Teacher pay, staffing and shrinking budgets

File photo of a second-grade class in San Ramon, which passed a tax to reduce its class sizes.Few would argue that teachers are well paid. But because their pay and benefits make up more than half of a school district’s budget, and because those budgets are shrinking, compensation and staffing levels have become a sticking point in school systems around the state.

Given the current funding constraints and the grim fiscal outlook, what should school districts do? What are they doing? How are labor unions responding?

I spent months collecting data from East Bay school districts to find out. I analyzed the salary/staffing dilemma — as well as the gap the state budget cuts are threatening to widen — in two stories that appeared in Sunday’s paper. You can find a spreadsheet of East Bay school districts’ decisions on these issues here.

Note: At the beginning of the main story, I wrote that California schools are funded way below the national average ($2,500 less per student), but that its teachers are the highest-paid. I included those figures to illustrate the budget challenge facing California schools, not to suggest that our teachers are rolling in the dough. (When I moved from the Midwest to Oakland, my rent doubled. I know it costs more to live here than in other parts of the country.)

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://dailycensored.com/2010/08/02/american-enterprise-institute-critiques-daily-censored-on-education-“conspiratorial”/ Adam Bessie

    As I noted on your other board, this is an important article, and a pressing subject which absolutely needs to be discussed. Unfortunately, your report based squarely on a scholar from a neocon organization (AEI), without any debate on his perspective. Further, his ideological perspective is not mentioned, and his is presented as a non-partisan education scholar. This misleads the public about who the key players in the debate are, and what we are debating.

    I hope future articles report on honest debate, rather than presenting ideology unchallenged – from the right or left.

    The link, above, shows the debate between your source, Hess, and myself about your article.

    Thank you,
    Adam Bessie
    Professor of English, Diablo Valley College

  • Adam Bessie

    Finally, I respect the research you’ve done on this. Please keep that up.

  • J.R.

    Do not back down, the truth is the truth, as long as you are reporting facts, you are doing your job. You go ahead and bring some light to this subject and expose the truth, and lets see how many cockroaches you can drive away. Our problems are real, and it may not be “nice” point to the problems(and the hard solutions), but in order to make sure the kids get what the need and deserve we need to be unfair to some adults, but the cost is worth the payoff. It is time to be fair to kids, and not let “their” parents money be re-directed from them and siphoned off for the sole purpose of enriching adults(many who do not merit it). Either the kids come first, or they do not(lets find out who steps up for the sole benefit of children and who are just acting out of thinly veiled self interest). The truth will very shortly be apparent to all.
    Good job Katy

    This has been a problem with the system for a long time:


  • Oakland Teacher

    As a parent of OUSD students, I have to respond to the hateful response above. While my kids were lucky enough to have veteran stable teachers in elementary school, not a single year passed in OUSD middle or high schools that one of my children had a teacher all year in every subject. Every one of those teachers who left mid-year was a new and young teacher who discovered how difficult the job was, particularly when they were in training programs (such as TFA or Oak Fellows) at the same time. Every one of those teachers who left was either working under an intern credential or was newly (fully) credentialed. They either left for other districts or for grad (not education) school/career changes.

    Any attempts to qualify paying teachers equitable salaries (especially OUSD who are paid significantly lower than neighboring districts) as being “thinly veiled self-interest” is being short-sighted. In order for kids to “get what they need and deserve”, they have to have a stable teaching staff, not inexperienced teachers year after year, and certainly not a revolving door of teachers and substitutes.

    Teachers now work harder than they ever did. It is incomprehensible to me why so many people are so hateful to them. To be honest, I don’t care about the raise for myself, but I want my children to have teachers who know what they are doing and who at least last the school year. As long as this city values teachers so much less than other places, we will continue to have problems retaining teachers (especially new ones). So many of the new, motivated, and enthusiastic teachers leave Oakland before, or as soon as they have become skilled at their craft. One only needs to have read this board and the new teachers’ blogs to see that, or have kids in OUSD schools and experience it firsthand.

    “The truth” is apparent to anyone who works at a school or has children who attend school in OUSD. Districts who pay higher wages do not hire “intern” teachers and do not have a migrant labor force of teachers replacing teachers who quit yearly. High scoring districts (if you are going to judge schools by test scores) have stable staffing by fully credentialed and experienced (meaning mid to top of salary schedule) teachers. OUSD not only has a lower salary scale, but a disproportionate number of teachers who are new and at the bottom of that scale. Is it any wonder they leave?

