Last year's bitter standoff between administrators and the teachers union over salaries didn't materialize during negotiations this year, marking a cordial new relationship between the Mountain View Whisman School District and its teachers union.
Union representatives say it's too soon to say whether teacher retention rates in the district have improved because of the more competitive salaries.
Negotiations between the district and the Mountain View Educators Association went smoothly because of a change in leadership, according to its president, Jonathan Pharazyn. He said Interim Superintendent Kevin Skelly, who stepped down June 30, brought a whole different tenor to the conversation.
"He understood that teachers are your most important resource in the district. They definitely demonstrate that in Palo Alto, and he brought that mindset here," Pharazyn said.
By contrast, negotiations last year ended with an impasse, when former Superintendent Craig Goldman offered a 3.25 percent salary increase -- far from the 7 percent requested by the union -- and insisted that the teachers in the district were well-compensated.
Pharazyn said Goldman would often look at the negotiations from a "numbers" point of view and concern himself with how salary adjustments would affect the bottom line, rather than what would be in the best interest of the students.
This year, teachers got a 4 percent raise along with a one-time salary increase of 1 percent. The second sizable bump in salaries in two years may have put the district's compensation on par with other districts in the Bay Area, Pharazyn said, but it won't be clear until the fall when the local chapter of the CTA compiles that information.
Other notable changes include an extra 45-minute break for first-, second- and third-grade teachers to focus on class preparation and collaboration with other teachers. The period would also mean students in those grades would be getting a second physical education class each week, instead of just one.
Beyond teacher pay, Skelly said one of the biggest components of the revised contract is a greater emphasis on professional development, including a three-day math curriculum training session over the summer. Skelly said more than 80 percent of teachers plan to attend, and that they will be compensated for taking part in the training.
"It's a big commitment for the teachers," Skelly said.
In light of growing class sizes at schools like Huff and Monta Loma Elementary, teachers handling huge classes will also be paid more in the revised contract. Teachers will be paid $45 per week for each student over the maximum specified in the contract, up from $30.
What remains a contentious issue is whether to provide stipends to teachers who have master's or doctoral degrees. CUrrently, teachers and administrators get neither, and it's not clear why, Pharazyn said. He said the decision appears to be a board directive, rather than an administrative one, and it makes Mountain View Whisman School District an outlier.
Of all 33 school districts in Santa Clara County, Pharazyn said the only districts that don't offer the stipends are Alum Rock Union Elementary School District in East San Jose and Morgan Hill Unified School District.
"It puts us at a competitive disadvantaged with other local districts in the area," he said.
There's also the question of how many teachers will be leaving the districts this year and will need to be replaced, which will be reported in August. Pharazyn said the district not only loses quality teaching staff each year, but its investment in professional development.
"That's the dilemma that the district really needs to come to grips with," Pharazyn said.