The Piedmont Highlander

The Student News Site of Piedmont High School

The Piedmont Highlander

The Piedmont Highlander

Green Club members set up a planter near the 30s building
Green Club Feature
November 30, 2023

An Update on Teacher Funding

ATP members protest in front of City Hall

Here are updates on Teacher Funding in Piedmont including a letter from Superintendent Dr.Hawn and Association of Piedmont Teachers (ATP) Union President Dr.Marks.

Letter from Dr. Elise Marks, APT Union President

I want to thank Dr. Hawn for inviting me to write a guest post for the Piedmont Pulse. As she communicated to families on Friday, negotiations between district leadership and APT have reached a point at which both sides acknowledge that–while we have reached agreement on several points–we’re unable to make progress towards agreement on several remaining issues, most urgently the financial issues. For that reason, APT has filed for Impasse with California’s Public Employment Relations Board, which means we wish to continue our negotiations with the help of a state mediator.

During these challenging economic times, PUSD is not alone in reaching this point. Other districts who are at or very near Impasse include Lafayette, Pleasanton, Clayton Valley, Dublin, and Pittsburg. The goal in every case is to have an experienced mediator take an objective look at the issues and help find a productive path forward.

APT is confident that we will be able to find that path.

Today, I want to emphasize the many powerful core values that I believe APT and district leadership hold in common.

Above all, everyone at the negotiations table believes that Piedmont students deserve the absolute best in education. We are all passionately dedicated to the excellence of our schools, to making them places where students feel challenged intellectually as well as supported emotionally, places where everyone feels a sense of belonging, where classes are engaging and invigorating, and where “All means all.” In academics, athletics, the arts, and extracurriculars, we are committed to helping our students achieve their full potential so they can head out into the world empowered to make their mark.

We recognize that educational excellence depends directly on attracting and retaining superb educators of the caliber that have made Piedmont a “destination district” for more than a century. Anyone who spends time in Piedmont classrooms knows how extraordinary our educators are–intelligent, caring, dedicated, innovative, committed to understanding every single child and finding the best ways to help them learn and grow.

We recognize that, in order for those amazing educators to be here for our students, they must be able to survive financially in the Bay Area, one of the most expensive regions in the world. Inflation and dramatically rising health insurance costs make that prospect more daunting every year, with many teachers contemplating the painful choice of leaving the profession they love because the financial sacrifices have grown too great. Starting in January, most Piedmont educators who rely on the district’s Kaiser insurance will be shouldering a $370 a month increase in the premiums they must pay out of pocket. For people who bring home less than $4000 a month, as many of our educators do, that alone is a huge bite out of already-strained family budgets. With Bay Area inflation pushing 5%, the combined impact will mean many teachers are facing a devastating 15%-20% reduction in their effective income, when they were already struggling to make ends meet.

In large part because of the problem of teacher pay, California–and in fact the entire nation–is facing an unprecedented teacher shortage. Many veteran teachers are reaching retirement age, and not enough young people are entering teacher preparation programs. Schools are also facing severe shortages of psychologists, nurses, counselors, interventionists, paraeducators, and administrators. Districts are already in fierce competition for the most talented candidates, and APT and district leadership all recognize that Piedmont will need to marshal its best resources to bring those candidates here for our students, and to keep our current educators in PUSD schools.

At the same time, we acknowledge our district’s very real financial challenges. We are a small, non-basic-aid, unified district, with few students in categories that bring higher levels of state funding. As with almost all California districts, we are experiencing declining enrollment, which results in further reduction in funds. Nonetheless, we must fulfill all California state mandates–the universal meal program, Transitional Kindergarten, Title IX improvements to girls’ athletics, increased contributions to CalPERS and CalSTRS retirement funds to ensure their solvency, and a wide array of individual services for students according to their IEPs. These are all inherently good things, and they are vital to keeping our schools strong. However, LCFF funding is seldom sufficient to cover their full costs.

In addition, PUSD is committed to wonderful programs that most districts don’t provide, but which have been essential to Piedmont’s strength: our Wellness Center, the counseling programs we offer even at our elementary schools, our teacher librarians who do amazing work to inspire our students’ love of reading and research, our one-to-one Chromebook initiative, our rich Art and Acting offerings, our groundbreaking Affinity Mentors program, and fascinating elective classes like Guitar Engineering and Film Studies and Marine Biology that let students dive deep into their intellectual passions.

