BY ALLISON LEVITSKY
Daily Post Staff Writer
After the city of Palo Alto voted to move forward on a proposal to make union negotiations more transparent by posting offers and counteroffers online, some may be wondering whether the Palo Alto school district could make the same move.
The district used to hold union negotiation sessions in public. Later, some were brought into closed session for sensitive topics.
Today, they’re held in closed session, a decision that was made by district employees, not the board, according to board member Melissa Baten Caswell.
“It seemed like there were some topics that they didn’t feel like they could make progress on,” in public negotiations, Caswell said.
Caswell said she thought the board might be willing to consider bringing union negotiations out into the open again. “Because we’ve done it before, I would imagine that we’d be open to discussing it,” Caswell said.
Waiting for a permanent superintendent
But Caswell said the district is “in a weird place” to consider such changes now because it has an interim superintendent, Karen Hendricks, and an interim associate superintendent of human resources, Anne Brown.
The district is expected to hire a superintendent this spring, at which time Hendricks would resume her permanent position as interim associate superintendent of human resources and Brown would return to her role as principal of Barron Park Elementary School.
Teachers union President Teri Baldwin declined to discuss the idea, saying it hasn’t come before the school board.
The head of the union representing non-teachers, Meb Steiner, president of California School Employees Association Chapter 301, didn’t return requests for comment.
Last year, the board lost about $6 million to an employee raise when former human resources head Scott Bowers missed the March 15 deadline to reopen contract negotiations in order to eliminate raises and bonuses that the district could no longer afford due to a miscalculation in expected tax revenue.
Hendricks announced Tuesday that the teachers’ union had agreed to give their $2.2 million bonus back to the district.
City’s transparency proposal
City Council voted unanimously on Feb. 26 to move forward with a proposal made by Vice Mayor Eric Filseth and councilmen Greg Scharff, Greg Tanaka and Tom DuBois.
Under the proposal, the city would post offers, counteroffers and fiscal analyses of the long-term impact of union contracts.
The proposal comes as the city faces an unfunded pension liability — the difference between what will be needed to pay employee pensions and the amount that’s been budgeted for them — of more than $405 million.