BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer
Palo Alto school trustees have done a U-turn on teacher housing.
In February, the school board voted unanimously to make sure the 35-acre Cubberley Community Center, which used to be a high school and is being redeveloped, retains enough space for employee housing in addition to a school and a new district administrative office.
Last month Superintendent Don Austin said the district is also looking at building housing on a piece of land it owns at 525 San Antonio Road, near Cubberley.
But on Tuesday trustees said teacher housing will take too much money and time without bringing concrete benefits to the district.
The board did not vote or make any formal decisions at their meeting this week, but several members said they don’t think teacher housing is a good idea.
Dauber says housing not a priority for district
Trustee Ken Dauber said housing shouldn’t be a district priority because Palo Alto doesn’t have a problem attracting or retaining teachers. He said he wants district workers focused on students, not housing.
“When Dr. Don Austin gets to his office, I want him to be thinking about student education not rental agreements,” said Dauber.
Dauber also said he is concerned about complications like how workforce housing would fit with collective bargaining.
Trustee Todd Collins said he thinks workforce housing is a “good thing,” but that it costs money and takes time. He said he thinks Palo Alto should wait and see how other districts handle housing. Collins said the district will still have the property at 525 San Antonio in the future.
“This option doesn’t expire,” he said.
Board President Jennifer DiBrienza also said it might be better to wait and build housing in the future since the district does not have retention problems now. The groundwork that has been laid in planning housing over the past few years will be useful whenever the district decides to build housing, said DiBrienza. DiBrienza also acknowledged that having a shorter commute gave her a better work-life balance when she was a teacher.
Trustee Shounak Dharap said he thinks workforce housing will offer other benefits besides retention by letting teachers stay later and engage more with students. He said he wants to see studies on workforce housing to see if they support that hypothesis.
Ben Gordan, a student on the board, agreed. He said he is closer to teachers that live in Palo Alto because they are able to come to sports games and are more invested in the community.
The minimum starting salary for teachers in Palo Alto is $66,395 a year and they can earn up to $133,972 based on factors including years of service and advanced degrees according to district numbers for the 2019-20 school year. In Santa Clara County, people who make $30,750 to $72,750 per year are considered low-income while people who make between $72,750 and $123,000 fall into the category of moderate income.
Teacher housing project takes shape
Palo Alto teachers might get some housing through a county development. In January Supervisor Joe Simitian, a former Palo Alto school board president, proposed building 60 to 120 teacher homes across the street from the Palo Alto courthouse on Grant Avenue.
In April 2018, the board of supervisors set $6 million aside for the project and in June 2018 the Palo Alto City Council put $3 million aside for the project.
Five school districts — the Palo Alto, Mountain View Whisman, Mountain View-Los Altos and Los Altos school districts as well as the Foothill-De Anza Community College District — put $600,000 each, or $3 million total toward the project last summer.
DiBrienza said she is grateful that the district can move forward with the county project.