Piedmont educators value all of these things profoundly. Our students need and deserve them. Thankfully, we have our parcel taxes and the tireless work of the Piedmont Educational Foundation to support our rich array of programs.

But even with that extraordinary support from our community, PUSD finds itself in a difficult situation. Last spring, in the wake of considerable unexpected expenses in 2022-2023, even with elimination of two positions, the district felt it might not meet the required 3% reserve, and submitted a “qualified” budget to Alameda County. While PUSD budget projections show the financial picture improved somewhat over the summer, the district office tells us now that they have only enough uncommitted funds to offer a 2% salary increase to educators, with no increased help with rising health insurance costs. The Board has offered a commitment of somewhat larger increases for the next two years: 4% for 2024-25 and 3% for 2025-26.

While APT acknowledges the district’s financial constraints, and greatly appreciates the commitment to prioritize better pay for educators in upcoming budgets, the economic reality is that a 2% salary increase amounts to a serious effective pay cut for this year. Teachers will simply be even less able to pay their basic bills than they were last fall. The state’s statutory COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) of 8.22% is intended not only to help the district pay its internal expenses, but also to help teachers pay their own actual living expenses–rising costs for rent, groceries, gas, as well as the very large health insurance increase that under the district’s current offer falls entirely on us. In APT’s view, when the district claims that only 2% of the 8.22% COLA (less than a quarter) can be passed on to teachers, the district is assuming that all internal costs are covered first, and only what is left over afterwards can be shared with educators. In refusing to settle for the current 2% offer, APT is standing firm in asking for our proportional fair share of COLA.

In just the last few days, several Bay Area school districts have settled contracts with their teachers. Benicia teachers will be receiving a raise of 8.22%. San Francisco Unified has reached a settlement for a two year contract with a $9,000 raise for everyone this year, and a 5% raise for next year. Sausalito / Marin City, whose salary schedule is very close to Piedmont’s, reached an agreement that will give educators a total 13% raise by the time they enter their classrooms next fall.

We do believe PUSD leadership wants to see our educators paid a true living wage. We believe they share APT’s interest in ensuring what is best for our students, which is ensuring we have the best educators in our schools. But at this time, we cannot reach an agreement about how to make that happen.

In addition to reaching out to PERB for help with mediation, we are reaching out to our community for help in finding both short and long-term solutions to the financial challenges we need to overcome. We recognize that we will need to come at this issue from multiple angles. We must work for legislative solutions that increase overall funding from the state. We must work to increase enrollment, including encouraging resident children to choose Piedmont over private schools, and encouraging the highest possible rates of attendance for currently-enrolled students. We must work to increase donations to PEF, and we must consider any and all other means of providing more ongoing funding to our schools.

Again, I want to thank Dr. Hawn for giving APT the opportunity to share our perspective through the Pulse. APT wants to be as transparent as possible with the wider Piedmont community, and APT believes–as I know Dr. Hawn does–that our schools are strongest when we have clear and open communication among all stakeholders. We encourage community members to visit APT’s website to join our email list and stay in touch with us.

As we continue through the process of mediation, APT wants to express our commitment to collaborating with district leadership and the Piedmont community to reach a viable resolution to our negotiations. We love being educators, and we love our students. At all times, we share an unfailing dedication to ensuring that the future of Piedmont schools will continue to be as bright as ever.

  Letter from Superintendent Dr.Hawn

I am writing to share an update regarding union negotiations with our teachers’ union, APT. At our October 18th meeting, we concluded negotiating proposed items, and APT advised the PUSD team that they would be filing for impasse. Below is a summary of what we negotiated, and what impasse means for our district.

