There will be no raises this school year for employees working in the Los Altos School District.
District officials reached a tentative agreement with their two employee unions that does not include any salary increases for the 2018-19 school year, following gloomy budget projections showing the district's reserves drying up in the coming years.
But the agreement, which will be voted on by members of the Los Altos Teachers Association (LATA), does come with a silver lining -- it lasts two years, and provides a 2.5% raise to teachers for the 2019-20 school year. Classified employees would also get a 2% raise in the upcoming school year, Assistant Superintendent Randy Kenyon said at the May 28 school board meeting.
Like past years, the tentative agreement addresses employee raises for the current school year that ends in June, meaning any pay raise would be retroactive to July 1, 2018. Unlike past years, this is the first time the district's teachers didn't get any salary increase -- however small -- since 2011, according to data compiled by the California Department of Education.
Roberta Pyne, a third grade teacher at Oak Elementary School and member of the bargaining team, said teachers will be voting on whether to ratify the agreement in the coming days, and that it will need to win support from a simple majority of teachers. Though the focus was based largely on salaries, she said teachers have a vested interest in future changes to health care payments and work conditions.
"We have created more time for teacher-directed planning, which is very important for us to complete our job," Pyne said.
While LATA representatives have praised the strong labor relations between district administrators and Los Altos teachers and acknowledge the district's financial constraints, salaries in the district continue to fall behind neighboring school districts -- and fall even farther behind the rising cost of living. Teachers' salaries range from $55,116 to $105,105 depending on education level and tenure in a county where the median income for a family of four is $125,200.
At a teacher town hall meeting last year, Los Altos teachers told stories of tight budgets, long commutes and big compromises in quality of life just to make ends meet. A kindergarten teacher at Almond said she moved back in with her parents, while an art teacher in the district described spending half of her salary on a mortgage and sleeping on a couch so her son could have the only bedroom. Multiple teachers described how two hours of commuting each day takes a toll on their ability to participate in after-school activities and spend time with students.
But granting even the 2.5% raise in the upcoming school year is spending down money -- about $700,000 -- that the district can barely afford. Prior to discussing the tentative labor agreements, the district's Citizens' Advisory Committee for Finance presented troubling data showing the district is in a "weak financial position" despite several years of strong property tax growth. Barring cuts or new sources of money, deficit spending in the district is projected through 2022 even without employee raises.
Part of the problem is that the district's budget hasn't grown nearly at the same rate as other districts serving Mountain View residents. Since 2015, the neighboring Mountain View Whisman School District has seen its annual revenues rise by 23%, from just under $62 million in the 2015-16 school year to $76 million today. The Los Altos School District, by comparison, remained flat over the same period, from $65.7 million to $66.6 million in total annual revenue.
Mountain View Whisman's teachers have received raises averaging 5.7% since the 2014-15 school year, compared with 2.6% for Los Altos teachers.
School board members are expected to vote to finalize the tentative agreement on June 10.