Thursday, April 8, 2010

Teacher Contract Vote

Last night the Board took a very unusual step - we did not approve the new contract with our teachers union. The mechanics of what happened are pretty simple, and they are described in this post below. The reasons we took this step are much more complex.

As I've said previously, this blog reflects my own personal opinions, not the opinion of the Board as a whole, or that of any other board member. If you want to know how another board member feels, or why they voted the way they did, you'll need to ask them directly.

The Mechanics
Last night, when faced with a vote to approve the teacher's new contract, I indicated in my remarks that I intended to vote no. Two other board members indicated that they would also be voting no, which meant that the proposal would not be passing the board. The administration has expressed concern, and actually recommended that we pass the contract. However, it was clear that there was not sufficient support on the board to do that. Rather than actually vote the contract down, we voted to defer action, and reconsider additional information at our next public meeting on April 26th.

Why Did I Do What I Did?
We have a serious structural problem in our school district. Next year we are short ~$2.5m, and that deficit rapidly grows to $4m over the next several years. We simply can't sustain the costs and program that we have with the revenues we bring in.

Labor costs make up 86% of our expenses. Less than 9% of our budget goes to administration, and the balance goes to materials and operating expenses. That's actually very good- we want to be spending as much as possible on the program where it matters the most- in our classrooms, with our students. The down side of this is that when you're out of money, adjusting labor costs is the only way to balance our budget.

The contract was positioned to the board as being a "cost savings". I did not feel that was an accurate portrayal. The contract saved $41,000 in reduced stipend payouts, but that savings was put right back into the salary schedule. Further, the contract includes automatic raises known as "Step and Column". Those automatic raises increase our costs by $600K to $800K each year. In a year where we sent pink slips to 17 superb teachers (who happen to be the newest teachers in our district), this is hard for me to swallow. We have also not made any meaningful progress in capping employee health care costs. The district bears 95% of all the costs of benefits, as we have done for many years. This increasing costs is a huge issue.

Many members of our community have felt the crunch of this downturn. Many people have taken pay cuts of 5%, 10%, or more. Many people are also faced with increased co-payments and deductibles, or are in some other way paying a greater share of their health care costs. In this environment, where we are asking parents to fund the an ever-growing portion of their children's "public" education, it just didn't make sense to me to approve a contract where the employees were not involved in that sacrifice.

To be clear, our teachers are a fantastic- some of the very best in the profession. I've said it many times- I'd like to pay them all like the rock stars that they are. The reality, though, is that we don't have the money to do that. We have exhausted nearly every possible avenue to save money, scrimp here, save there, and come up with enough to keep the core program- but we're not there. No one wants to cut compensation. It's difficult for everyone, whether it happens in a 20 person start up, a 250,000+ employee company like HP, or to the several hundred employees in our school district. It is unpleasant, but it's the reality of where we are. I simply could not, in good conscience, vote in favor if a contract where we weren't going to address our largest single cost.

I need to acknowledge the work that has already been done. The teachers took a vote this week that permits their bargaining unit to discuss furlough days as a way to help close some of the budget gap. The proposals that have been discussed so far amount to approximately $400K +/-. However, that's a one-year fix, and we have a structural issue that grows to 10x that size. I just don't think we're done with this conversation yet.

I remain open to dialogue on this topic. We will have a further discussion at the next Board meeting, and I invite comments from the public and our employees. I want to hear what you have to say. And I'd love to figure out how we make this work fairly for all parties involved. Please drop me a line at dsmith {at} lasdschools.org, or post comments here on my blog.

74 comments:

  1. Dear Mr Smith,

    Why did the board approve the contract in closed session and then last night, seem to have a different opinion? What did they know last night that they didn't know when originally approving the contract?

    How did you vote in closed session and if you voted yes at the time, what new information did you obtain since then to cause you to vote no?

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  2. Doug,

    Thanks for posting this; it's a step toward making government more transparent.

    In general, I think teachers know much better than the board how students are impacted by budget cuts. Is it possible to open the books to the teacher reps and have THEM propose the least harmful ways to balance long-term budgets?

    Ron Voss

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  3. Hi Doug.

    I appreciate both your transparency with regard to the process, as well as how you laid out the cost structure of the district. Very helpful in understanding the dynamics of the situation. It would be helpful in the future if you could share more of the revenue side of the ledger, so we understand how the district's revenues fluctuate.

    That said, I agree that the reality of the situation is that many in our community are absorbing cuts in income, and increases in expenses. I therefore agree with your fundamental position that we need to see more savings, even though this will adversely affect the incomes of our excellent teachers.

    I do hope the district will find a way to make these savings somewhat temporary in nature (perhaps furlough days, or things like that). I would hope that as our economy recovers, the district's revenues will increase as well, and it would be a shame to make lasting structural cuts if the revenue shortfall is of a more temporary nature.

    Again, appreciate the transparency.

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  4. Doug, thanks for the excellent information. I am particularly struck by the healthcare numbers. I would like to know more about this. I believe our entire country is going the way of paying more of our own health costs. Corporate employees often pay as much as 1/2 of the insurance premiums for medical. What can be done in this area? Even though it can be seen as a pay cut, sometimes when people have to pay more of their healthcare premiums they will choose a less rich plan. Do teachers have a lot of choice in benefit plan?
    I really don't like the idea of furloughs. Where can we afford to lose instruction time? Unless of course we reduce our STAR testing time. Do we have any flexibility as a district to test every other year or something? Save that time for true instruction?

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  5. Hi Doug,

    Thanks for putting this summary together. In my opinion fixing the situation in a long term would have implications and sacrifices for all the community.
    I believe that there are the reasons of why Los Altos School District may be in a worse shape that other districts in terms of getting enough funds to support their schools:

    A) Less commercial taxes. Los Altos doesn’t have enough business and commercial real estate operating in health condition to contribute with their taxes to the school situation, too many small business closing, not anchor stores attracting people.
    B) A majority number of households in Los Altos pay small taxes since they were purchased long time ago
    C) Government budget cuts

    Long term solutions:

    A) Incentive Los Altos commercial areas by
    a. Negotiating with small owners to merge their small places for bigger ones that can host bigger establishments
    b. Authorizing new anchor stores and restaurants that would attract more people, more like a Burlingame type of downtown
    B) Promoting the parcel tax to pass, doing it in a separate voting earlier like Palo Alto, even though it may cost more, it would have better chance to pass
    C) If the Government budget cuts will be worse in the next years, propose a low monthly tuition in Los Altos per child to supplement the gaps. For example a $50 US/Month per child would fulfill the budget cuts and won’t be a hard one time big down payment for some households, at the end it would be around $1-1.2K per child per year

    Thanks,

    Lucy

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  6. Thanks for sharing your personal opinion Doug.

    I choose to purchase a home in Los Altos BEACAUSE of the great school and top test scores. Be it, test scores are not the only way to monitor how well a school district is doing.

