As Pleasanton prepares once again to vote on a parcel tax, no single issue has received more attention than step and column, the salary schedule for teachers and other certificated employees.
Opponents of the tax, Measure E, want to stop step and column increases, saying that the higher pay will cost the district $15 million while the parcel tax will only raise $8 million. School officials point out that step and column is a fact of life, and not only in California.
"It's something that's been a normal part of school salaries and compensation for many years and it is the norm for school districts around the state and the nation," said Bill Faraghan, district assistant superintendent of human resources. "It is intended to provide recognition for the added experience and professional training that teachers acquire."
Faraghan pointed out the raises amount to 2.7% to 3.5% a year, and that not every employee gets a raise every year.
"Teachers come in fairly educated, obviously. They have at least 30 or more credits (beyond a bachelor's degree) that they've already completed before they were hired," he said. "So then, what would happen, if somebody got hired by us they would simply move down the column."
This year, a beginning teacher without a teaching credential would start at $58,739, and go up a dollar for years two through four. In the fifth year, that teacher would go to $59,564, then to $61,367 in year six, and would remain there if the teacher doesn't continue his or her education.
Someone beginning with the 30 credits required for a teaching credential would earn $58,740 and remain there for three years. In the fourth year, it would go to $60,379 and would jump about $2,000 a year until the teacher maxed out at $73,833 in his or her 11th year and stay there unless the teacher got additional college credit.
A teacher starting with 45 credits past a bachelor's degree would start at $58,740 and go to $58,921 the second year. After that, her or his salary would climb about $2,000 a year and max out at $79,322 in the 12th year, where it would remain, again, unless he or she got 60 credits.
A teacher starting with a bachelor's degree and 60 credits would start at $59,721, with the salary jumping about $2,000 a year until it maxed out at $83,796 in year 12. Someone with a bachelor's degree and 75 credits would start at $62,290 and, again, climb $2,000 a year until year 12, where it would remain at $87,360 for four years before going to $90,283 in year 16, topping out at $95,395 for 20 years and beyond.
Faraghan notes teachers pay for their own credits before their salaries go up. He said Cal State East Bay, where many of the teachers get their additional credits, costs about $225 per unit.
"That's $3,400 out of pocket to move across columns, and about $10,000 out of pocket to move to a bachelor's plus 75, the far end of the columns," Faraghan said. "About 130 fulltime teachers earn the full amount. That's out of a total of 715 fulltime positions."
That doesn't include annual stipends: $500 a year for a master's degree and $650 for a doctorate, and as critics are quick to point out, that's for a 180-day work year; Faraghan notes, however, that teachers haven't had a cost of living (COLA) increase in three years.
Doug Miller, an opponent of step and column increases, sees the raises as costs gone out of control.
"Step and column as I understand it has been traditionally how teachers are paid," Miller said. "Do I think it's necessary? No. I'm sure there's other ways to pay teachers. Right now, step and column is inappropriate given the circumstances not only of the state's budget but everyone's budget.
"We're going to basically increase pay for teachers, this next year and the year after that. Yes, it's how teachers have been paid, but we need to freeze step and column because it will increase spending in our school district by $15 million over four years and that money is better spent in the classroom, not on pay increases."
Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, recently confirmed that step and column increases would cost the district $1.5 million a year. That $1.5 million per year must be added to each prior year's increase, Miller said, for a total of $15 million, the same period the parcel tax would bring in just over $8 million.
"It's a lot of money and just to say that this is how we pay teachers is not a reasonable response," Miller said. "Even if the school board can't control everything -- and they can't -- they need to take a position that they're against step and column. They need to take a position that step and column raises should be frozen for the next several years until the economy improves."
Faraghan said any major changes could have consequences for Pleasanton.
"Pretty much every school I'm aware of in the state -- all of our neighboring districts -- have a step and column in place. Were we not to have a step and column in place, we would lose teachers because of that," he said.
Miller, though, said putting a reign on spending should be the district's top priority.
"We still have something like 9% unemployment in the nation and something like 12% unemployment in California. There's a lot of people out there who are hurting," he said.