Schools give thanks for investment in education 

With Thanksgiving just two days away, I’d like to take a moment to thank those of you who are San Francisco voters for helping our students.

Everyone plays an important role in educating our city’s children. Here in San Francisco, voters have demonstrated time and again how much they value our public schools and our children.

Attracting and keeping the best teachers

Starting salaries for teachers in San Francisco have risen an average of 13 percent since 2009. How did this happen during the worst economic times since the Great Depression?

Pretty simple, actually. In 2008, a parcel tax called the Quality Teacher and Education Act was approved by San Francisco voters. Since then, the average San Francisco public school teacher’s salary has risen above those in surrounding school districts.

There’s even more to thank you for. QTEA provides salary bonuses for teachers to work at schools with historically high turnover, what we have categorized as hard-to-staff schools.

There are also bonuses for those who teach hard-to-staff (but important) subjects such as special education. And while QTEA increases teacher support, it also raises teacher accountability and helps upgrade school technologies.

Thanks to QTEA funds, 20 of our schools just received grant awards of $15,000 each for demonstrating how they improved students’ academic success, or put innovative strategies and practices to work for historically underserved student populations.

Checking out a million books

This year, we hit a milestone — and in this age of iPads and e-books, it may startle you — when more than 1 million books were checked out by our students at their school libraries. Elementary, middle and high school student book clubs have been springing up all over since we have more librarians at our schools.

How did we do this? Again, San Francisco voters. The Public Education Enrichment Fund is a City Charter amendment approved way back in 2004. It guarantees a certain amount of city funding for public schools and preschools through 2015. The fund supports arts, music, athletics, physical education and library programs, plus universal access to preschool and other essential educational programs. Also, because of this fund, students with the greatest need have on-site social workers and nurses to provide comprehensive wellness services.

Beautiful buildings

But our voters don’t stop there. They have voted, time and again, to keep school roofs repaired, help pay for federally required building upgrades, and support improvements to fire and life safety. The 2003, 2006 and 2011 bond programs authorized us to issue $1.3 billion in bonds to support the modernization of our schools.

I bet you have seen this work going on in schools near you over the years. Aging portables have been replaced with new classroom buildings, seismic upgrades were completed, accessibility for disabled students was improved, classroom interiors and restrooms were modernized, computer-data and technology infrastructure were improved, and a highly successful green schoolyard program was established at 84 public schools in San Francisco — the largest green schoolyards system of any public-school district in the country.

Keeping it all going, with your help

We all see the economy is slowly improving, and this year we are finally back to a similar level of funding to what was available in 2007 (though the cost of living has increased). Even as things start to move in the right direction, California’s K-12 spending per student still lags the rest of the U.S. more than at any time in the past 40 years.

But you do not shrug your shoulders and let our kids suffer the consequences. Thank you, San Francisco voters, for supporting our children every time.

Richard A. Carranza is superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District.

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