    I have gotten to know a few of the teachers are my child's school. These budget cuts are definitely affecting their work conditions. This greatly worries me as the teachers' work loads are ever increasing and with larger class sizes coming, it will affect the quality of my child's teaching.

    Yes, the economy has affected all of us. BUT, we need to maintain the excellent quality of teachers we have here in Los Altos! If we continue to make further cuts in their salaries/benefits, the good teachers will leave - in the long run, this will bring down the quality of teachers in our district. Do you truly expect teachers to remain professional and positive when school board members such as yourself who seem to be anti-teacher are out to "get them"?

    Again, this is blog is your personal opinion. You were elected to represent us (the residents of Los Altos). There ARE indeed many of us who want to maintain quality teachers here. DO NOT touch their salary/benefits.

    A resident of Los Altos whom you are to represent.

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  7. How can we not ask the teachers to be a part of the solution? They work in one of the best districts, with very good students. Seems like a pretty good teaching job. The money must come from somewhere. Taxes will have to be raised or private funds have to be gathered.

    It always amazes me when people don't understand that
    "If your income doesn't meet your out go, your upkeep will be your downfall!" We as a nation are almost there.

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  8. Doug, Thank you for speaking out and taking action on this difficult topic. We all love our teachers and want to encourage more of the good ones to join & stay in the profession. Some of them could not possibly be paid too much. However, the system is not working. Union rules governing hiring, firing, and benefits are not fair to anyone, including the students and taxpayers they are supposed to serve. Instead of waiting until the system breaks down completely, let's all work together to fix the problems. Parents cannot continue to give more and more money and time to make the PUBLIC schools effective. Taxpayers and Teachers must also give a little. We are fortunate to have so much more than other districts - our teachers have a lot of support and perks than most.

    Yours is not an anti-teacher sentiment. It's an intention that will (hopefully) lead to a more solvent system of education for all of us. Holding out on approving this contract is a good first step.

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  9. Yes, the teachers are the largest single cost factor in the LASD budget. Duh?? Of course, the TEACHERS are the ones that are educating our children. Why would you want the largest single cost factor being maintenance or something else?

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  10. Mr. Smith,

    I am a teacher here in Los Altos Schools. I have taught in six different school districts in my 30+ years as an educator.

    By far, Los Altos teachers are the most hardworking and dedicated professionals I have ever know. Many come in on weekends, come in early in the mornings or stay late in the evenings. We put so much time into our jobs because we care for "your" children. Perfect example is the yearly Open Houses parents attend. Do you really think teachers are able to present their rooms in such wonderful manners during the regular school day? The answer is, "No!"

    We as teachers have given a lot! You come from the outside business world and truly don't know what we do. You may think you do but you don't. You are applying business principles in education. It doesn't always work.

    If the most recent contract isn't approved, you will see the quality of education decline. I have seen this in many districts. Morale will continue to drop even more. Teachers will only work during their contracted hours.

    The LEAF,PTA Member said teachers must give a little. We have given A LOT! We are EXTREMELY grateful for our PTAs and for the wonderful LEAF but the school board does NOT truly know what teachers do.

    If I were younger, much younger, I'd leave this district and teach in a district where the school board members are supportive of teachers and not all business based.

    Yes, we are aware that Los Altos Schools is a business but you need to consider the human factor as well.

    Mr. Smith, I hope your tenure as a school board member is successful, not in your own eyes, but in the eyes of the community and teachers.

    I also hope that Randy Kenyon (the financial gentleman of LASD) will fully disclose and be honest with the amount of monies the district has. It seems as though his figures are not always completely accurate. How can we trust a school board when the situation is as such?

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  11. Doug, thank you for the explanation and illumination into facts we parents generally have little or no awareness of. This is such a hard issue all around, and you make a good argument. We all know there are no easy answers. Now it's time for tough decisions.

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  12. Thank you Los Altos teacher for sharing your story. As parents in the district, we are truly unaware of what you do and the amount of time you work. Weekends? wow! We need to value you even more.

    A thankful mom.

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  13. Los Altos teachers are among the lowest paid in Silicon Valley. Take a look at the Palo Alto School District Teacher salary table: http://bit.ly/c6NTgH Compare that with the Los Altos School District salary table: http://bit.ly/dy9hOQ Equivalent positions in Palo Alto hold about 19.7% higher salaries. Looking at Mountain View salary table (which dates back to 2007-2008) http://bit.ly/blVsCO you can see that for someone at BA + 45 at step 4, the salary is 21.8% higher than the equivalent in Los Altos for 2009-2010!

    The fact of the matter is this, Los Altos offers its teachers nothing to make up for the nearly 20% pay deficiency compared with neighboring communities. If you want to discuss the economics of education as if it were a company, it's quite simple. You currently have one of the most dedicated and productive workforces in the state of California. Companies that do not respect and offer their employees competitive salaries and benefits do not thrive, but rather descend into mediocrity, if they’re able to survive at all. Suggesting that parents should burden more of the cost for 'public' education, that the PTA should shoulder some operating costs for schools, and that teachers are overcompensated is mathematically, logically, and factually ludicrous.

    At the rate things are going, many students in Los Altos will never be able to afford to live in the town they called home as children. If you would like to turn the education system in Los Altos in a Walmart model of low costs and abusive working conditions, then feel free, but ultimately it will be the children who suffer. A public school is not, and can not be run as a business; they exist and operate under fundamentally incompatible ideologies.

    Further, financial number released by the school board to the teacher’s union and the public seem to have major inconsistencies as time goes on. Bookkeeping and accounting tricks that result in Los Altos placing extra money (more than required) in reserve funds, only to claim a shortfall for education is pathologically dishonest and misleading to the public. It's time for an independent forensic analysis of the school district's income and expenses by a neutral third party forensic accountant. The results of such an audit must be made publicly available in their entirety.

    For a district that already pays approximately 20% below the market rate for the geographic region, it is incomprehensible that it is necessary to consider further cuts. Given that Los Altos enjoys a similar socio-economic position to neighboring towns, your claims only add fuel to the growing suspicion that the public interest, the interests’ of our children, and our responsibility to tomorrow is being ignored, perhaps even intentionally and with malice.

    So Doug, explain to us all, in your most transparent manner possible, how come Palo Alto and Mountain View, are able to offer salaries so much higher than Los Altos. Perhaps the Los Altos Dchool District should be disbanded and merged with Mountain View and Palo Alto if the elected leaders of the Los Altos School District are unable to operate it in a competitive manner?

