Rising Costs Hit Teachers Hard

Karoleen Feng of MEDA describes the findings of a survey of parents around the Mission at Buena Vista Horace Mann Thursday evening. Photo by Laura Wenus

En Español.

Linda Perez, a teacher at Buena Vista Horace Mann, shares her home with nine people — only two of them are family members. Frank Lara teaches fourth grade at the same school and has crashed on friends’ couches or shared a bedroom to make ends meet, all while struggling to repay a mountain of student loan debt. Laura Rocha, who used to teach pre-K classes at another school, said she can earn more money cleaning houses or rolling burritos than she can as a teacher.

“I adore kids, but I can’t support myself and my daughter like this,” Rocha said.

Perez, Lara and Rocha gathered with some 30 other teachers and parents Thursday night at a panel discussion on San Francisco’s affordability crisis organized by the United Educators of San Francisco, a teachers’ union.

Representatives from the union and teachers from Buena Vista stressed the importance of keeping teachers living in the communities they serve — a goal that has become increasingly difficult as rents have risen to an average of about $3,800 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. The starting salary for a full-time credentialed teacher is $50,000 a year — paraprofessionals average around $25,000, according to Matthew Hardy, the Communications Director for UESF. Earlier this year, the SFUSD stated that teachers earn an average salary of $86,000 a year in salary and health benefits. Hardy said many teachers aren’t full time, and they haven’t had a pay raise in five years (though teachers do get incremental experience-based raises over the years).

The current contract with the San Francisco Unified School Board expired in July, and negotiations are in mediation.  The difficult process only grows more complex in the midst of an economic boom that has made the city less and less affordable.

Dennis Kelly, the union’s president, recalled the story of one teacher who was hired in San Francisco and had to spend three weeks living in her car with her children before she was able to find a place she could afford to live in on her salary.

Variations on the same story were told by several educators Thursday night.  The meeting was meant to gather ideas about how to face the affordability crisis and to build solidarity between teachers and parents. Speaker after speaker echoed one theme:  that teachers and parents must support one another to push for better school funding, livable wages, and well-structured education programs.

Parents at the meeting, many of whom face similar challenges in remaining in the city, expressed hope that a stable education would protect their children from the hardships of low-income work.

Housing, said Ken Tray, UESF’s political director, has become a focus for the teachers’ union because the astronomical cost of living in San Francisco affects teachers and parents so acutely.  Many simply leave the city.

Karoleen Feng of the Mission Economic Development Agency said the number of families has dropped from about 60 percent of  Mission households  to about 28 percent.  Feng said 95 percent of those families rent.  In a survey of local families, Feng said,  many expressed fear, and as a result, families are accepting buyouts to move or succumbing to landlord threats.  That instability, Feng said, causes problems for the families’ academic development.

“The impact is on two generations,” she said.

Part of the problem, another teacher said, is that there is still a widespread misconception that educators make a comfortable living. For many who work at schools, that is far from the truth.

Anabel Ibanez, a family coordinator at Buena Vista Horace Mann, said paraprofessionals and teachers sometimes take home leftovers from the school’s food pantry. Though the food is intended for (and, for the most part, goes to) needy parents and families, some educators are needy too.

Horace Mann teacher Norman Zelaya said the disproportionately low wages offered to teachers in San Francisco has driven prospective educators away from the city. He said the district is looking for teachers, but is having trouble filling open positions because applicants compare the salaries available to the cost of living and choose to work elsewhere.

He might be right — Transparent California reports teachers in the Oakland Unified School District earned a median annual salary of $62,000 in 2013. In the Fremont Unified School District, the comparable median salary was $85,000.

“It’s what you’re offering these people,” Zelaya said. “If I’m 22, 23 years old and I’m coming to the Bay Area I know I can’t live in San Francisco and I can make more money outside San Francisco… These are intelligent people. Why would I put myself in the hole and struggle?”

Opinions varied on what parents and teachers need to do to move forward on improving salaries.

“We need a plan,” said Carol Fisher, a self-described politically engaged parent, “So that I’m not just that crazy lady who’s always flyering.”

Fisher suggested that politically active parents reach out to other, less engaged, families to get them involved.

Ibanez of Buena Vista Horace Mann said she would like to see more people who show their support at community meetings also attend political actions like protests and  meetings with administrators.

Whatever the strategy, it’s clear teachers and parents are united in their frustration with the city’s rising costs.

“We work day after day for our children to have a better future,” said community member Erica Hernandez. “In San Francisco everything goes up but our salaries.”

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22 Comments

  1. Barak

    In the meantime, the SFUSD let its property at 16th & Mission sit vacant for decades. They could have built hundreds of subsidized units for teachers there.

