credits; a teacher with five years of experience, a B.A., and 45 hours of credits; a teacher with 12 years of experience, a B.A., and 60 hours of credits, and a teacher earning the maximum shown in the schedule. We’ll do the same.
(We wish that Mr. Parodi had updated his analysis, since we’re sure he’d do a better job than we can and we’d just copy off him. Left to our own devices, we want to thank Ms. Davis, as well as Shariq Kahn and Tim Erwin of AUSD senior staff, for guiding us through the data and answering our questions. Any errors of fact or interpretation, of course, are ours alone.)
Let’s start with the first two rounds of raises. Using the 2017-18 school year as the starting point, here’s what happened for our four teachers:
Next, assuming passage of Measure A, these are the revised 2019-20 and proposed
The bottom line is that, if Measure A passes, the salaries of our four Alameda teachers will have increased significantly since the end of the 2017-18 school year:
Now, let’s look at the comparative data. There are 14 separate school districts in Alameda County, and, for purposes of comparison, we chose the six whose enrollment is closest to Alameda’s: Berkeley, Castro Valley, Dublin, New Haven, San Leandro, and San Lorenzo. We then checked the websites for each district and, where available, downloaded the teacher salary schedule for the 2019‑20 school year. In two cases, we calculated the 2019-20 figures by multiplying the published 2018-19 salary by the percentage raise the district had agreed to give its teachers in 2019-20.
(A caveat: we compared only teacher salaries, not total compensation packages including benefits like health insurance, because the data for the latter wasn’t universally accessible.)
Here are the results for our four teachers using the 2019-20 Alameda salary before the 1 percent raise proposed by Measure A:
As the chart shows, Alameda comes in in fifth place among the seven “comparable” school districts in the “maximum” category and sixth place in the other three.
Next, we took account of Measure A’s 1 percent raise:
Despite the raise, Alameda thus still will rank fifth in all but the “12 years/BA + 60 hours” category, where it ranks sixth.
Finally, we decided to illustrate the effect of the 8 percent raise in the 2020-21 school year by plugging that number into the chart, even though the other districts haven’t published figures for that year:
It is, of course, unrealistic to expect that none of the other six school districts will raise their teacher salaries in the 2020-21 school year. But the remarkable thing is that, even if those salaries remain frozen at the 2019-20 level, our four Alameda teachers still would find themselves in the middle of the pack – or even lower – compared to their counterparts in other districts with similar enrollments (in fourth place for “one year/BA + 30 hours” and “five years/BA + 45 hours” and fifth place for “12 years/BA + 60 hours” and “maximum”).
Finally, a few comments about the ballot measure itself.
A public-relations campaign isn’t necessary to convince us that, as the ballot argument in favor of Measure A puts it, “Great teachers are essential to the strength of local schools, and our strong local schools make Alameda a great place to live.” Moreover, with a sister who’s a high-school art teacher in Carleton, Michigan, and a sister-in-law who’s a
pre-school teacher in Aurora, Colorado, we’re predisposed to support any proposal to raise teacher salaries anywhere.
Nevertheless, we hesitate to join the chorus of enthusiasts for Measure A. For one thing, the ballot argument insists that the disparity between Alameda teachers’ salaries and those of their counterparts elsewhere in Alameda County “threatens the quality of education offered in local schools.” The data indeed shows such a disparity, but one should be careful not to push the point too far by equating income with quality: Alameda teachers may earn less than Dublin teachers, but that doesn’t mean they’re worse teachers – and paying them Dublin salaries won’t make them better ones.
Our lack of familiarity with school issues makes it difficult for us to evaluate certain other supporting arguments. Would raising salaries in fact enable AUSD to attract and retain well-qualified teachers who otherwise would take their talents to another district? As wonderful a city as Alameda may be, and as benevolent an employer as AUSD surely is, there may be reasons unrelated to salary why a teacher would prefer somewhere else. Likewise, is putting the burden on taxpayers the only – or the best – way to fund another round of pay raises? The East Bay Times, for one, suggests that trimming expenses for contract services, which it says are “way above the state average,” would help cover the cost of those raises.
Just a few days ago, we got the latest in a series of mailers urging a Yes vote on Measure A. (We haven’t seen this much campaign literature in our mailbox since someone else named Bonta was running for office in 2010.) The brochure consisted mainly of a list of prominent local citizens, including virtually every self-promoting “progressive” politician, who endorse the ballot measure. But we promise not to be moved to vote against Measure A simply because this crew supports it. We intend to exercise our independent judgment, and we hope Alameda voters will do so as well.
AUSD teacher salaries: AEA Salary Schedules
Salary comparison: 2018-19 CA selected cerificated salaries