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  14. I write this post as a parent who could not possible have more respect for the teachers in our district and all the work they do for our children. I spend many hours volunteering and I see all the work you do. I also would like to say how much I value our school board members because they also work many hours beyond the scope of their duties. I would not want to face the pressure they are under to make unpopular decisions.
    I am a realistic person. The reality is we simply have no additional revenue to spend. To suggest that Randy Kenyon is not honest, or is "hiding" money is simply absurd. Please go to the CACF meeting tonight and review the districts finances for yourself, this is public information.
    I have reviewed the finances and one thing is clear, the district simply does not have the income to support our current programs. To continue with the same programs and staff next year will cost more money. The increased cost is largely due to rising health care costs. Are these rising costs the fault of anyone on the school board or the teaching staff... NO. However, if we continue to provide the same healthcare coverage to the teachers at the same cost to the teachers, the board will have not choice but to cut more teaching staff. Who will suffer in this scenario... the students, of course, and the teaching staff which remains and now has to teach more children in their classroom.
    At the end of the day the teachers can continue to receive the same healthcare coverage at a low cost to them, but it will be at the expense of their colleagues losing jobs and more work for those who remain as class sizes rise. Only the teachers have the power to stop the loss of jobs and the increase in class sizes, a better way to provide healthcare benefits must be agreed upon
    Time after time the parents have come to the rescue. The PTA has provided generous classroom stipends and an army of volunteers. LAEF pays the salaries of all the PE specialists, music teachers, art teachers, science aides and many lower grade and junior high teachers. Think of the jobs which be lost if the parents stopped contributing to LAEF. Think of what the work conditions would be like if there were no volunteers in the classroom and and the PTA was no longer providing supplies from pencils to toilet paper.
    Parents have consistently risen to the challenge and tried to save teachers jobs and make teachers' jobs easier. The scope of the problem has grown beyond what the parents can solve.
    I am sorry to say I can no longer help beyond my current contributions to PTA and LAEF. Now I have to ask the teachers, that I respect and that my children love, to help.
    The ball is in your court.

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  15. Coming in on weekends is only part of it. The general public does not always understand just how hard all of us work. Every single worksheet that is made, every single bulletin board that is put up, every single test that is graded - when do you think we do that? It is on our mornings, evenings, and weekends, which we would love to be spending with our families, but instead we have to take pieces of to fulfill the quality we feel your children should have. I have no aide, no planning time. I MUST do that on my own time - there is no other option. Do you think we get paid for evening performances or conferences after school? We do not. Do we get paid for the recess and yard duty we are expected to do? We do not. Do we get compensation for the numerous committees we are expected to take part in? Usually, no. Do we get paid for the countless hours we spend grading papers, preparing curriculum, or planning? No. As a young teacher, I barely made enough money my first year, working in Los Altos schools, to support myself. After the pure Basics in monthly bills, I had only enough to buy gas and groceries and pray that an emergency didn't come up. Now, a few years later, I finally have the slightest of breathing room, and you want us to take a pay cut. Why is it that this is the only option you can think of?

    I want to make it clear that one of the reasons some teachers do not want to take a pay cut is because, quite frankly, this district is not willing to do anything for us when times are good. We have received only a 5% pay raise over the last 8 YEARS. That is not even cost of living. We are willing to give in other ways, such as furlough days. But we would like to be able to support ourselves. We would like to be able to afford to raise our families and have some sort of compensation for the countless hours we work.

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  16. It seems increasingly important that we get the teachers' proposal (assuming they can agree) for balancing the budget.

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  17. Wow! Mr Davis you really don't understand your role as a board member.

    Your lack of accurate facts and total lack of respect is quite disturbing.

    Why would any teacher want to work in Los Altos after reading this blog.

    I urge the teachers to rescind their contract and stand up for themselves.

    The only way teachers get paid is by step and column.

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  18. This discussion of salaries being "too high" or "too low" is irrelevant. Within this period of slight deflation, with the potential for the "boogeyman" known as stagdeflation always in the back of our minds, our "real" cost of living in the Bay Area is not increasing. The only cost that continues to increase, in this most peculiar of economic times, is that of healthcare, a cost the District is covering almost fully for LASD employees.

    With that said, it is the fiduciary responsibility of this Board to balance the budget for 2010-2011 and going forward. The PTAs and LAEF are maxed out. Reserves can only be tapped in the interim to correct short-term deficits.

    It is not a matter of choice. It is not a matter of the Board having an anti-teacher or anti-administration sentiment. It is not a matter of the Board being too pro-business or not understanding the plight of the teachers well enough. It is a simple matter of fact: the budget MUST be balanced. The budget cannot be balanced without increasing revenue or decreasing expenditures. The former has been and continues to be explored, ad infinitum. This, unfortunately, leaves the latter.

    So really, it comes down to a choice for the union: would you like your cut to come in the form of artificial time off (furlough days) of which there can only be so many without a fundamental change in the school-year, an increase in the employee-share (%) of healthcare costs, a temporary (possibly semi-permanent) suspension of "Step and Column", and/or a direct and blunt salary cut?

    There is nothing cold, unkind, unfeeling, or unreasonable about it. An initial cut of X must be made to balance 2010-2011 and a permanent cut of % must be made to balance the structural deficit going forward, or this District will surely fail…very soon.
    I wish things were different but they are not and nothing can be done to change that, at least not at their level of governance.

    As an outsider looking in, I do not envy the Board's predicament, the Administration's frustration, nor the pain that will surely be experienced by the faculty and staff, once the inevitable sting of the predestined decision is felt. Perhaps 2011-2012 will prove to be a brighter year…let's all hope so.

    Sorry if I came across a bit apocalyptic but no one was being adequately direct about this and the back-and-forth arguments were getting old.

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  19. The facts - Los Altos is at the bottom of the list.

    Starting salaries in Santa Clara County.

    Santa Clara County School Districts Starting Salaries
    Mountain View-Los Altos Union High 61,184
    Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High 57,646
    Cambrian 53,022
    Palo Alto 51,422
    Cupertino 51,377
    Menlo Park 50,133
    Saratoga Union 50,123
    Moreland School District 49,588
    Evergreen Elementary 49,401
    Alum Rock 48,567
    Sunnyvale 48,540
    Milpitas Unified 48,178
    Los Gatos Union Elementary 47,976
    Campbell Union 47,851
    Mount Pleasant 47,209
    Berryessa Union Elementary 46,205
    Luther Burbank 45,197
    Los Altos 44,832
    Mountain View Whisman 44,609
    San Jose Unified 42,969

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  20. "or this District will surely fail…very soon."

    That is not possible. Mr Davis take down this blog - how is this helping?

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  21. The teachers have indeed made cuts these past years. They haven't received a raise in the past five years. Yes, we do understand that there needs to be cuts made. Although sad, newer teachers do understand that in their first few years of teaching their jobs are always on the cutting board. In no way are we asking parents/PTA/LEAF to contribute even more. We know that you contribute A LOT! We are so thankful for that. What other district in the state has the PTA paying for math books?!?!

    If you ask teachers to reduce their salary/benefits even more, this will negatively effect the quality of education in Los Altos. Why isn't Administration taking cuts?? Why do we need an Assistant Superintendent? There are other ways the district can save money...stop looking to the teachers, we have already been making cuts.

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  22. LOS ALTOS is at the bottom!!