Negotiated items – Summary Total

  • APT proposed 14 items (withdrew 1 item) – PUSD accepted 4 APT proposals
  • PUSD proposed compromise/alternative language on 6 of APT’s 14 proposals – APT accepted 2 out of 6 PUSD proposals
  • PUSD proposed 3 items (withdrew 1 item) – APT accepted 0 PUSD proposals

APT and PUSD have spent hours discussing the items above, and we appreciated the APT negotiating team’s care and thoughtful consideration of all proposals. You may be wondering why PUSD cannot just say yes to all of APT’s proposals. Each item has its own complexity, but in summary, many of APT’s proposals require additional cost. PUSD’s multi-year offer of a 9% salary increase over three years is based on our current budget picture in which PUSD can afford 2% this year, 4% next year, and 3% in the third year. Adding items requiring additional cost would reduce this multi-year offer.

What Impasse Means

Impasse simply means that APT and PUSD have tried but are unable to come to an agreement. When this happens, one or both sides may declare impasse. Impasse includes filing a “Request for Impasse Determination/Appointment of Mediator” form with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB). If PERB determines APT and PUSD are, in fact, at impasse, a state mediator is assigned to assist in resolving matters to come to an agreement. If the mediator is unable to help both parties reach an agreement, either party may request a fact-finding panel. Fact-finding involves a three-person panel to conduct an analysis (typically of the union contract, district budget and other relevant information) to make recommendations in a report. At this point, the union and district may come to an agreement. If no agreement is reached, the two parties could continue negotiations, they could delay and revisit at a later date, or the union could strike. PUSD is committed to collaborating with APT on a resolution that supports our APT staff members within our budget.

In March 2023, APT signed an agreement with a CTA group of districts called the East Bay Coalition for Student Success, which requires adhering to regional standards for negotiations, including this year’s 8.22% State COLA. And so, we should not be surprised by this news that APT has declared impasse, as APT union President, Dr. Elise Marks, stated at the August 23rd Board meeting that APT is “committed to not settling at the bargaining table, to the point of going to impasse,” unless the 8.22% salary increase and other proposals are met (Board Meeting Video linked HERE, start at 6.35). Please note that APT and PUSD had not yet started negotiations on compensation when this statement was made.

In closing, I will continue to provide updates to our community regarding the status of negotiations and potential changes to our budget and programs. Over the last two months, I have communicated a series of updates on the PUSD budget, including information about how much we have available for staff raises. I encourage you to read my newsletter updates (linked HERE) to stay informed about our PUSD budget. In my upcoming newsletters, I will be sharing more information about how we could make room in next year’s budget for staff raises.

Negotiated Articles

PUSD Proposals

  1. PUSD Proposal: (Article VI Grade Submission): PUSD proposed language that would require high school teachers to submit grades at least every two weeks. APT rejected PUSD’s proposal.
  2. PUSD Proposal: (Article XV Benefits) – PUSD proposed changing the threshold for health benefits to the Affordable Care Act level. PUSD withdrew this proposal.
  3. PUSD Proposal: (Article VI Common Collaboration Time): PUSD proposed language to change the configuration and/or add to elementary and high school collaboration time. APT rejected PUSD’s proposal.

