Why Does Alameda Underpay Its Teachers?

This article is part of a series. Please refer to the Addendum article (https://alamedaclarion.com/2020/02/05/ausd-2020-measure-c-addendum) for additional notes. Inline notes that reference the Addendum will signify this with the label Addm.X where X is the number in the Addendum.

Summary

  • This is an Analysis article about Alameda Unified School District (AUSD) and its funding.
  • The AUSD has placed a ballot initiative on the March 3, 2020 Primary Ballot that would add an additional 26.5 cents to the existing 32 cent per sq.ft. parcel tax.
  • The new tax would raise around $10.5 million for increases to teacher and staff salaries which, according to the district, are some of the lowest in the county.
  • But Alameda already raises one of the highest parcel taxes in the county and is about average in terms of overall spending per student (ADA). So why don’t we have enough money to pay teachers more already?

Distinguished Politics

Back in November, I received a four-page, full-color flyer from the Alameda Unified School District. On the surface, this was an advertisement celebrating AUSD’s Dr. Pauline Stahl, who was named 2019 “Teacher of the Year” for Alameda County. I am sure this was well-deserved. The “Genomics and Biotechnology Pathway” and the “Restorative Justice” programs that Dr. Stahl helped to found seem like laudable achievements worth recognizing. The county awards this accolade but the city’s school district was interested in doing more than just celebrating it.

On opening to the second page of the flyer we are immediately told that “Alameda is proud of our talented educators….. But in order to keep our schools strong, we need to continue attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers .. ” 1 And what follows is a graph, which I have reproduced below (see Fig. 1; same data, my graph), that shows that “Currently, AUSD teachers and staff are among the lowest paid in the county” 1. The logical progression from achievement to grievance is followed by the inevitable on page 3: “a March 2020 ballot measure is being considered at rates up to $0.23 per square foot of building area…” 1.

AUSDSalaryChart
Figure 1: Alameda County Salary Comparison (click for larger size)

Since then the district board has approved language for a measure on the 2020 Presidential Primary Ballot2 that will raise $0.265 per sq.ft. of additional parcel tax. This coincided with an agreement with AEA, the main union that represents teachers in Alameda, to provide a 4% salary increase in the current year. If and only if the measures passes, employees will get 8% more next year and a retroactive additional 1% increase in 2020.3 As the press release points out, all employees and not just teachers will get these increases because contract increases for all AUSD employees are tied to what the teachers negotiate.

Whether or not this is good policy, it’s definitely good politics. Early polling for a parcel tax showed Alameda could hit the necessary two-thirds of votes if voters were provided with “additional information” about teacher pay and how the tax revenues would be spent4. Add to that the advantage of placing the initiative on the 2020 presidential primary ballot. This ballot will not include serious Republican contenders and will likely be dominated by voters most energized by presidential candidates whose platforms include higher taxes to fund government services.

So far, so good. The district has crafted a clear message and placed their initiative on what should be a favorable ballot. But this left one serious question in my mind: why are we in this position? After all, didn’t we re-confirm a parcel tax just a few years ago? I admit I didn’t really know much about the school district before this new initiative. And after a little research, I had more questions than answers.

Naught for Teacher?

An obvious first question is to ask: “Do we spend less than other districts?” If we pay our teachers comparatively less, one might assume that we spend less in general. However, while we are far from the biggest spenders, we are basically average. At $12,159 per ADA (See Addm.1 for more on ADA), we spend slightly less than the county average of $12,200 but we are are slightly above the median spending of $11,796 (See Fig. 2; the horizontal black line is the county average). Furthermore, districts like Pleasanton, New Haven and Livermore who are among the best in teacher pay, all spend less per ADA. 5

GeneralRevenueByADAByDistrict
General Revenue By ADA By District (click for larger)

So where does the money go then? Most other school districts are able to pay their teachers better and many seem to spend less overall while doing it.

What about that parcel tax we just renewed? Maybe other districts raise much more from their parcel taxes and that’s how they pay their teachers? Nope. Alameda has one of the highest parcel taxes (per ADA) in Alameda county. And many of the districts with highest teacher pay also have little or no parcel tax (See Fig. 3).5

ParcelTaxRaisedPerADAByDistrict
Parcel Tax per ADA By District (click for larger)

This is my first in a series of in-depth articles to analyze the revenue and spending of the Alameda Unified School District. Do we really need to nearly double our parcel tax to pay our teachers better and why? How are a lot of other districts able to pay so much better with little or no additional parcel tax at all?

Footnotes

1. See scanned copy of flyer (may open new tab or download pdf).

2. Scuderi, Pasquale et al. “Ballot Language and Resolution Ordering Election for the Alameda Unified School District Creating Local Support for Retaining and Attracting High-Quality Staff Measure of 2020” alameda.novusagenda.com. https://alameda.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/CoverSheet.aspx?ItemID=9561&MeetingID=475 (Accessed February 4, 2020).

3. Scuderi, Pasquale et al. “Board of Education Ratifies Tentative Agreement with AEA 
AUSD. https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2019/11/21/ausd-notes-a-status-report-on-worker-pay-strategic-plan/ (Accessed February 4, 2020).

4. https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2019/08/27/school-parcel-tax-could-come-before-alameda-voters/

4. Taveres, Steven “With low teacher pay, Alameda USD did polling for a parcel tax. The results are passable” East Bay Citizen https://ebcitizen.com/2019/08/20/with-low-teacher-pay-alameda-usd-did-polling-for-a-parcel-tax-the-results-are-passable/ (Accessed February 4, 2020)

5. District financial data is based on public records published at ed-data.org (Accessed February 4, 2020). Data is for 2017/18 budget year, which is the latest available at ed-data at the time of writing.