    Santa Clara County School Districts Starting Salaries

    Mountain View-Los Altos Union High 61,184
    Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High 57,646
    Cambrian 53,022
    Palo Alto 51,422
    Cupertino 51,377
    Menlo Park 50,133
    Saratoga Union 50,123
    Moreland School District 49,588
    Evergreen Elementary 49,401
    Alum Rock 48,567
    Sunnyvale 48,540
    Milpitas Unified 48,178
    Los Gatos Union Elementary 47,976
    Campbell Union 47,851
    Mount Pleasant 47,209
    Berryessa Union Elementary 46,205
    Luther Burbank 45,197
    LOS AlTOS 44,832
    Mountain View Whisman 44,609
    San Jose Unified 42,969

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  23. Why doesn't LASD become a unified school district (K-12) and join with MV/LAHSD?????? This would save money, pool resources, and save the jobs of many.

    Mr. Smith, please look into that.

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  24. Everyone seems to have an opinion on the boards decision not to approve the teachers contract. Whatever your position might be, we should all be outraged over this blog and the distribution of the link to it. It is inappropriate and disrespectful! Can we recall this board member? It's mind boggling!

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  25. You can be sure that every teacher and parent in this district will read this blog.

    Get a clue - your role is not to publish your private opinions when holding a public trust.

    The teachers have every right to be treated as human beings and in a respectful manner.

    No other district is doing this and I expect to see LASD in the local news thanks to you Dougie! Got your tie ready for the cable news channel.

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  26. For a long time it has seemed like salaries and benefits have been the elephant in the room. I'm glad it's finally being talked about realistically. Year after year parents have been asked to contribute more and more to the costs of running the school. Some of us haven't any more to give.
    Times are hard and giving up benefits you are used to having isn't an easy thing to do. But nothing about this situation is easy for anyone.
    And, flinging accusations of financial malfeasance around under the veil of anonymity is a pretty cheesy thing to do. I'm assuming that everyone, even those who don't agree with me, still have the best interests of our children as their motivation and are honest, decent people who aren't 'anti' anything except "anti stick your head in the sand and hope it all goes away".

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  27. i dont know. i kind of like that theyre poting their personal feelings. it makes it easier to see them as people, and not just they make decisions that effect everyone. plus its nice to be able to respond to them with the comments, so they know how we think. i think it was a good idea. wouldnt it be cool if our congresspeople and senators did more of that?

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  28. Wow, I want MORE such blogs, MORE transparency in government, not less. I applaud Doug's action. Bravo!

    Are our top-end salaries also low compared to other districts? If yes, is it because, as a wealthy district, we get less support from the state?

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  29. Give me a break - entitlement and selfishness

    This place is toxic.

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  30. Every one has a view. As we all know many views are neither accurate or constructive. You are entitled to your view.

    You are not entitled Doug to post your views since you are a board member. Plain and simple. Your disclaimer does nothing.

    You are hurting our district with this blog.

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  31. Capping health benefits seems like a logical choice. If there are 300 employees in the district and they are only paying 5% of their healthcare and their family healthcare adds up to like $800 a month, bumping that to 50% would save the district $360 a month x 12 months x 300 employees = $1.3 million! Plus, if you cap it off at 50% OR $400.00, whichever is less, that would fixate that cost in your budget and keep you from having to worry about healthcare costs going higher.

    It's tougher on the employees but at least it avoids a salary cut, which is even tougher and demoralizing. On top of that, there's no way of knowing how ObamaCare is going to change things once congress passes the rest of the bill. It might complicate matters if you don't already have a cap in place.

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  32. The community SHOULD pay for education in Los Altos. They are certainly not contributing through property or commercial taxes. If they want the public schools to continue to provide an education on par or better than the local private schools, they should recognize that the money has to come from local sources. Everyone knows that education in Los Altos is a public/private endeavor. Otherwise, our classrooms would not even have paper. Most teachers are employees, not citizens, of Los Altos. Teaching is a job. If a job becomes too unbearable, you leave and find a different job. The good teachers, who can find better jobs, will do so, either in education or elsewhere. What used to make teaching in Los Altos worth it was a community of people who cared about each other and the future of some of the brightest, best raised children in the world. That utopia of education ended with the egotistical fight over the Bullis Campus resulting in the charter school idiocy that has plagued our school district financially through lawsuits and the rescinding of donations from some of our wealthiest sources. Why can't we all get along?

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  33. While everyone is entitled to free speech, this blog has toxified the relationship between Mr. Smith and a multitude of teachers in just a matter of hours. No small feat! Um...congratulations?

    What bothers me the most are the heaps of lip service bestowed upon teachers but then the lack of real, tangible follow through when it comes to supporting their livelihoods. To quote a popular sentiment: "Everyone is hurting right now, everyone is feeling the crunch." Yes. However, if you flipped that at the height of the boom just a few years ago that did not hold true. Los Altos teachers do not enjoy the salary raises and other perks many people in private business did (and will surely do as the economy recovers). It is not fair that teachers have to take cuts when times are hard but then see their salaries and benefits remain stagnant or make piddly gains (otherwise known as step and column) when things are good. LA teachers have had one raise (5%) in the past eight years. And they have not been at 95% benefits for "many" (to quote Smith) years. They took on paying for 5% of them just a few years ago at a time when there was no raise at all, so yes, for all you mathematically minded people (thank a teacher for that, by the way), that meant money back in the district's coffers. And THAT was when the economy was healthy. Maybe remembering all that history will help Mr. Smith keep the responses to his post in perspective.

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  34. Folks, lets take to heart that we are asking people who make about $50,000 per year to take pay cuts.

    While I appreciate--and am one of the many--who have had a pay cut or a pay freeze, let's also remember that the average salary in the valley, and in particular this community, is at least two to three times that much. Can any of us living in this district even remember or relate to what it would be like to live on $50,000 a year? We should rethink attacking their healthcare costs, given what we expect these teachers to do for us and how little we compensate them. (Just to put it in perspective, many of the nannies walking our kids to school in this district make more than this...)

    I appreciate the candor of our board member, and the healthy dialogue this blog is stimulating. Doug, it would be great if you could dig deeper into our district's administrative (non-teacher) expenses, especially relative to our neighboring school districts which somehow pay teachers 20% more.

    Thank you for the forum.

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  35. Can you take the teachers salary and retirement benefits and see what the real costs are? It is not just about salary, it is about the hidden costs of healthcare and retirement. Teachers can retire at 55. How many of us can do that? How much needs to be put aside so that they can receive 70%-80% or even 90% of their salary after retirment? Is that guaranteed?

    How many on this blog have a retirement package like that of the teachers? Most of us manage our own. Good luck if you got burned in your investments. Good luck collecting Social Security at 65.

    How many parents work 9 months out of the year as a full-time job?

    How parents many don't have to work well into the night and on the weekends as a regular schedule?

    How many teachers will accomodate your schedule and see you after 5:00PM?

    If teachers take furlough's, who is sharing the sacrifice? The kids and the working parents are too.

    The average wage adjustment for those in the private sector was considerable. We do well sometimes and we adjust in the bad times. No guarantees in the private sector. You cannot run a deficit.

