Despite the ongoing efforts of community members and administrators alike, the Los Altos School District still finds itself $4.5 million in the hole.
These are hard times for the venerable K-8 district, the chief draw for many residents to move to Los Altos in the first place. The district’s $193 parcel tax proposed for the May 3 ballot is projected to make up only $2.3 million of that $4.5 million deficit. The district actually needs a tax well over $300, but polling numbers predicted residents would not support that amount.
Some fixes are beyond the district’s control. Our state government is surely a culprit, handcuffing districts with restrictive mandates while decreasing funding year after year.
Meanwhile, the district is responsible for lifetime health benefits promised to employees hired prior to 1989 – 180 retirees, 40 current teachers. The district last year had to deposit $1 million into retirement benefits as a result of the old policy.
It must be stated emphatically that the Los Altos School District is doing things right when it comes to financial management. It has one of the leanest administrations in the county and one of the largest percentages of funds going straight to the classrooms. Lost revenues are key to the current conditions. Three years ago, the district switched its funding model to a basic-aid district ($120 per student from the state, but an effective moneymaker in affluent areas because districts can benefit directly from property taxes). But the timing couldn’t have been worse – property taxes flatlined during the recession and the expected funding didn’t materialize.
So what to do? We can best control what we do locally, thus the May 3 parcel-tax request. But the district still has choices, hard as they may be, with the funding it does have.
District teachers need to swallow hard and agree to further concessions to avoid layoffs and dramatic increases in class sizes. Most notably, start with a reduction in health-care benefits – the district currently carries 95 percent of the cost. And teachers have said they want to bargain to lighten the district’s load. We’ll see what happens.
Locally as well as statewide, districts lose promising young teachers every year because the older, veteran teachers have tenure. The average salaries are higher in the Los Altos School District, because a large proportion of the teachers have been teaching in the district for a long time.
The state needs to take a lesson from Madison, Wis., overcome the protests of the teachers’ unions and change to salaries based on performance instead of seniority. With all due respect to the hard job teachers face, job performance should be evaluated year by year, like the rest of us. We think the change would result not only in better budget control, but also in a better education for our students, because the districts would retain the best and constantly improving teachers.
Changes are needed. The status quo is no longer an option.
at Thursday, 17 March 2011 09:33
While I agree that the deficit will not go away easily, some of this IS of LASD’s own making and they need to be held responsible. In 2007-08, the teachers were given an across the board raise—approved by the board even though they knew they could not afford it and that it only added to an existing structural deficit.
Taxpayers also need to understand that teachers are compensated in a way that they automatically get what the rest of us call a raise every year. It’s called “step and column.” For every year of service, they move up a step. For each additional degree/certification, they move over a column. An across the board raise (like in 2007-08), just means that ALL of the steps and all of the columns increase. So effectively—teachers get a raise EVERY year… they just got a bigger one in 2007-08.
And why, oh why, is there no mention of closing a school (or two) in this editorial? Covington was designed for way more than 650 children and there are only 470 students there now.
at Thursday, 17 March 2011 13:58
For eleven years the district has been able to hire teachers and placed them at the top of the salary schedule. The association agreed with this provision so that the district could attract experienced teachers and pay them maximum salary. Prior to 2000, teachers could transfer 8 yrs of experience on the salary schedule. This old provision kept salaries balanced between new and veteran teachers. Today the teachers salary schedule is nearly at the bottom (28/33) of districts in the county and the health benefits are average (9/18 elementary districts in the county). Combined we have an average compensation package. The salary schedule also requires 90 semester units to reach the top. The vast majority of districts only require 60 units. LASD teachers are highly educated and experienced, they have earned their compensation.
at Friday, 18 March 2011 08:44
No one deserves tenure after two years. We need to run our schools more like businesses. I'm all for teachers making lots of $$ if they are really superb--not just because they've been teaching a long time or have a lot of education.
at Thursday, 24 March 2011 11:47
Tenure (actually called "permanent status") is part of California law. So is the requirement to layoff teachers with the least seniority first. If you dislike these policies, write to your State Senator, Assemblyperson or other officials in Sacramento. Don't hold it against LASD, or worse, punish our kids because of policies they cannot change.
More salary data: the maximum salary in LASD is lower than ALL of the comparably outstanding school districts near us (Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Las Lomitas, Portola Valley, Woodside, Hillsborough, Cupertino, Saratoga and Los Gatos). The actual average salary in LASD is 20% lower than the average of top districts in the area.
More importantly, the focus on teacher salaries misses the point: LASD lost over $4M in revenue in the past two years and stands to lose another $4M+ THIS YEAR. Cost cutting alone cannot solve that problem. We need to replace some of that lost revenue.
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