  • J.R.

    Oakland teacher,
    If you would check out these stats(on the link) you would see that OUSD gets plenty of money but does precious little with it. The education system itself is too big, bloated and bureaucratic, with just about everyone sticking their hand in the pot of taxpayer money to find themselves a fortune which leaves the kids in the classroom with very little. There is only so much tax money to go around, maybe the overzealous hogs on the top half of the pay scale need to show some restraint. As I said before the tenured teachers with seniority are doing just fine in comparison with their counterparts in other districts, its the young teachers who are getting the shaft. Point your finger of blame in the right direction. That is why people should be paid according to the quality of their work, and not the time on the job, and whether or not they are still breathing. You want to live by a system where everyone is paid the same relative to service time, but you don’t like the consequences of that. There are teachers are worth the high pay, but there are definitely those who are not worth even starting pay for rookie teachers.


  • Oakland Teacher

    I am actually more at the beginning salary schedule (less than 10 years), but have advanced degrees, so thankfully am not completely at the bottom. I do agree that the starting salaries in particular need to be raised, so that people are willing to stick around long enough to get higher on the salary schedule. I disagree that the teachers with 20+ years do not deserve what they are earning. I would say that 95% of the best teachers I have observed or had as my own children’s teachers have been teachers with well over 10 years experience (in many cases 20+). I am definitely not yet as good of a teacher as I could be, and plan to stick around long enough to be one of the best, but am really concerned about the number of teachers who leave OUSD every year. I am sick of my kids being left without a teacher when they leave mid-year to begin med school or law school or transfer to places where it is far easier to teach and pays more.

    I fail to see the necessity of pointing “a finger of blame” on anyone, except a system that does not pay equitable salaries as compared to other cities. Oakland police used to be paid lower than other cities, and it was common for new officers to attend the (expensive)Oakland training, work for a short time and then transfer to other higher paying cities. Only when their salaries became competitive did they start staying in Oakland. The same thing needs to happen in OUSD in order for us to have a stable and experienced teaching staff. If you want to point the finger at the top half of the salary scale, you may want to point it at our very high paid central administration and numerous contracts awarded in OUSD.

  • Teacher

    I’m on vacation too, Katie! But I still read your blog daily. I’m in Ohio and decided to see what my comparable salary would need to be in California to make what the average Ohio teacher makes ($48,692). Here’s the result I found on the Internet:

    The cost of living in San Francisco/Oakland is higher than the cost of living in Cleveland. If you make $48,692.00 in Cleveland and move to San Francisco/Oakland, you will need to make $76,919.90 ($28,227.90 more) to maintain the same buying power.

    Is there a reason you decided not to include any cost-of-living adjustments in your story?

    Thanks and have a great vacation!

  • Steven Weinberg

    I looked at JR’s link and the OUSD budget posted on the OUSD website. The figures on JR’s link include adult ed, child development centers, the free and reduced lunch program, and afterschool programs, so they inflate the funds available for K-12 education. Since many of the extra programs are aimed at low-income areas, it makes sense that Oakland would appear to be highly funded when these are included.
    When I looked at the OUSD budget I was surprised to see how much was spent on Facilities and Maintenance, $150,000,000 or nearly 25% of the budget. Is that usual for school systems, or does it represent the costs of many older buildings and considerable deferred maintenance now being covered by local tax measures? Does anyone know how to access comparable information for other districts?

  • Hot R

    Oak Teach is correct, but to a certain extent so is J.R. Teachers need to be paid more to stay. Conversely, there is a perception (like it or not) that lazy and ineffective teachers are protected by the unions and that administrators waste money. This is the source of much public discontent.

    Here are a few ideas:

    Freeze the annual pay increses on the salary schedule. But use the money “saved” to fund stipends for master teachers who would then be expected to train others in their departments, schools, and districts. Administrators are entitled to raises only if the school/District advances in ranking or standing and never without a good evaluation. Give bonuses to the entire staff if a school advances in ranking or retains the highest API ranking. This will keep teachers and administrators there.

    Teachers should be assessed using a ‘value added” system based on tracking student achievement. To make sure there is no statistical anomaly, make the tracking over three years. To address the issue of potential bias or prejudice, make that only one assessment component, along with administrator, peer (department head), parent and student evaluations. Administrators should be evaluated by teachers, parents, students, peers and school/District ranking. The latter ranking is most important. And the most important number in the state API ranking is the “similar school” ranking. This really shows how students/administrators are doing with similar school populations.

