Teachers in Need of Raises
By Catherine Van Weele
A few weeks ago, you may have seen teachers passing out flyers on your way to school. The flyers were to inform the public about teachers’ salaries and the Novato Unified School District negotiating teacher contracts. Novato teachers are demanding a pay increase to meet the average salary of teachers in comparable school districts.
Comparable school districts are determined by similarities in demographics, staffing, cost of living, and how the schools are funded. Currently, on average, teachers at NUSD are getting paid 4-5% below the average salary of teachers in comparable districts. This underpayment also upsets teachers because the average salary for administrators is 4% above the average of comparables.
Additionally, Novato Unified has a surplus of administrators and perhaps may be overstaffed. NUSD has approximately eight more certified administrators than the comparable average. The district accredits this surplus to Novato Unified having more schools of smaller size, while comparable districts have less schools with more students.
President of the Novato Federation of Teachers and science teacher Aaron Fix has been teaching at Novato High for 15 years. He believes the disproportionate pay has been influenced by the American management system in which those higher on the ladder get paid the most. He also pointed out that traditionally women have been teachers and sexist undertones that contribute the gender pay gap may have contributed to the low pay of all teachers today.
Science teacher John Dick has been teaching at Novato High for 18 years and says that teachers being underpaid has always been an issue.
“This isn’t fair. I don’t see any way you can look at that being fair,” said Dick. “The district needs to figure out what their priorities are as far as how to spend money. We want the money coming into classrooms whether that’d be teacher salaries, supplies, things like that.”
The school district has formed a Budget Advisory Committee to review the budget and make recommendations that will go to superintendent Jim Hogeboom. The committee, facilitated by Assistant Superintendent of Business and Operations Yancy Hawkins, is made up of representatives from all schools, teachers, students, classified employees, parents, and administrators.
The Budget Advisory Committee approved criteria is to limit negative impacts on student learning, align the budget with district goals and priorities and to reflect community values, be willing to make changes, and remain objective and data driven, considering trends over time. The NUSD goals are equity, student success, staff support, and community involvement.
“There’s really three negative factors impacting the district’s budget at this point,” Hawkins said. “The first is slowing state funding and that relates to the amount of new revenue that the school district is getting from the state each year. The second is the district is in declining enrollment of students, most of that relates to a declining birth rate in Marin County since 2007. The third factor, is which is probably the most significant factor, is increasing contribution rates required for employee pensions in the district.”
When asked about raising teacher salaries, Hawkins declined to comment while negotiations are ongoing.
For teachers’ salaries to the meet the comparables average, there would need to be changes to the general budget. Cuts from funding conferences for teachers and administrators would save a lot of money. There have also been suggestions of making cuts to the large administrative staff, instructional coaches, and consultants. While consultants aid in making decisions, teachers believe the money used for consultants would be better used directly inside the classroom. Ultimately, it is up to the district to decide what is most important to fund.
However, even staff cuts do not necessarily mean the money can be moved to directly pay for things inside the classroom.
“I think that the one part that a lot of people don’t understand is that a lot of the money is being spent on auxiliary services like instructional coaches and on consultations. Things like that are coming out of categorical funding from the LCAP where that states you have to spend it on those things,” said Novato High principal Matt Baldwin. “If you don’t spend it on those things, then you have to find similar things to spend the money on. Looking at different things we can spend that money on is a good thing to look at, but the money can’t necessarily go to teacher salaries.”
The LCAP is the Local Control and Accountability Plan that is a part of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) which is money granted by the state. LCAP guides the school district as to how funds are spent and what its goals to improve student outcomes.
Southern Marin schools, including Redwood, Drake, and Tam, receive most of their money from property tax so they do not need much financial aid from the state. Novato, on the other hand, gets most of their funding from LCFF, which is funding based on student attendance. The Tamalpais Union High School District starting teacher salary without a master's degree is about $59,000. At Novato Unified, starting teacher salary without a master's degree is $46,000, about $13,000 less than Tamalpais schools.
“We have to make sure we are competitive with surrounding districts so that we can get the best teachers that we can,” Baldwin said. “I am a huge advocate for teachers getting paid more money. I think our teachers deserve it and they have earned it. And I think they should at least be paid at the comparables if not more, especially when we are neighboring southern Marin.”
Teachers being paid below the comparables’ average is not only unfair to the teachers, but it also impacts the students. Fix calls NUSD a trainer district. It is not unusual for teachers to come to Novato schools and get four or five years of teaching experience and then leave to teach at a district that pays better. Lower pay can make it challenging for Novato schools to keep their teachers and also to attract new ones.
“It all has to do with what NUSD is willing to pay teachers. They could do it next year if they felt that it was a budget priority, or it could take ten years, or never,” Fix said. “In order for us to catch up, we need to get 4% more than our comps, so if they get 2%, we need 6%. I have been president [of the teacher union] for five years now, and we have made some small progress, but it takes way longer than it should.”
The teacher union and the district have recently reached a tentative agreement to raise teacher salaries $1,100 which is about a 1.5% increase. This increase would make minimal progress in meeting the comparable average, but it does prevent NUSD teachers from falling further behind their comparables.
To help support the teachers, parents and students can email NUSD board members and voice their concerns. The district needs to find a way to maximize the budget to pay their teachers adequately.