APT Proposals

  1. APT Proposal: (Article II Teacher Librarians) – APT proposed additional language on supervision and prep periods, but later withdrew this proposal
  2. APT Proposal: (Article VI Resource Specialist) – APT proposed limits on job duties (the number of assessments). PUSD rejected this proposal but expressed an interest in reviewing the job description of this position.
  3. APT Proposal: (Article VI Resource Specialist) – APT proposed defining language for four (4) teaching periods, one consult period, and two (2) preparation periods. PUSD agreed to this proposal.
  4. APT Proposal: (Article VI: State Mandated Training) – APT proposed limitations on use of current collaboration time when these trainings can be done. PUSD rejected APT’s proposal.
  5. APT Proposal: (Article VI District Mandated Assessments): APT proposed required meetings, timelines and process related to district assessments. PUSD rejected this proposal and responded that we plan to collaborate with teachers on all curriculum and assessments, and so there is no need for contract language.
  6. APT Proposal: (Article VI APT President) – APT proposed an expansion of release time for the APT President for union work. PUSD rejected this proposal.
  7. APT Proposal: (Article VI Vacancies) – APT proposed language on compensation for staff who cover for other staff due to a vacancy. PUSD rejected this proposal because we are already compensating staff for additional work.
  8. APT Proposal: (Article VI Release time Resource Specialist) – APT proposed adding an additional day (from 5 to 6 days) of release time for Resource Specialists. PUSD rejected this proposal, but expressed a desire to revisit after conducting an analysis of how Resource Specialists are using the current 5 additional release days.
  9. APT Proposal: (Article VI Being Required to Perform Duties off District Property) – APT proposed language that would allow members to reject any off-campus work. PUSD rejected this proposal as written, but provided alternative language to allow members to reject any work in a private home. APT agreed with PUSD’s Alternative Language.
  10. APT Proposal: (Article X Differential Pay) – APT proposed a change of language from a flat rate of $175/day to $200 per day flat rate or 50% teacher’s per diem rate (whichever is greater). PUSD agreed to the increase in flat rate, but rejected the 50% per diem rate. PUSD stated a need to explore the financial impact of this increase and requested revisiting this in future negotiations.
  11. APT Proposal: (Article XI Non-Discrimination Clause): APT proposed non-discrimination language. PUSD agreed to this proposal.
  12. APT Proposal: (Article XV Benefits) – APT proposed a 25% increase in the District’s contribution toward employee health care. PUSD responded with a proposal for a multi-year increase of 9% over three years: 2% this year, 4% next year, and 3% the third year, to be used on salary or benefits, or a combination of either one. APT rejected this proposal.
  13. APT Proposal: (Article XVI Salaries) – APT proposed an 8.22% increase in salary. PUSD responded with a proposal for a multi-year increase of 9% over three years: 2% this year, 4% next year, and 3% the third year, to be used on salary or benefits, or a combination of either one. APT rejected this proposal.
  14. APT Proposal: (Article XVI Service credit) – APT proposed eliminating the years of service cap. PUSD rejected this proposal, and responded by expanding the service cap from 9 years to 12 years as a compromise. APT rejected the proposal.
  15. APT Proposal: (Article XVI Service credit) – APT proposed allowing additional experience (private and/or clinical) to be used for service credit for School Psychologists and Speech Language Pathologists. PUSD agreed to this proposal.

Print Story

Every so often, on the occasional Tuesday morning, entrances to Piedmont schools are surrounded by staff members from across the district who belong to the Association of Piedmont Teachers (APT) union. They wear red shirts and bright smiles, hold signs, and ring bells. At first glance, it looks like they’re celebrating. 

  But they’re not. 

  The APT is requesting an 8.22 percent raise in salary following increases in cost of living and health insurance prices this year during negotiations between the APT and the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD). According to the APT website, they are also negotiating with the district to provide more healthcare insurance coverage and a removal of the salary cap of years of service credit from other districts. 

  “We have to ask for what we need to be able to stay here and do the right thing for our students,” said APT President and PHS English teacher Elise Marks.

  As of Oct. 16, the district has increased their salary offer from a 1.5 percent raise to a 2.0 percent raise. Superintendent Jennifer Hawn said that the new offer also guarantees a four percent raise for the 2024-25 school year, and a three percent raise the following year. The proposed raise could contribute to salary or employee health insurance costs, she said. 

 APT committee leader and PHS economics teacher Gabrielle Kashani said that the APT’s requests follow an eight percent increase in the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA). According to, COLA is a change in income that corresponds with the current cost of living. Kashani said COLA is extremely high in the Bay Area. 

  “We’re reaching the point where we can’t hire people,” Marks said. “People won’t come here because they look at what’s offered, and they look at Bay Area expenses.”

  Teachers that rely on PUSD’s health care plan through Kaiser will also face steep increases in what they pay for health insurance. Marks said Kaiser will raise health insurance costs by as much as 17.5 percent in 2024. 

  Teachers under PUSD’s health care plan will pay the difference out of pocket.

  “There’s a fixed amount that the district is willing to pay for. If the cost of benefits increases, the entire increase is charged to the employee,” Kashani said.

  Marks said the APT is asking for a minimum 25 percent increase to the health insurance cap paid by the district. 

  According to Hawn’s Sept. 25 newsletter, The Piedmont Pulse, she met with a health benefits broker on Sept. 21 to explore a potentially lower health insurance plan. The proposed cheaper plan, however, was vetoed. 

