The Mountain View Whisman School District is roughly a month away from negotiations with its teacher union on salaries, and both sides are already at odds.
Over the past two years, teachers in the district have sent a resounding message to the district: that the current salaries can't keep up with the high cost of living in the Bay Area. Teachers made a passionate appeal to the school board during negotiations in 2014, and were able to score a 5 percent pay increase. The following year, teachers were given another 4 percent raise, bringing salaries to the current range of $50,199 up to $92,629.
But is it enough? It depends on whom you ask. Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph contracted with the firm Hanover Research for $38,500 late last year to study whether teachers are getting paid more or less than those in comparable school districts. The study found that teachers in the Mountain View Whisman School District are making thousands of dollars more than teachers in school districts with similar levels of local revenue, enrollment and socio-economically disadvantaged students.
Teachers in Mountain View Whisman have a minimum annual salary that's $2,369 higher than the average salaries of so-called peer school districts, and a maximum salary that's $3,780 higher. These peer districts include neighboring Los Altos Elementary and Sunnyvale, as well as some far-flung districts like San Bruno Park Elementary, Mark West Union and Ricon Valley Union Elementary in Santa Rosa.
To make the comparison just a little more complex, districts were given a different multiplier that adjusted salaries based on how much it costs to live in different regions in the Bay Area. Rudolph said this gives the district a better "apples to apples" idea of teacher compensation for other school districts. Mountain View was given a cost of living multiplier shared with San Jose, Sunnyvale and other South Bay cities.
At the Jan. 21 meeting, Jonathan Pharazyn, president of the Mountain View Educators Association, called the district's comparisons of salaries "dishonest." Rather than compare Mountain View Whisman with neighboring districts that provide better teacher pay and directly compete for teaching talent, Pharazyn said the district's study sought out comparisons with districts in rural areas of Sonoma County.
Pharazyn said that San Bruno does not have a very good reputation, and teachers are going to get the impression that the district is going out of its way to lower the average to make Mountain View Whisman School District's compensation look higher.
"San Bruno has always had a reputation, going back to the 1980s ... of not being a very good district, and being on the low end of the totem pole," Pharazyn said. "If the district is looking to compare us to San Bruno, that's not a good sign."
Around the same time the district commissioned the teacher compensation study, the local California Teachers Association chapter released a spreadsheet showing roughly the opposite of the district's study. Despite two sizable pay increases in recent years, Mountain View Whisman remains in the lower end of the pay scale in the county. Most of the districts with lower salary schedules are in San Jose, Morgan Hill and Gilroy.
The relatively low salaries, in tandem with the rising cost of living, have prompted many teachers to leave the district in recent years, according to Pharazyn. Last year, the district scrambled to replace roughly 50 staff members, pushing the total number of new teachers hired to 170 in the last four years.
And things don't seem to be improving. At the board meeting, Pharazyn revealed results from a recent teacher survey that found 46 percent of teachers are considering leaving the district, and 28 percent are considering leaving the profession entirely.
"It's definitely concerning when you have those kinds of percentages," Pharazyn said.
Following the meeting, Rudolph told the Voice that teachers have said time and again that they can't live in the district on the current salaries. But he said it's important to put everything into context and understand that the district may not have enough property tax revenue to support teacher salaries the same way a district like Menlo Park does.
Following the 4 percent salary increase for the 2015-16 school year, former Interim Superintendent Kevin Skelly told the Voice in July that the sizable bumps in teacher pay are not sustainable in the long term, and may have to be re-assessed in the near future.
One unresolved issue brought up by the teachers union last year is the lack of a stipend for teachers with master's or doctoral degrees. Mountain View Whisman School District is one of only three districts in the entire county not to offer the additional pay for advanced degrees. Rudolph defended the district's position, saying that the stipend amount has been rolled into the salary schedule already.
At the same time, Rudolph said the district still has a responsibility to find ways to compensate teachers in other ways.
"Just because we're higher than average doesn't mean we don't have work to do in terms of working conditions and compensation," he said. "What we can do is, we can look at all of our benefits and think of ways to make this an attractive place to work."