Without action San Francisco is in danger of losing its teachers 

San Francisco is rapidly becoming unaffordable to our public school teachers and paraprofessionals, and too many are being forced out of our city and our school district because of skyrocketing rents and the high cost of living.

When teachers can no longer afford to live in our neighborhoods and in our communities, it not only hurts our students, but their families, and the city as a whole.

That’s why we were so happy see Mayor Ed Lee convene a broad stakeholder meeting on April 1st to discuss a possible $250 million housing bond for this November’s ballot. We were happy to see that teachers were heavily featured in the discussion justifying the need for action.

Like many communities in The City, the housing bond and the growing consensus to build affordable and middle class housing couldn’t come at a more important time for teachers and paraprofessionals. In February of last year, the real estate listings website Redfin issued a report that not a single teacher in San Francisco could afford a market rate home or apartment in the City. And since then, rents and housing costs have only continued to climb.

In fact, a report last December by the National Council on Teacher Quality found that of the 125 largest school districts in the nation, San Francisco teachers make the third-lowest income when adjusted for the cost of living.

Our students and communities lose when teachers aren’t able to afford to live in San Francisco.

Time spent commuting is better spent on reaching out to families, developing individualized plans for students, and working together with fellow educators and local communities to strengthen our schools. The stability that teachers bring to our communities is especially important for low-income and immigrant students. This includes the roles that so many educators play outside of the schoolhouse, as teachers are well known to be active and contributing members to the broader civic life of our great City.

Unfortunately, too many teachers and paraprofessionals are now making the difficult decision to move out of town and a predictable pattern is emerging: After a year or two of brutal commutes, teachers are leaving for suburban districts closer to their new homes.

The affordability crisis continues and it’s about to get even more complicated – a coming teacher shortage in California will make it that much harder to recruit and retain the very best young teachers to our City. Instead of educators embedded in the very fabric of the City, we are about to see the profession turn in to a temporary job, with no expectation that deeper ties are even within the realm of the possible.

But there is a solution. As part of the housing bond, the City has the opportunity to build upon the success of the Teacher Next Door program, which has already helped fifty teachers purchase a home over the past six years.

This commitment should include an ongoing funding source as opposed to a one-time set aside. Equally as important, in partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District, the City can and should commit to building bricks and mortar housing for public school teachers and paraprofessionals.

The school district itself must take up part of the responsibility, but the City will need to help carry the load in order to make any project work. Finally, both the City and the school district should also consider funding rental subsidies for teachers and paraprofessionals as an immediate way to address the affordability crisis.

The human quality of teaching, the interaction of a child with a caring adult embedded in a strong school community, is too important to lose. Now, while the economy is on an uptick and with the problem so well-defined, we must seize the day and solve this one soluble problem. 

The need and the resources are clearly there to keep teachers in San Francisco, all that is necessary is the political will.

Dennis Kelly is president of United Educators of San Francisco.

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Dennis Kelly

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