    Why are our teachers entitled to a safety net that does not cover the rest of the work-force in the valley? Some parents here are willing to foot the bill for that entitlement, some can no longer afford it. We are spending what we don't have. This type of system is insolvent.

    We appreciate the effort that the board is taking in bringing these issues forward. For those of you who think that parents need to foot the bill for all of the above, why don't you finance it for the rest who don't agree with these methods or do not have the means to support this level of entitled employment in our schools. Then, you won't have any complaints from the opposition.

    We all agree that our teachers are great. But, the balance has bin tipped in this down-turn. We did not have a teacher plan that could ajust with the times. We have to fix that.

    You say that the great teacher will leave. Where will they go? Are there really such great opportunities out there? How many of us would hire an employee because he wants better pay? Are there really dozen's of better places to work than in Los Altos? What? Will they move to the Los Angeles school system? Or maybe they will find better opportunities in the San Joaquin Valley? Or will they move to the cold and wet weather of the East Coast? Take a look at their salaries. Some districts are already adjusting. We don't see anyone packing their things. People don't like change, but they adjust...

    And... for those who wish to continue to enable... think of it as a bubble that will eventually burst.

    The party is over. The economy has a long ways to go before it recovers. This is not a short-term situation that we are facing. But, even if it was, the work-force has to adjust. Welcome the teachers into the reality of the real work-force and take fiscally responsible decisions.

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  36. Teachers that have worked in Los Altos for years were hired during a time in which there was a supportive relationship between board and staff. Because of the support they felt and received, the teachers were willing to accept minimal salary increases for several years, while those in neighboring districts received much higher increases in a much shorter period of time. Many talented, young teachers chose to go to other districts as the pay discrepancy increased. The teachers are now simply asking to hold on to their pay. They are already feeling the increase in work as their class sizes increase, and their aid time is gone. They are already giving more, and have asked for nothing more than the dignity of maintaining their pay in return.
    Those that believe Los Altos is an affluent school district also do not understand. We do not earn the big business taxes that our neighboring districts receive. We have nail salons, not Google, Apple, etc.

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  37. I am a LASD parent for last several years. I absolutely respect the teachers and appreciate what they do. I think teachers also value the opportunity to work for LASD or similar schools district as one of the LASD principal has expressed publicly because it is a much better place to work for than other school districts. The problems that teachers face with kids in other school districts are beyond our imagination. If this was indeed not such a coveted school district why would teachers find it so desirable in spite of lowest starting salary? And on that note, should we be rather looking at average salary per teacher rather than starting salary?
    I agree with several earlier comments that we simply can not funnel any more money into the schools. I know several parents have lost job and not found another one for extended period of time. Knowing that we are at the end of that rope, we have to figure out other ways of balancing the budget including cost cutting. Some comments have said that teachers have not got raises, and have taken cuts. May be they can give us more details. I only know of pink slips, but they can let us know what other cuts they have made.
    It seems fair that we discuss healthcare costs and bring them in line with what we seem to be the general trend. When the rest of the population is making similar sacrifices, why should teachers not do the same? It always hurts to give up something you have gotten used to.
    Also it is just so unfair to let go of the newest teachers irrespective of their capabilities/performance simply because they the newest hires!! I know a few tenured teachers in the district who do not teach in the class whatsoever and they will not be touched as they are tenured! Which other industry offers such job security?! And working on week ends and early mornings etc.. Really appreciate that, but that sounds so familiar as we all do that. And we still pay 50% of heath costs with no job security. We can be fired if we did not perform or for that matter, with or without reason. So all those things really don't matter.
    We are in this together and in order to make it work, teachers will have to give up something.

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  38. I agree that teachers should draw up the new budget in the way they feel least hurts them and students.

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  39. Maureen Griffin, PTA Executive Board MemberApril 8, 2010 at 10:08 PM

    We as a community (parents, teachers, admins, board members, etc.) need to work together to balance the budget. We are all exceptional bright people in this community and we know that our expenses are outpacing our revenue - not sustainable in any environment. These are tough economic times and lots of tradeoffs have been made personally and professionally by many of us. I believe there more tough decisions that need to be made. Tranparency in government is a good thing and thank you Doug for posting your blog and letting us know your vote last night - what courage, honesty and a breath of fresh air! What I don't want to see more of -- sides polarizing.

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  40. I think the root of the LASD budget problem is that the board is postponing the hard decisions that will save the most money. Keeping schools small is ridiculous. There is nothing harmful about an elementary school with 500 children. The district needs to close a school, move the charter school to a permanent site (even if that is hard to swallow) and stop cutting programs. Reopening a school for 200 children is a huge waste of money and is costing the district in the long run. The school board needs to look at the big picture and stop bleeding the entire district for the sake of a few families.

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  41. houses in Los Altos are selling for $2million or $3.5million!!! can't we tax the sales? if not a property tax but a one time, you bought it, so you gotta pay. or tax the realtors? they certainly don't deserve the crazy commission they are getting on the $2.5 million house. they get like $60k/realtor on a $2million house. that could pay a teacher's salary for a year!!

    I am thankful for this blog b/c now I realize that the teachers here are paid less than Menlo park and mountain view!! that is wrong.

    If we want good educators, then we have to pay them. that's plain and simple.

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  42. I don't understand why so many people are applauding a man (Doug Smith) who said that teachers have an easy job? This was before he was in the School Board race.

    My wife teaches in Los Altos. It is true that our district doesn't have as many behavior problems as schools in lower socioeconomic settings BUT the truth of the matter is that schools in those sorts of districts don't have the "crazy parents" that we have in Los Altos!

    Los Altos has the following;
    1. Parents who bully teachers into giving their children higher grades
    2. Parents who take an extra week of for Spring break and expect teachers to teach their children during lunch and recess (my wife doesn't even get a chance to use the restroom).
    3. Parents who come into school on the teacher workdays before school begins and expects the teachers to have a conference with them
    4. The list goes on and on. Again, it is indeed true that we don't experience problems as other districts may BUT we have different sorts of problems. Los Altos is a unique school district with unique problems.

    A previous person commented on asking why doesn't LASD consolidate with MV/LAHS district. I pose that question too. Why don't we?

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  43. Teachers should WORK TO RULE ! That means, they should leave when the children leave and arrive when the children do! Why would any teacher want to work in the Los Altos School District??? Unfortunately, they are stuck working here in a place where they are not appreciated, but if no other school districts are hiring - they have no choice but to stay. What a horrible place to work. I feel really sorry for the teachers. No Cost of Living increases in 8 years? Are you kidding? The neighboring school districts (including the high school MVLA District, get COLA yearly. Why are the teachers staying here? They deserve better!

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  44. Parents (and Doug) don't understand that teachers HAVE been giving up things these past five years! I get frustrated hearing that. Do parents (and Doug) really think we are here to take, take, take? We are in an profession where we give, give, give.

    As with anything, we expect to be compensated for high quality work. Mark my words, Los Altos will most likely go DOWN HILL if teachers aren't treated fairly and with RESPECT Mr. SMITH.

