Why San Francisco is Losing Its Teachers
By San Francisco Teachers: Katie Hunter & Stephanie Moore
Take it from us, and our combined 20 years of classroom experience–being a teacher is an incredibly satisfying job. But it’s also become incredibly hard in the Bay Area, where keeping a roof over your head feels like a pipe dream without a six-figure income. Teachers don’t even come close–the average San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) teacher makes $65,240 a year. That’s far less than the City’s median income of $84,160, and puts us at 528th among 821 reporting school districts in California in terms of teacher pay. This is incomprehensible in a city bursting with so much wealth.
The pay gap between new teachers and many other professionals–college educated or not–is also appalling. According to a recent piece on teacher salaries in the SF Chronicle, new teachers in the city would be financially better off if they pursued a career as a bricklayer or morgue attendant, two industries that offer far better entry level pay. This salary gap is why so many teachers, including the two of us, have worked during our summer vacations instead of taking a much needed break. Some of these jobs include: working for Trader Joe’s, summer internships, and teaching summer school for the school district.
It’s no wonder that many San Francisco teachers are leaving the profession altogether, or not entering it at all. Over the past three years, the number of vacancies in SFUSD has steadily risen. And as of September 30th, 99 teaching positions remain unfilled in SFUSD schools, with dozens more being filled by teachers on emergency credentials. Multiply 99 by the number of students not being served by a full-time, committed, credentialed employee, and it doesn’t take an algebra teacher to see we’re in a crisis.
So how can San Francisco keep the experienced teachers it has, while at the same time continuing to hire more qualified teachers? The first step school districts can take to attract and keep teachers in their districts are to offer “competitive, equitable compensation packages that allow teachers to make a reasonable living across all kinds of communities,” according to a recent piece in NEAToday by education expert Linda Darling-Hammond. In other words, pay us a livable wage that falls in line with the cost of living in San Francisco. A one-bedroom apartment in the city, at the median monthly rate, requires teachers to spend an average of 64% of their salary on housing. Raising the base pay–and pay increments for years of service and levels of education attained–is a critical first step to ensuring that teachers like us can afford to live here.
We can also support more teacher housing programs and create greater access to these opportunities for our teachers and their families. According to Zillow, the average cost of a home in San Francisco is $1,104,000. The Teacher Next Door program covers $20,000 of a down payment, forcing teachers to cobble together other sources to finance the rest. And while programs like Teacher Next Door and the Downpayment Assistance Loan Program (DALP) have helped get teachers into SF homes (including a few of our coworkers), the process alone is incredibly overwhelming and difficult to navigate, which is perhaps why only two teachers took advantage of Teacher Next Door in 2015.
The lack of available affordable housing is also a problem. Governor Brown just signed a bill allowing state school districts to use federal tax credits on top of state and local funds when leasing property to build affordable teacher housing in 2017, which is one step toward creating more affordable units. Yet we’re far from where we need to be, which is why salary increases are also a critical step to keeping teachers here too.
How can you help? Vote. This year, four of our seven school board seats are up for election, and all candidates have voiced commitments to raising teacher pay and/or increasing affordable housing for teachers. You can vote for candidates you believe will carry through on those commitments, and hold them accountable by joining with community-based organizations—including the San Francisco Organizing Network for Education (SF ONE), which fights for education justice for students, families and teachers.
To pay teachers more, we also need to vote YES on Proposition 55, which maintains the current tax rate on top wage earners (people making over $250,000 per year) in California to prevent up to $4 billion in cuts to schools. While it has received criticism given that it is temporary tax, there are currently no other ballot measures that will keep class sizes down and protect against further school resource cuts. Prop 55 will also ensure that SFUSD teachers have a strong starting position when our union heads to be at the bargaining table this spring to fight for higher pay.
Better yet, before you cast your own ballot, come help us get out the vote this Saturday, October 15th, with SF ONE. By keeping our communities informed about how to get and keep teachers in San Francisco, we can help produce the next generation of activists and citizens that make this city great.
About the Authors:
Stephanie Moore is an elementary school teacher in San Francisco, and Katie Hunter is a special education teacher at an SFUSD middle school. Both are members of the San Francisco Organizing Network for Education (SF ONE), which fights for education justice so that every San Francisco student has the opportunity to unleash their full potential.