    Make teacher and administrator pay standard throughout the state. There is no earthly reason why a teacher or administrator in Pleasanton should earn more money than a teacher in Oakland. The “system” we have is broken. That is why we have such disparity with limited funds. Perhaps the two recently filed lawsuits will partially address that issue.

    Always pay teachers more for advanced degrees, languages they speak, and training they regularly have to take. The District/State pays for it all. In return, the employee must stay until the expense of the training can reasonably be recouped through their labor.

    Tie fire, police and teacher salary to the same pay scale, adjusting only for the two months teachers do not work during the summer.

  • J.R.

    Oakland Teacher,
    I said there are some who are overpaid, in my experience the majority are good, to very good,and even great teachers who deserve more money on the basis of their results and efforts. We cannot find the money to pay exceptional teachers because we are overpaying bad or mediocre teachers, and that is a shame. That is the system we are stuck with until the taxpayers change things through force of law. The system will never change on its own, it is too fat and happy to do that, so status quo is being fought for “tooth and nail”. ab955 and SB 1285 are just the first steps, more to come.

    Hot R: Those are some very good ideas, you need to keep in mind however that the experienced and higher paid teachers very often use “bumping” to get into the best schools, so that in itself has in impact on performanc(or lack thereof) in the flatland schools.

  • J.R.

    You might want to verify this, but I believe that the school lunch program is a federal mandate, paid with federal dollars not state, I could be wrong on that however.

  • gordon danning


    I don’t think that experienced teachers can “bump” less experienced ones unless their positions are eliminated at their schools. Heck, it cant even happen in that circumstance – I have a friend whose small school closed and who would love to come to Oakland High, but can not, because we do not have an opening for a social studies teacher — even though she has more seniority than every teacher in the OHS social studies dept (with one possible exception)

  • J.R.

    It may not happen very much in OUSD(I am not familiar with every single school), but teacher transfers happen fairly frequently in a number of east bay districts. As a matter of fact in one school that was in the process of becoming a PI school, there were seven tenured teachers(in one year) who transferred to another more desirable school(less senior teachers were bumped). I have seen some disturbing things just being a PTA involved parent for more than a decade(I do have many family members who teach however, and we discuss the state of education on a regular basis).

  • Steven Weinberg

    JR, you are correct that the school lunch program is federal, but the website you referred us to includes all federal funds (including those ear-marked for specific purposes) in their total.

  • Gordon Danning


    It doesn’t happen AT ALL in OUSD – all schools are governed by the same contract

  • J.R.

    Here are some numbers, and as you can see OUSD is in fact pretty high at almost 13K per student(Pleasanton,Dublin, Newark, Fremmont,and Hayward all hover around 8.5-9.5 k per year per child).



  • Steven Weinberg

    JR, have your experiences as an involved PTA parent been at an Oakland Unified school or another East Bay district?

  • J.R.

    This happened, and I have teacher friends on both sides of this incident. This particular title 1 PI school is now staffed with 75% first and second year teachers(they did manage some good educational improvement with the kids and I am proud of them), and now they are being Rif’ed. It looks like some mighty unhappy 4th,5th and 6th year teachers are going to be moving in and teaching where they do not what to be. A bad economic situation made worse by stupid preferential placement stupidity and the kids lose again for the sake of supposed adults.

  • J.R.

    Yep, five different districts altogether.

  • J.R.

    Yes, bumping happens all over this country.


  • David Laub

    Katy, the response #7, from “Teacher” raises a serious question for any reporter who has spent “months” compiling “data” for her story-“Is there a reason you decided not to include any cost of living adjustments in your story”? So, Katy-what is the answer, and what is the data on cost of living adustments. There are books written with titles like “How To lie With Statistics”. One way is to only lkook at some of the indicators and not all of the key indicators. You know what that is about don’t you-as an “investigative reporter”. Please do not use an excuse like you couldn’t get the data, or you couldn’t piece it together and make sense of it. If you are going to call yourself an “education reporter” don’t give only convenient data, superficially and carelessly used for argument. Do your job and dig deeper-like including the NECESSARY factors influencing interpretation of salaries, like COST OF LIVING. And also show the data that says that California teachers are the highest paid in the nation. Even without the cost of living factored in that is debatable. Is the average salary for California the highest for each of the 50 state’s averages? Is it the result of outliers?


  • Gordon Danning

    JR: I dont doubt that it happens in many places, nor that it is bad policy. I am merely questioning whether it happens in OUSD – if it did, my friend would be teaching at Oakland High next year, but she isn’t.