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  45. If you worked at a company that believed the only way to balance their budget was to terminate people, you’d leave too if the opportunity arose. Companies have adjusted to decreased revenues in many ways. Most items at the grocery store have gotten smaller yet have increased in price. Produce is now charged per item instead of per pound. The options presented by the board are not the only ones.

    There simply isn't more to cut. I make many times what a LASD teacher makes, and I honestly can't imagine how some of the people commenting on this post can expect someone, living in the South Bay, who only makes $50k a year, to take a pay cut. What are your expenses each month that you can reason this is a livable wage in this area? If you want to talk about companies, they have to be competitive, even in times of economic hardship. Since other districts are able to pay more without cutting as many services, why can’t we? Why is our source of income so limited especially when we are more affluent on paper?

    If someone was were to come to Los Altos from out of state and learn that $158,745 is the median household income in Los Altos, they would most assuredly be impressed. However, that same person when informed that $119,046 is the median household income for Palo Alto, would be perplexed and stunned to learn that Los Altos is unable to sustain basic education services even while paying their teacher’s 20% less than Palo Alto. He would ask himself, “How can a town with fewer resources pay their teachers more and provide more stability when a town with more resources is unable to function? Surely the town with more resources could learn something from the other.”

    For anyone here who lives in Los Altos, to say that a teacher who makes $50k is somehow overcompensated in any capacity (salary, benefits, healthcare) is illogical. Are you happy that virtually no teachers can afford to live in the community where they work? Or are you content treating them as migrant workers who are worthy enough to come educate your children, but not live on your street?

    Los Altos (http://tinyurl.com/y94symm) is on the list of America’s top five most affluent neighborhoods. When you see that towns, who share our borders, are able to compensate their teachers 20% more, and not have as many pink slips, it’s shocking.

    Right now there is a hidden tax paid by parents in terms of donations to the PTA and the LAEF, and that’s not right. The public school system in this country was setup because the entire community, not just parents of school age children, recognizes the social value of a strong public education and the benefits it provides over generations. The burden for operating the public school system must be equitably shared amongst all residents. In Los Altos, that’s not the case. All Los Altos residents must contribute their fair share to the LASD for the benefit of everyone. The district isn’t competitive, isn’t able to sustain current operations, and worst of all is dependent on the PTA and LAEF for basic services. It’s ultimately the residents of Los Altos who are responsible for addressing this problem. It’s against the notion of a public school for parents and teachers to be burdened with extra financial hardships. It’s the responsibility of every resident of Los Altos, the young, middle aged, and old to support our schools. The generosity of parents through the LAEF and PTA has allowed the district to grow complacent and lazy.

    No one likes taxes, but for too long LASD has held that it’s some type of privilege to work here. It might be time to consider raising taxes to make the LASD fiscally sound and financially competitive with our neighboring school districts. Perhaps the parcel tax should be doubled or even tripled. It’s not popular, but it might be necessary. Or LASD should encourage business development within the town. Trying to maintain a bucolic community in an area with a high cost of living may simply be the true economic infeasibility in the 21st century.

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  46. For the anonymous poster who wrote: "You say that the great teacher will leave. Where will they go? Are there really such great opportunities out there? How many of us would hire an employee because he wants better pay? Are there really dozen's of better places to work than in Los Altos? What? Will they move to the Los Angeles school system? Or maybe they will find better opportunities in the San Joaquin Valley? Or will they move to the cold and wet weather of the East Coast?"

    Excuse me, but don't insult the intelligence of everyone here. We know a straw man argument when we read one. Los Angeles school district? How about Cupertino, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Sunnyvale ... I could go on and on. As soon as the neighboring districts start hiring again, teachers will leave for better pay and more support.

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  47. The schools in Los Altos are great not just becuase of good teachers here, but becuase of a huge concentration of extraordinary parents: highly talented (or educated), very enterprenueral, greatly care about their kids. They volunteer in schools, raise funds and contribute every way they can. These are tough economic times both at businesses and homes and it is time to take hard decisions.

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  48. I appreciate the teacher's position. I respect and admire them for doing something well I know I do not have the skills to be good at myself. And they do it for not enough money and not enough thanks.
    But the reality seems to be that something has to give or LASD could theoretically end up bankrupt at some point. Bankruptcy could eliminate all obligations for future retirement or health care benefits, so is not a small change now better than a huge hit later in the game?

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  49. As a teacher in the Los Altos school district, I do not make enough to live in the city or surrounding community. I tutor and also have a part-time job on weeknights and weekends just to make ends meet. In fact, I just got home!

    Thank you to the person who posted comments at 11:15 tonight. Thank you for your true and compassionate understanding.

    Teachers do want to work together with parents, the community, and the school board. We are not your enemies, we treat you with respect and desire to have the same.

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  50. Thank you Doug! I am an LASD parent, volunteer and supporter of teachers. Can LASD compensate teachers based on merit rather than seniority. How much money would this save? LASD would be able to match revenue and expenses better. Will the Union contract allow for this? Thank you for taking the time to post such a thought provoking blog. Freedom of speech lives on!

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  51. Los Altos is in a difficult position because of the relative lack of business tax revenue and (apparently) low base-year valuation on most residential properties. Having recently purchased a home in Mountain View within LASD, I was reacquainted with my old friend the city transfer tax of $3.30 per $1000. Palo Alto has the same, as does San Jose. San Mateo (city) has $5/$1000k, and some of the east bay cities have extraordinary rates (e.g. berkeley & oakland at $15/$1000). Los Altos would likely need to become a charter city to implement a transfer tax, but all options should be considered when we are talking about structural deficiencies in the LASD. In a bad year, this would increase general revenues by roughly $1M, in a good sales volume year, it would be much higher... discipline would be required in managing a volatile revenue stream, but at his point state revenues have become the MOST volatile streams. It might be time for Los Altos to take a bit more local control of its finances and stop competing at such a disadvantage to its more business-friendly neighbors.

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  52. Please read teacher salary data above carefully as it is misleading. The lists above represent the STARTING salaries by district, not the average. FYI--we don't have very many teachers in LASD who are paid starting salaries since they were pink slipped last year. And teachers CAN earn more money each year through step & column raises.

    Average Los Altos teacher compensation was $73,569 vs. Palo Alto ($83,994), Mountain View ($95,365) and Cupertino ($68,258). Check it out for yourself at:
    http://www.sacbee.com/2008/07/16/995141/see-how-well-your-school-district.html

    Let's work with the facts!

    Personally, I think this blog was just the conversation starter that our community has needed! Whether you agree or disagree with Doug Smith's comments, at least people are now talking about the problems and possible solutions openly. I have been wondering since last Spring during the budget discussions why folks haven't been more up in arms about the district budget, teacher pay and benefits, class sizes, loss of programs, taxes, the semi-privatization of our district and the many other issues mentioned above. It seems that people are finally pulling their heads out of the sand and engaging in an active dialogue.

