The board of the Menlo Park City School District voted unanimously on Sept. 20, with board member Terry Thygesen absent, to award all district employees a 2.5 percent raise for the 2016-17 school year, and to give a bonus of 2.5 percent of their annual salary to all who worked last year.
Some speakers from the public at the board meeting questioned awarding salary increases and bonuses to employees when the district is facing serious financial problems. Two parcel taxes failed to pass in May, and the district now says that it is facing budget shortfalls that could reach $5.3 million in five years.
Joe Giarrusso, a district resident and parent of a former student, said the board should not approve raises and bonuses "until the financial picture is clearer sometime next year." Mr. Giarrusso's wife, Caroline Lucas, is a candidate for the school board.
"What the board is doing now is playing Russian Roulette with the budget," he said, "hoping or maybe assuming that the public will approve a parcel tax measure next year."
But board president Jeff Child said the district lost a number of teachers last year who could no longer afford to live in the area, and without raises the district would find itself unable to recruit new teachers or retain current employees.
Joan O'Neill, the district's human resources manager, said that 11 teachers resigned and two retired last year. The district hired 22 new teachers for the 2016-17 school year.
Mr. Child said that many of the teachers who left either could no longer afford to live in the area, or deal with the commute if they lived elsewhere. "I'm not sure we have seen that before the last year or two," he said.
Mr. Child said that by not giving a raise to district teachers last year, the district put itself at a disadvantage in competing for teachers with all other local districts that did give raises, ranging from 2.5 percent in Hillsborough to 4 percent in Woodside and 5 percent in Palo Alto.
"We're losing ground against our competitors" in the midst of a teacher shortage, Mr. Child said. "We did look at this salary in light of our funding issues," he said, but also in light of a teacher shortage.
Whether teachers' salaries should be cut does need to be discussed, he said, but it should be in the context of the overall cuts the district will be making.
"We'd like to think at least we're keeping up with the cost of living," he said.
The Bay Area CPI, according to information given out at the school board meeting, was 2.3 percent in 2014-15 and 2.7 percent in 2015-16, but Mr. Child said he believes the cost of living, especially rents and home prices, has risen even more locally.
The new salary schedule places the lowest-paid first-year teachers, with a bachelor's degree and no additional education, at $59,662 a year. After 10 years, with no additional education, that teacher would make $77,500 a year (or $91,820 with 10 years of experience and 45 additional units of education). The highest-paid district teachers, with 22 years of experience and 90 units of additional education, make $118,323 a year. Teachers also receive a stipend of $1,750 a year for a master's degree and $1,500 a year for a bilingual certification.
Compared with other local school districts (Las Lomitas, Belmont, Hillsborough, Woodside and Palo Alto), according to information provided to the Menlo Park board, the Menlo Park district's salaries generally ranked at about third out of six in 2015-16, although the district's maximum contribution to benefits was the lowest of the districts compared.
The district also approved a contract for Superintendent Maurice Ghysels for a base salary of $235,205 annually and a $5,737 bonus for the 2015-16 school year. The superintendent last received a raise in May 2015, to $229,468 a year.
Ahmad Sheikholeslami, the district's chief business and operations official, received a raise to $187,466 a year and a bonus of $4,530.
Erik Burmeister, the assistant superintendent, received a raise to $192,045 a year with a $4,641 bonus.
The contracts can be found online (Item VII).
Background material is in this report.