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November 29, 2022

PVUSD Trustees approve retention bonuses, other incentives

WATSONVILLE—The Pajaro Valley Unified School District Board of Trustees on Aug. 24 approved a series of bonuses and supplemental payments aimed at retaining teachers and school employees.

Every teacher, school worker and administrator employed since April 1—and who plans to stay with the district through March 2023—will receive a one-time payment of $2,500.

The first half of that payment will come in October, while the second will be paid in June 2023.

Seasonal teachers, classified staff and administrative employees will get the same payment.

In addition, the trustees approved one-time $2,500 signing bonuses for new teachers, with an additional $2,500 going to those bilingual certifications who sign contracts through Dec. 16.

Teachers who sign on at Watsonville High, and at E.A. Hall and Rolling Hills middle schools—schools harder hit by retention troubles—will also get a $2,500 signing bonus.

New school nurses, speech and language pathologists and psychologists will also get a $2,500 signing bonus, and associate teachers can get a $500 bonus. 

The Trustees also agreed to raise the daily pay rate for long-term substitutes from $200 to $240, and to pay those teachers $35 per hour when they lead after-school activities and participate in after-hours school events. 

The payments and increases—funded by Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief monies—are a way to encourage teachers to stay in the district, as the nation battles an ongoing shortage of educators and school employees.

A survey released in July by Edweek.org of 255 principals and 280 district administrators throughout the U.S. shows that schools are seeing far fewer applications for teachers and school employees this year compared to 2021.

A closer look paints a grim picture, with 86% of those surveyed saying they don’t have enough bus drivers, and 72% saying they are short teachers.

The picture is somewhat better for administrator positions, with just 35% claiming a dearth in that department.

According to PVUSD spokeswoman Alicia Jimenez, the district is in a better position than it was last year. At that time, students and teachers reported that Pajaro Valley and Watsonville high schools were short 10 teachers each, with some classes going entirely without teachers.

Still, Jimenez said that the district is still looking to hire 19 general education and four special education teachers.

PVUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Alison Niizawa told the Trustees she expects to fill those ranks this semester.

Pajaro Valley Federation of Teachers Chief Negotiator Radhika Kirkman praised the decisions, but added that it is ongoing raises—rather than one-time payments—that will attract and retain teachers. 

“We believe wholeheartedly that our staff deserves a bonus for sticking it out after a really, really rough year last year, and continuing to be in classrooms and serving students in whatever capacity they are doing,” she said. 

“We’re only two weeks into school, and we don’t want the burnout that we had last year,” Kirkman said.

PVFT President Nelly Vaquera-Boggs agreed.

“What would really make a significant statement of valuing the educators in this district is putting money on the salary schedule, because we all know that’s what counts for our retirement,” she said. “So that it’s meaningful for teachers to know that they are being taken care of by our district, and they are being paid a wage that they don’t need to stress about working a second job and dedicate their time to working in the classrooms with the students and having their personal lives in the evenings.”

The items were approved 6-0, with Trustee Georgia Acosta absent.

Trustee Jennifer Schacher praised the payments for classified school employees.

“We all know they traditionally make less and they are having a hard time living in this community with the cost of living, our taxes and everything that is happening in this day and age,” she said. 

Countywide, school districts overall are seeing a rosier picture of teacher recruitment and retention than last year, says Santa Cruz County Office of Education spokesman Nick Ibarra. 

While the county office is still looking to recruit specialized classified positions such as instructional aides and special education teachers, an effort to attract substitute teachers has made the situation more manageable, Ibarra says.

Soquel Union Elementary School District in August approved a 15% raise for its teachers, which includes 3% retroactive to last year, and a 12% increase this year. 

Santa Cruz City Schools (SCCS) spokesman Sam Rolens says that the teachers’ union there has negotiated a bonus to address the hardships that came with the Covid-19 pandemic. But so far, he adds, the district has not faced a teacher shortage.

Still, SCCS—like most districts in Santa Cruz County and across the U.S.—faces difficulty in retaining teachers who accept jobs and face insurmountable housing costs.

Rolens says that some 95% of declined job offers stem from this predicament.

And so the district is hoping to use a parcel of its land on Swift Street on the West Side of Santa Cruz behind the old Natural Bridges campus to create workforce housing for teachers, an 80-unit apartment complex which would be offered to teachers and staff members at below-market rental rates.

While no funding mechanism for this project has been officially identified, district officials are eyeing Measure K, a $240 million bond measure that would pay for projects and upgrades in secondary schools, and Measure L, a $122 million bond with similar aims in elementary schools. 

If voters approve those measures in the Nov. 8 election, the district would use 5% of the funds for the teacher housing project, Rolens says.

“It is very difficult to find money within the fixed revenue of the school district for salary increases,” he said. “This is potentially a path that we can make all of our offered salaries more lucrative if someone has help in the Santa Cruz housing market.”

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