MV Whisman teachers get another big raise | September 15, 2017 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - September 15, 2017

MV Whisman teachers get another big raise

by Kevin Forestieri

Teachers in the Mountain View Whisman School District scored a hefty salary increase for the fourth year in a row Thursday night, after school board members approved raises geared toward helping newer teachers who are on the lower end of the pay scale.

The new salary schedule, which trustees approved unanimously at the Sept. 7 meeting with no discussion, gives a 7 percent raise to teachers who have worked in the district for nine years or less in the district, and a 5 percent raise for teachers with a longer tenure in the district. The lopsided raises in favor of newer staff means that teachers on the lower end of the pay scale can better keep up with the high cost of living in the area — a concern that has been central to union negotiations for years.

Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph told the Voice that he commends the board and the teachers union — the Mountain View Educators Association — for acknowledging that starting teachers need to be able to afford housing in the Bay Area, and that the school district will be much more attractive for younger teachers when the bottom of the salary range is brought closer in line with the cost of living.

The salaries, which are effective for the 2017-18 school year, now range from $60,933 to $109,243, based on number of years served in the district and level of college education. The estimated cost of this year's raises totals a little over $1.6 million annually.

Though other neighboring school districts have offered annual raises closer to 3 percent in recent years, Mountain View Whisman has dolled out big increases in teacher salaries for multiple years. During the 2014-15 school year, the school board approved a 5 percent salary increase and a one-time bonus, followed by a 4 percent increase in 2015-16 and an 8 percent salary increase for the 2016-17 school year.

In past years, those pay raises were hard fought: teachers union representatives frequently butted heads with district administrators over salary negotiations, turning out in force at school board meetings and firing off emails and messages expressing frustration with the negotiation process. In 2014, a fiery debate over salaries left the union and the district at an impasse, leading the union members to reduce their work hours to only those contractually required, as a protest.

Since then, the lowest salary paid by the district has gone up from $47,000 to $60,900, while the ceiling for top salaries has increased from $88,218 to $109,200.

"We're pleased with the progress we've made to compensate our staff," Rudolph said.

Despite a budget forecast showing deficit spending in the coming years, the district's finances can bear the brunt of the salary increases this year, Rudolph said. Although the district has a stated goal of having a balanced budget by 2021, he said there's a competing goal to attract and retain teachers by staying competitive with other school districts.

"I don't think we're worried about (the budget), but we recognize, and the unions recognize, that we need to be fiscally sound and on track to have a balanced budget by 2021," he said.

The ratification vote showed fairly widespread support for the new contract and pay increases among union members. Among the 236 teachers who voted, 74 percent agreed to ratify the new contract, according to Emily Zapata, president of the Mountain View Educators Association. The 8 percent raise from last year, by comparison, received support from 99 percent of the union membership.

Beyond salaries, most of the changes in the teacher contract this year are fairly limited, with plenty of small modifications that clarify and confirm goals the district and the union share with one another. For example, the newly approved contract puts in writing that the district is aiming for an average of 40 kids per physical education class at the Crittenden and Graham middle schools.

The contract includes a new section that compensates teachers who have to "overload" their classes with extra students on days when there aren't enough substitutes to handle absent teachers' classes. Teachers will be paid $5 per extra student per day, while administrators will "make every attempt to place students into classrooms that are no more than two grade levels above or below the absent teacher's grade level."

Unlike the more contentious negotiations of years past, the terms of this year's contract were negotiated, ratified by the union and approved by the board quietly without any show of public opposition from the district's teachers. Zapata said the negotiations were "more collaborative" than previous years, and that everyone at the bargaining table wanted "to ensure that our students have the best learning experience possible."

Rudolph said the quiet negotiations are a good sign that the district's administration and its bargaining tactics are open and transparent.

"The silence is a reflection of the trust we've built over the last couple years," he said.

The different tenor could also be attributed to a change in leadership. Former union president Jonathan Pharazyn, who retired last year, frequently spoke up at school board meetings and in email correspondence with union teachers, blasting district administrators if they didn't budge on their salary increase offers. The union's open clashes with the district began in 2014, after teachers went through years of low raises — the union received a 2 percent salary increase for the 2013-14 school year — while housing costs in the Bay Area shot through the roof.

Pharazyn told the Voice last year that he was proud of what the union was able to accomplish during his years as its president, including higher salaries, newly added stipends and no increases in required health care contributions.

Email Kevin Forestieri at kforestieri@mv-voice.com

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