  • Katy Murphy

    I think I explained your all-caps question at the end of my blog post. The story wasn’t about what teachers should be paid, what they need to be paid, or what they deserve to be paid. It was about the budget crisis facing school districts. CA schools got less money per student than other states (on average) and had fewer employees per student even before the crisis. Now they have even less than they did when the average teacher salary was 11 percent lower.

    So how do they balance their budgets? What decisions are they making? It’s a very real issue that’s playing out all over the place, and I thought it needed to be examined.

  • Catherine

    Oakland just got rid of 80 police officers, were they needed? yes! Did they have union representation? yes! Were they willing to give concessions? yes, (9% of pay and at the 11th hour were willing to give more). Are they paid at the top 10% in the nation? no, yet Oakland is considered one of the 10 most dangerous cities in the U.S.

    My point? Cuts have to be made even when we need the services, even when concessions are given, even we we are one of the neediest cities in the nation.

    I am not saying that we need to cut teacher salaries, or that teachers should give concessions. I am saying that to push for salary increases now appears as though those that are pushing are out of touch with the economy, the severity of the cuts made in other services and what people can afford to add to their tax burdens when they are unemployed.

  • Steven Weinberg

    JR, I was asking how much of your first-hand experience is with Oakland schools. I ask because you keep critizing practices that don’t occur in OUSD schools.

  • Steven Weinberg

    The following link does a pretty good job of placing teacher salaries in context. It does show California is number one, barely, in absolute dollars, but it also shows California as 44th in “comfort index,” that is how far those dollars go given prices in the state.

  • David Laub

    Thanks, Steven, for the link. David

  • J.R.

    I know that taxpayers who work year round, with not much vacation time aren’t all that high on the comfort index either, but thats life. It beats being unemployed thats for sure.

    And regarding OUSD schools, the only district that compares to it both leadership and performance-wise is LAUSD and I have been involved with both districts. They have been under performing for decades now(except for small enclaves).

  • Teacher

    Thanks for explaining your rationale for ommitting cost-of-living adjustments to teacher salaries and for reminding us of the last parenthetical sentence you wrote in your blog post about this story, Katy.

    I read the story without referring back to the blog. I imagine the vast majority of people who read your Tribune stories do not follow this blog or the comments to the blog. Therefore, most readers of the article may be left with the impression that teachers in California probably have little to complain about compared to their counterparts in 49 other states. They may think school boards are acting irresponsibly by paying teachers relatively lavish salaries.

    I think it would have helped to make brief mention of the cost-of-living factor in the actual article. I thank Steven Weinberg for sharing the link that shows we are really the 44th highest paid teachers in the nation. I know your intention was not to mislead many readers, but that may have been the effect.

    Thanks for clarifying in the blog. Is there a chance to clarify in the actual paper?

  • Hills Parent 13

    I think that, generally speaking, the readers of local papers know that living in CA is more expensive than most areas of the country.

    To echo what others have written here, I’m not saying that teachers don’t deserve to be paid more or don’t deserve a raise. I think that if OUSD is struggling to retain talent among new teachers that they should look at ways to retain them. At our school, some of the best teachers are the newcomers.

    However, we have to balance this with the realities that we are faced with. Lots of “deserving” and “talented” people are losing their jobs. Families are struggling to make ends meet. Foreclosures are on the rise. Cities are going without vital services. Everyone is being asked to make do with less. I don’t know that our police officers, fire fighters or teachers should be immune to this economic climate. Now is not the time to be asking for more.

    That said, if there are too many admin levels or bloated administration positions within OUSD, then I’m all for cutting back in those areas and reallocating money to the front lines or putting it to work to keep classes smaller.

  • harold

    I am an idealist.

    There is money. There’s money for cops, firefighters and teachers.

    What’s going on right now is income-redistribution.

    Bush, Obama, Greenspan, Geithner, etc., they gave wall street trillions.

    Change we can believe in?!

  • Chauncey


    Are you saying taking us black folks of government assistance? Hell what about my Jordans?

    Idealists should live in the projects and preach their change to believe in at 11 pm in the middle of the spot in the projects. Yeah- now that would be change alright.

    It would change yur status form idealist to realist I’ll tell you that much!

    spending, excuses and party special interests are the problems.

  • J.R.

    The problems are even more widespread than that, everyone is looking out for number one, and enough is never enough. We need each other as a community so we had better find common ground PDQ.