Armed with large posters stating facts and quotes related to a contentious bargaining process, teachers and parents came before the Portola Valley Elementary School District governing board on Nov. 17 to advocate for better treatment and pay for teachers.
The Portola Valley Teachers Association and district officials, which last met on Oct. 26 and will next meet on Dec. 12, have both expressed dissatisfaction with the process, with a contract for the 2022-23 school year yet to be inked. The district has accused the teachers of misrepresenting their pay in comparison to neighboring districts.
The district has threatened to declare an impasse – which would be the first of three steps possibly leading to a strike – on multiple occasions, said PVTA President Tim Sato in a statement. Superintendent Roberta Zarea said that the district has not threatened to declare an impasse.
"In fact, we have a couple of scheduled meeting dates with PVTA's bargaining team," she said in an email.
The district has sent out two fact sheets with information on the negotiation process, along with teacher salaries and benefits. Jacob Averbuck, an Ormondale School parent, told the school board on Nov. 17 that he was "shocked" and "embarrassed" that the district sent out its "union busting" material through the ParentSquare platform on Nov. 29.
"We are extremely disappointed that PVSD is choosing to utilize district resources to spread stilted information to the public," said Sato, noting that he found the communications to be "underhanded" attacks. "This misuse of their bully pulpit, under the guise of transparency, feels like just another attack on educators who are simply advocating for what we believe is in the best interests of our students."
The Nov. 29 communication "fails to acknowledge several important points and glosses over others in a disingenuous representation of the PVSD position," Sato said. For example, showing "maximum total compensation" that includes a grandfathered health plan only applicable to less than a third of educators does not address the challenge of attracting new staff. Comprehensive healthcare coverage is a critical element in attracting applicants, he said.
He said even the most recent proposal would not allow an educator to cover any family members without significant out-of-pocket costs even while district administrators are fully covered.
Zarea said in an email that the information fliers are "pure facts, without adjectives, blaming language or assertions of malicious motivation."
"Every subject area is explained clearly — including the 'context' which PVTA asserts is missing," she said. "For example, the two different groups of employees receiving different levels of district-paid health premiums is clearly described and clarified. The district bears no ill will toward the employees who serve our students, or the representative of those employees, the latter of which is merely carrying out its advocacy obligations in the best interests of its members. We will never malign or demonize our teachers or their representative; we would ask the same of them regarding the district. We remain committed to negotiating in good faith and resolving our differences in the forum prescribed by law for accomplishing this – the negotiations table."
On Oct. 27, teachers spoke at a school board meeting about their frustrations with district officials for wanting to add the extra 30 minutes.
The district's latest proposal includes moving to a new salary structure to provide all teachers with pay comparable to what's offered by neighboring districts. Base salaries in the district start at $64,108. Teachers can earn up to $132,969. The Menlo Park City School District starts at $70,832 and tops out at $140,477. Superintendent Roberta Zarea noted that MPCSD teachers work three extra days per year and 15 extra minutes per day, which is one of the reasons for their higher base salary.
Some teachers will receive up to a 50.7% increase over the prior year, but no teacher will receive less than a 7.9% increase for 2022-23. The average increase would be 20%, retroactive July 1, with an estimated average base salary for 2022-23 is $129,514 under the district's new proposal, according to the district.
Teachers would also see a 3% increase for the 2023-24 school year. There would also be increased contributions to teachers' insurance coverage, according to the district.
Sato said that no other district in San Mateo County has an eight-hour instructional day, and that the district has made false claims that it's necessary to meet state mandates.
Under new legislation, districts are required to provide extended learning opportunities for students, Zarea said. The proposal not only addresses this need, but also promotes student safety and supervision before and after the instructional day, she said. The additional time also increases opportunities for staff collaboration around curriculum and instruction. She said the proposed salary increase over the next two years includes compensation for this increased time.
Parents and other community members spoke in support of the teachers and expressed concern about the district sending out the fact sheets to parents during the Nov. 17 meeting.
Others said that the district can afford to pay its teachers more.
"We live in one of the wealthiest ZIP codes in the country," said Lauren Bochnowski, whose three children attend district schools. "We can make the appropriate cost of living adjustments for our teachers."