May 10 2011

Opinion: A School Board Trustee’s View on Salaries & Benefits

An Opinion on PUSD Administrators’ Salaries and Benefits from Martha Jones, Board of Education Trustee

I would like to offer a few comments on the topic of public employee compensation.

1.     Transparency concerning public employee salaries and benefits is very important.  Taxpayers need to know which services they are paying for and how much these services cost.  Efforts to make some of these figures more easily available to the public have taken various formats, including searchable databases for the salaries of state employees (, local city, county and special district employees ( and public employees in the bay area (, in addition to more aggregated figures from the decennial census and many surveys.  Local public employers such as the Piedmont Unified School District (PUSD) and the City of Piedmont currently have these figures available upon request.

2.      Comparing compensation packages can sometimes be misleading and making valid, apples-to-apples comparisons of salaries and benefits takes some work.  Even published base salaries can be misleading: for example, are public employees and employers sharing contributions to the employees’ retirement fund, or are employers funding the entire contribution?  Do certain employees have higher salaries because they do not receive any additional compensation for health benefits?  How do figures for medical and dental benefits change the total compensation comparison?  Do employees receive other benefits such as a cell phone or car allowance?  What are working conditions and responsibilities such as hours, vacation, duties, etc.?

3.     A quick comparison of top administrative salaries in 2009 suggests that PUSD’s base salaries are in line with those in neighboring school districts.  These districts were chosen based on proximity and the ability to confirm via searchable database.  Not all districts have posted the information as requested.

2009 Base Salary Comparison, sorted by Superintendent Base Salary

District (grade levels)

2009-10 Enrollment Superintendent Chief Business Officer – CBO Curriculum and Instruction
Oakland USD (K-12) 46,099 $250,000 $162,000 $159,000
Mill Valley SD (K-8) 2,716 $203,000 $166,000 vacant
Orinda Union SD (K-8) 2,345 $195,000 $174,000 $179,000
Moraga SD (K-8) 1,723 $193,000 $143,000 $144,000
Acalanes HSD (9-12) 5,654 $188,000 $188,000 $143,000
Piedmont USD (K-12) 2,554 $185,000 $130,000 $123,000
Newark USD (K-12) 6,920 $185,000 $165,000 $155,000
Emery USD (K-12) 765 $161,000 vacant $127,000
Source:   Data are currently being updated for 2010.


4.     The Board sometimes receives suggestions on how the district should change employee pension benefits.  This is not possible: PUSD retirement benefits are not paid out of the district’s budget but rather are paid at the state level through CalSTRS for certificated employees such as teachers and CalPERS for classified employees such as support staff.  As defined by state law, the District contributes a set percentage of certificated and classified employees’ monthly compensation toward retirement pensions.  All employees contribute a set percentage of their monthly payroll toward their state pension plan, as well: certificated employees contribute eight percent of their base salary to their retirement (CalSTRS) and classified employees contribute seven percent to CalPERS.  Detailed information on employee benefits is available at

5.     The District administers a postemployment defined benefit healthcare benefit plan, which provides medical and dental insurance benefits to eligible retirees and their spouses. As reported in the 2010 Annual Financial Audit Report prepared by Vavrinek, Trine, and Day, Co., LLP, “Membership of the plan consists of 44 retirees and beneficiaries currently receiving benefits and 325 active plan members.”  As noted in the recent Moody’s rating report: “The district paid $353,083 for other post-employment benefits (OPEB) on a pay-as-you-go basis in fiscal 2010. The district conducted an actuarial study in fiscal 2009 and reports an accrued liability of $4.2 million. This liability is relatively small considering the size of the district’s financial operations and debt levels. The estimated annual required contribution is $393,526, which is also minimal as a percentage of revenues. The benefit currently lasts from age 55 to 65 for employees with 10 years of service required for certificated employees and management, and 15 years of service required for classified employees. Tentative agreements between the District and its employee groups will reduce this benefit to five years or age 65, whichever comes first.”

6.     My last comment is a personal reflection.  I have had the opportunity to work closely with Piedmont administrators over the past three years.  Led by Superintendent Constance Hubbard, their focus is on providing, and continually improving, excellent educational services to all PUSD students.   I think some people in the community do not realize how fortunate we are to have such dedicated, competent and hard-working administrators.  At a recent Budget Advisory Committee meeting, the district was asked: what do these administrators do and why does the district employ the number of administrators that it does?  This will be the subject of a subsequent article.

I would appreciate any feedback you might have on the comments above.  I can be reached at or 510-653-2884.

Martha Jones

Trustee, Piedmont Unified School District

(This letter expresses the personal opinions of the author.  All statements made are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.)

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