Image courtesy of Becky Fairbanks

In the 2009-2010 school year, the average annual salary for a San Francisco Unified School District teacher was $60,641, according to new data from the Education Data Partnership website. That’s $6,889 less than the state average for unified school districts, and $9,817 less than the average salary for any public school teacher in the state — in a city with one of the state’s highest costs of living.

But according to the local teacher’s union, the district doesn’t have to worry about filling vacant positions. “Because of the layoffs, there’s actually a surplus of teachers,” said Matthew Hardy, the communications director for United Educators of San Francisco, the union for SFUSD teachers. “I would love to say, pay teachers more, give them a 10 percent raise, but it’s not realistic right now.”

The lowest salary SFUSD offered an incoming teacher in 2009-2010 was $39,744.

“San Francisco, in the short term, is not going to have any problems, with 1,500 people on the unemployment line,” said Hardy.

More than 400 pink slips are going out to San Francisco teachers this month, though not all of those people will ultimately be laid off. Last year, 700 pink slips were initially sent to teachers and administrators, but after an intense debate only about 200 actually lost their jobs, and 42 were later rehired.

Earlier this month, the Atlantic reported that California is the third best-paying state for teachers. Yet it gave California a grade of “C” for educational quality. The article argued that educational quality and teacher pay are not correlated.

But low pay may contribute to a high rate of teacher turnover. Fifty percent of new teachers leave the profession within their first five years, in favor of better paying work, according to the National Education Association, which advocates for “professional pay” for teachers and school support staff.

Once the recession is over, Hardy warns that attracting good teachers to San Francisco schools will be an issue if nearby districts continue to pay their teachers more.

“It creates a situation where many San Francisco teachers have to have second jobs or live outside of San Francisco,” said Fred Glass, the spokesperson for the California Federation of Teachers.

“Teachers in San Francisco earn substantially less than teachers a few miles down the road, in Marin,” said Hardy. Although many districts in neighboring counties are far smaller and non-urban, and therefore can’t be directly compared to San Francisco, teachers in the wealthier areas of Marin, Alameda and Contra Costa counties generally earn higher salaries and can reach a higher maximum salary than San Francisco’s $77,630 — often well above $80,000.

The union wants schools to have better funding overall, and is most concerned with cuts that affect classroom expenses and their impact on students.

“You get what you pay for,” said Hardy. “And in our schools, our kids are the ones who will be paying the price.”

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J.J. Barrow began reporting for Mission Local in 2010. She once rode the 49 Van Ness-Mission for six hours straight while the rest of the city tuned in to the World Series — until revelry ended the route. She misses hiding in Guerrero's quiet Cafe Petra (now defunct) to write.

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