  This year, the state provided PUSD with funding to compensate for the 8.2 percent COLA increase. Hawn said that funding only applies to 61 percent of the PUSD budget. According to Piedmont Pulse updates from Sept. 18 and Oct. 9, the rest of that funding was lost to rising district maintenance costs, decreased enrollment fees, and retirement and health insurance costs.

  Hawn said that the COLA money given by the state is meant for the district as a whole, not just teachers. 

  “We can’t give it all to salaries, because there’s actually other costs that absorb some of the money,” Hawn said. “We can’t offer what we don’t have.”

  PUSD Board of Education President Veronica Anderson Thigpen said that after these allocations, only $422,300 remains in the PUSD budget for teacher raises.

  “Every one percent raise costs about $340,000,” Anderson Thigpen said. 

  Marks said that the original offer is effectively a pay cut given rising health insurance costs and COLA, and will have the greatest effect on newer teachers who’ve had less of a chance to build their income.

  “We’re losing people, and we’re going to keep losing people,” Marks said.

  Computer science teacher Jane Branisa said in order to make ends meet with Bay Area cost of living, many teachers have second jobs.

  Piedmont teachers cannot get a raise for the first five years they work at PHS, Hawn said. After that, salary increases annually based on education, certification, and number of years at Piedmont. 

  According to their website, APT is also asking for the removal of PUSD’s service year salary cap. Marks said their requests are part of an effort to attract and retain teachers in the midst of a teacher shortage. 

  Spanish teacher Jessica McMillen, who has worked in the school district six years, is still working her way up that system. 

  “I live paycheck to paycheck,” McMillen said. McMillen shares the concern about retaining new teachers with current compensation and salary. 

  “[PHS is] about 60 staff members. I think only seven of us are under the age of 35,” McMillen said. “[In the next] five to seven years when the teachers who have 20+ years under their belt begin to retire, who is going to replace them?”

  While McMillen works her way up, Marks is stuck at the top. Having taught for multiple decades, Marks has reached the maximum salary available to teachers.

  “I have conversations every day with colleagues, ‘Okay, do I leave at the end of this year, or do I stick it out for two more years?’ ” Marks said. 

  While there is currently a large group of veteran teaching staff at Piedmont, younger teachers are getting increasingly hard to find, she said. 

  “Where are the young teachers? And are they going to come to Piedmont?” Marks said. “Are they going to choose this district if other districts are paying full health insurance? I wouldn’t. And that’s really sad.”

  Kashani currently leads the Standards and Criteria Committee of the APT, which compares Piedmont average salary rates with other districts. Kashani said Piedmont does not offer rates as competitive as districts in similar cost of living brackets such as Los Gatos.

  While the district contemplates how to resolve the budget shortfall, both parties agree that lack of state and federal funding plays a big role in the district’s ability to grant raises.

  “In the long run, state and federal funding for public education needs to be reformed,” Marks said. “But in the shorter term, I really think the Piedmont community is going to have to make some very hard decisions and consider other ways to get more funding into the schools.”

  Hawn said she is looking at all options to find funding for teacher salary raises.

  “No one wants to cut programs,” Hawn said. “Let’s look at all our programs together to see if they really still meet the needs of our students.”

  Hawn said the issue of retaining teachers is a national issue not specific to Piedmont, but that she is in communication with local universities to create connections between new teachers and Piedmont schools. 

  Hawn said she doesn’t know exactly when negotiations will end, but that she is committed to getting teachers as much as she possibly can for them. 

  Marks also said that she doesn’t see a clear end date for negotiations. 

  “I want PHS to be the school that students deserve, and I worry that we’re about to fall off a cliff and nobody’s listening.” Marks said. “Nobody’s realizing we are not going to be able to staff our schools. We have to ask for what we need to be able to stay here and do the right thing for our students.”

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Macy Puckett, Opinions Editor
Macy (12) is the opinions editor for TPH. Aside from TPH, she is a student writer for iFeminist, a organization that publishes monthly articles about underrepresented women in history. She loves volleyball, tennis, reading, baking, and playing volleyball at the beach with her friends.
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