    We have a lot of intelligent people in the district--teachers, parents, administrators, school board members. Let's get together and come up with some creative solutions. Let's channel the anger and animosity into innovation to keep our schools strong both fiscally and academically!

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  53. This study was just completed by Stanford University April 2010.

    Going for Broke: Reforming California's Public Employee Pensions Systems.

    http://www.stanford.edu/group/siepr/cgi-bin/siepr/?q=/system/files/shared/GoingforBroke_pb.pdf

    The cost of the pension is astronomical! With teachers retiring at 55, in years to come, we will nearly as many teachers retireing as are working. Those on retirement will be making more than the new teachers because if this irrational pension plan.

    Something to consider: Pay teachers like engineers, $100K+ salaries, give them regular increases, etc., but put them on a self-managed 401K. Don't pass this education debt onto our children. Teachers could easily be working 30 years and retired for another 30.

    How do we fix this? It has to stop. The difficulty is in going back to those teachers who retired on $70-80K salaries after 30 years of teaching and ask them to take a pension buy-out. That is what Ford had to do.

    As for good teachers leaving, see Bullis Charter School as an example. They have younger teachers that come from different back-grounds. Some used to be engineers. Good teachers don't dry out anymore than good engineers do in the private sector. Is silicon valley replace-able. See what it going on with China and India. Good teachers are too. Life goes on. It is the environment and the shared philosophy of education that brings the best people together. With all due respect to experienced teachers, young teachers would bring our costs down considerably and also deserve the opportunities to compete for the best jobs.

    I commend Doug for taking pro-active steps at addressing this matter.

    Again, consider raising teachers salaries and get them on a self managed 401K.

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  54. Doug,

    Thank you for this information. THANK YOU FOR STANDING UP TO THE UNION.

    Is my understanding correct that teachers receive 80% of their salary at the point in time of retirement as a life time pension?

    If so we are sustaining 2+ shifts of teachers while only one shift is working.

    Good People: Don't event think about additional taxes. We have a hole in the bucket, dumping more water into it is not the answer.

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  55. Thank you to the person before me for finally posting the average salaries for LASD and neighboring school districts. We need to work with the correct and meaningful facts, not skewed data.

    I completely disagree with those that feel that Doug Smith is anti-teachers. He is a School Boardmember that takes his position seriously enough, cares deeply enough, and is bold enough to admit that he doesn't have the silver bullet solution, and is looking to the broader community for feedback and creative ideas. There is absolutely no shame in that.

    Best ideas often come from dialogue and a great way to do that in this day and age is through a blog. I personally love his open approach and transparency. Transparency is something that has been missing from this school board for all the time that I can remember and the taxpayers of this community should welcome that.

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  56. Someone posted earlier: "Los Altos teachers are among the lowest paid in Silicon Valley." The truth is that they are the 8th highest paid out of the 33 county districts; see http://www.sacbee.com/2008/07/16/995141/see-how-well-your-school-district.html.

    Someone posted earlier: "We have received only a 5% pay raise over the last 8 YEARS." The truth is that the average teacher salary has increased 10% in the past four years; see http://www.losaltos.k12.ca.us/financial/PDF_Files/2009_10_facts_glance.pdf.

    Someone posted earlier, regarding starting salaries: "The facts - Los Altos is at the bottom of the list." The union determines the salary scale; they choose to pay beginners less and veterans more.

    Palo Alto can pay its teachers more because the Palo Alto community historically taxed itself more than did Los Altos, so their base revenue limit established in 1972 was significantly greater than the one for Los Altos.

    Prop 13 is playing an increasing role throughout California, limiting property tax increases to 2% while some costs (like health care) go up more than that. Los Altos schools are now paying the price of not enough revenue being collected.

    Sure, Los Altos is a great place to live, with low industry, commercial activities and low taxes, but don't blame teachers or the school board for the budget problems. We California voters must blame ourselves, and look to ourselves for solutions.

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  57. Has the district considered some kind of incentive for teachers who are able to receive their health benefits through a spouse? It is my understanding that currently a teacher who does not get benefits through LASD receives the exact same salary as a peer (same place on the salary scale) who receive benefits. Why would anyone give up health benefits under that scenario? Say the average cost of benefits per month is X. If a teacher switched to his/her spouse's health plan, perhaps that teacher could get 1/3X added to his/her check, and the district saves 2/3X in expense each month. There are local districts who pay a higher salary per month BECAUSE they do not cover benefits (or cover a small percentage of them) so the expectation is that extra sum of money would go toward the employee's health costs (if needed).

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  58. "I simply could not, in good conscience, vote in favor if a contract where we weren't going to address our largest single cost."

    Did you vote in favor of the contract in your closed session?

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  59. "Did you vote in favor of the contract in your closed session?"

    Can you say why it matters? Time passes, more info becomes available, one changes one's mind.

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  60. I posed the question because it sounds like the board approved the contract and then changed it's mind. As a Gardner parent, I'd like to know if this board member changed his mind, and if so, what new information he obtained that made him do so. It's pretty strange to see a governing board approve a major contract and then in public, do an about face. I'm confused!

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  61. I fail to see why the ball is in the teachers' court.

    That contract wasn't built in a vacuum; it was negotiated by the administration. Maybe the Board didn't communicate clearly its goals to the administration or maybe the administration ignored them; either way that's not good management. It also doesn't bode well for both sides to now negotiate in good faith.

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  62. I don't trust Doug Smith.

    True, we as a city need to fix this matter. It should not be the teachers' responsibility neither should we penalize them.

    I talked to my son's teacher today about these matters. The teacher remained very professional during our conversation and didn't blast the school board or Doug Smith.


    In regards to Bullis Charter School, the teachers may be younger and experienced in different areas but why is it that students have attended Bullis Charter and left to return to LASD?

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  63. "I don't trust Doug Smith."

    I trust him to prevent a bankrupting budget from passing.

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  64. "The contract was positioned to the board as being a "cost savings". I did not feel that was an accurate portrayal. The contract saved $41,000 in reduced stipend payouts, but that savings was put right back into the salary schedule. Further, the contract includes automatic raises known as "Step and Column". " How did this change at the board meeting this week compared to what the board approved earlier?

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  65. I didn’t vote for you but I commend the courage you showed opposing the contract.
    I would love to see Los Altos take a leadership role in discussing items like merit pay and getting rid of tenure. It would be great to reward the brilliant teachers and be able to get rid of the (few) teachers that are just waiting to get their pension.

    The reality is that teacher compensation will always be the lion’s share of the budget. We need to get more creative to find areas that can be done more efficiently.

    One of your predecessors convinced the board that the schools all needed to be smaller. While I agree with the concept of small schools, LASD simply cannot afford this. When the schools were at 600+, LASD still consistently provided a great education and had great test scores. As painful as it will be, you must look at closing a school. It won’t solve the whole problem, but it would certainly make a big dent.

    It is just irresponsible to have a budget with a structural deficit as large as you are projecting. I know you inherited this problem; I’m thrilled to see that you are going to address it and hope the rest of the board will support you.

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  66. interesting how Doug hasn't responded to anyone's comments and questions. Stir things up, sit back, watch the show. Is this the kind of leader we want for our kids at Gardner? I voted for this guy and I'm not impressed. i just came across all these comments and I see a lot of anger and finger pointing. how sad - one side versus the other.

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  67. I do indeed want a leader who will pose a thoughtful question and calmly listen to ideas, without responding each individual angry post and finger-point. Being willing to start this blog shows excellent leadership, and I trust Doug will follow up in a polite and cordial manner. Were that we all could.

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  68. In addition to all of the unpaid time teachers work, they also spend a lot of their own money on classroom supplies and teaching materials. The PTA's are wonderfully supportive with stipends, but they don't begin to cover the operating costs of a successful classroom. Teachers work twelve months (not nine as stated in an earlier comment). Their work isn't always seen, but they are always working!

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  69. I am a teacher in Los Altos. Often, we teachers complain that the public doesn't understand that we are taking cuts and trying to do our part to help the budget. Seeing some of the responses on this board confirms that. I want to outline what we have done to try and help the budget.

    1. We have authorized our negotiations committee TWICE to bargain with furlough days, once last year and once this year. I cannot speak as to why nothing has been decided on yet, but we as teachers are trying to make furlough days happen to save the district money. We just want to make sure that furlough days aren't used unfairly (affecting just our work days) and that the money saved by furlough days can try and be used to bring our colleagues back (which would help keep class sizes smaller, which is better for the kids, too).
    2. Furlough days equal a pay cut. We do not get paid for those days. While this may not be as much of a pay cut as some would like to see, we do lose money each paycheck.
    3. We understand that next year we will most likely be faced with bigger class sizes, combination classes, and cut programs. That means a bigger workload with no extra compensation. We understand that and are completely willing to work harder for nothing extra to maintain the quality experience the children receive. We do not want any of these cuts to affect the children - we will do whatever we can to make sure they have the same great experience at school.
    4. Most teachers who work in Los Altos do not live here. We are faced with higher taxes or higher parcel taxes in our own communities to cover the rising cost of public education. Parents, we understand you don't want higher taxes - we don't either! But we are not only paying our own higher taxes, but we are taking a pay cut (through furlough days) to help pay for your children to go to school.
    5. This isn't a cut we have taken, but we want the public to know that the Step and Column increases that have been mentioned, which some feel cost the district a ton of money, DON'T. Thirty percent of the teaching staff in Los Altos is already maxed out, which means they can no longer earn step and column increases. Also, in regards to saying we get to retire too early at 55 - come on. Many companies offer retirement at 55, but who can afford that? Even though we can technically retire at 55, that doesn't mean we do. We also pay into our retirement fund, it is not solely paid for by the district. Just fyi.

    In my opinion, the most hurtful thing about Mr. Smith's blog post was that it insinuated (at least to me) that we teachers were the only ones who could fix this problem, and that is by taking a pay cut. There are other options. Unifying the school district, bigger schools, higher taxes,offering incentives to switch to a spouses' health plan, etc. None are popular, but there are more choices. Los Altos, these are your schools. As a community, you should be working together to find a solution, and not pin it all on the teachers, as we felt Mr. Smith did.

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  70. Very well put! From my wife and I (parents) Thank You!

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  71. Can someone who knows say how much 70% of teachers getting Step and Column costs? That's better than saying it's a lot or not.

    Retiring at 55 is a thing of the past; companies no longer offer it. Can someone who knows say if it's true that teachers can retire at 55 with 80% of pay? If so, that's a big benefit the rest of us don't have.

    Can someone who knows say if we can balance the budget by unifying the district? By closing schools? By increasing taxes? My company offers a cash bonus if an employee can use a spouse's health plan, so that can done, if it helps.

    Since balancing the budget will hurt teachers the most, they should have the primary say in how to best do it.

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  72. @John: Please contact me via email. I'd like to chat about some of your thoughts. Thanks.

    my email is dsmith (at) lasdschools.org

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  73. I'm a teacher, parent and Los Altos resident. I distinctly recall a time when actions by the school board and adminimstration were viewed as 'closed-door' and uncommunicative. I applaud Doug's efforts to open up the communication, especially about something so important as how to remain financially solvent over the next several years. By the way, the President also blogs: www.whitehouse.gov/blog/

    Private industry has many similarities to a school district or even government entity, but it's also quite different too. In private industry, the leadership can cut projects, lay off teams, and narrow the focus to remain financially solvent. In a school district, if we close schools and lay off teachers, we still have the same number of students to teach - this solution only increases class sizes.

    In private industry, you are promoted when you meet the requirements of the next level up, and there's a need for the promotion. In school districts and government jobs, you are promoted by being at a job for a certain length of time. So while teachers may not have gotten cost of living raises, they have gotten increases based on their time in the job, unless they have max'd out by being in the same position for so long.

    In private industry, you leave your job when you are ready to retire, at your own expense. Teachers and government employees are eligible for retirement after a certain number of years on the job.

    Teachers may not make as much as engineering managers, but there are several perks to the job, like excellent healthcare at little cost to the teachers, summers off, holiday breaks, and retirement benefits after a certain number of years of service.

    These are tough times, and we need to work together to find solutions that don't hurt education in our district. Cutting the teaching staff will again increase class sizes. Delaying step and column increases, reducing health care costs, and increasing the retirement age are valid options to consider.

    As for the comment about parents being difficult to deal with, I have seen that great teachers can teach the parents as well. Great teachers also get a lot more support from the parents than mediocre teachers. My children have had many outstanding teachers and I would hate to lose a single one - I hope they know how much we appreciate their involvment in the lives of our children.

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  74. Thanks for providing a public forum for discussing this difficult issue Doug. I don't envy you for the tough decisions you and the other trustees will have to make!

    I recommend a three-pronged approach:

    1) Short-term (next 12-18 months): Stop the hemorrhage. This is likely to require reducing staff, increasing class sizes, furloughs, and temporary elimination of step-and-column pay increases.

    2) Mid-term (18-36 months): fix structural problems in the district. Start by moving BCS to the Bullis site and closing Gardner-Bullis. We need to stop the endless litigation and reduce the number of sites the district has to maintain. Second, control healthcare expenditures. After reviewing the impact of legislation at a national level and optimizing the coverage policies, lock in spending. As heathcare costs go up the district employees will need to take on the additional burden of increasing costs. Third, lock step-and-column increases directly to revenue. As revenue drops, no increases will be given, but as the district's revenue goes up in the future, the staff should be the primary beneficiaries.

    3) Long-term (36 months+): revenue stabilization. Props 13 and 58 are decimating the state's educational systems. Reform is urgently needed, but it won't be easy. Here's a link to a great article on the subject:
    http://www.almanacnews.com/news/show_story.php?id=6256.

    Just my tw cents, sure to be controversial...

    Not anonymously,
    Charlie Amsden

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