    Now the City owns the property. It has tens of millions of affordable housing dollars collected from developers, but no concrete plans to build anything. And whatever it does build will at huge costs–3 to 4 times what a private developer would spend.

    I’m losing hope that our government entities can do anything constructive re the housing crisis.

  2. Ricardo

    All comes down to supply and demand. We have too many teacher’s willing to work for $50,000. I rather give less money to serve bums and other services. I say we ban rent control and that will lower rents across the board. Teachers will be able to live in the community they teach. If you can read this, thank a teacher and show your support by trying to abolish rent control. Slavery was wrong and so is rent control. No place for it in a modern society.

    • Russo

      “I say we ban rent control and that will lower rents across the board.”

      That is so ridiculous that I doubt even you believe it.

      • Bert

        Actually he is right. At least partly anyway. If rent control were dismantled tomorrow, then we see a lot more mobility and the vacancy rate would rise. That would impose a downward pressure on rents.

        Sure if you have a bargain rent now then your rent would probably go up. Some would say it should. But that would be counter-balanced by a drop in the asking rent for vacant units, of which there would be more.

        That was exactly what happened when Boston got rid of its rent control – some rents went up but some went down. And because the change encouraged landlords to re-enter the business and/or build or convert more units, rents did not go up as some had suggested.

        What we would have is FAIRER rents unlike the current lottery system. we’d also have better landlord-tenant relationships.

      • SFrentier

        Yeah, he is exactly right Russo. RC keeps so many people stuck in their units, there are few vacancies at any given moment, and they are very expensive. Plus, landlords keep many units off the market, convert to TIC, move in friends /family, airbnb, anything to avoid being stuck with rent control. Kapish? What’s your counter argument, bucko?

        • Jovi

          Hello Bucko, I disagree with all of you anti-rent control commentators. You all probably believe there should be no minimum wage law as well, huh? Well, the people have spoken. Also, please show me the statistics, if there are any, that banning rent control will lower rent across the board, especially in SF. The theory sounds nice, but in practice it’s a different thing, Bucko. Some of you are just self interested landlords (currently or formerly) that obviously want to find more ways to make money, just as these teachers do. The only thing is, none of you landlords are not sleeping in your car with your children.

      • I say that we make a law limiting the number of condos which are often bought for speculation. Then more rental units would be on the market bringing down the cost.

    • Mission Neighborhood

      Another problem with the current rental system is that landlords have an incentive to pick tenants who will not stay long. Otherwise they lose money – the allowable rent increases are less than inflation. For them, it’s better to rent to a 20-something, transient tech worker than a long term community member like a teacher.

      • Roy

        Yes, MissionNeighborhood, there is an art, gained through experience, of weaning out any applicant who looks like a lifer. These would typically include almost any government worker including college staff (unless visiting academics) and non-profit staff.

        Anyone on a low income is probably going to try and cling onto that unit until they are carried out in a box.

        Old applicants, although protected from age 62, can be a good bet because the chances are they will go into a home or hospice at some point. And illegals can be great tenants as they won’t generally assert their rights.

        But yeah, the sweet spot is probably about 2 years. Long enough to not be a hassle but not enough to start getting a subsidy from you.

        At all costs, avoid activists of any kind.

        • lala

          As a landlord, I can confirm this. I would be willing to take a chance on teachers, artists and others if I knew the rent wouldn’t be locked in for the next 30 years.

    • There is no “supply and demand” in the teaching market. Salaries are not raised, requirements go down. More teachers will work without credentials, until it’s decided that credentials are no longer needed.

  3. Alex

    Why does a SF teacher have to live in SF?

    If they cannot afford SF, what’s wrong with Oakland or Daly City?

    Pay has to be set based on supply and demand, and the economic value of the work, and not on the lifestyle aspirations of the worker.

    • David

      Nothing is wrong with Oakland or Daly City. In fact, that is exactly what is happening. Many teachers are moving because it is more affordable. This is more a crisis for parents, whose children’s public education will go more and more downhill as they lose teachers and the turnover increases because of greener pastures. Much of the quality of a neighborhood has to do with the quality of the public education in that neighborhood. It reduces youth crime and raises property values. You would think it would be in the voter’s best interest to support the teachers.

      • Alex

        No, David, I mean that SF teachers can live in Oakland or Daly City but still work in SF. Both towns are just a few miles away and I don’t see why they should live in an expensive place when cheaper places are close by.

        • jujube

          Actually, teachers CAN’T live in Oakland or Daly City–even that is too expensive now. That’s why the district has so many unfilled positions now.

          • Roy

            Real estate prices in Oakland are about 50% of those in SF, so Oakland is certainly more affordable than SF and an obvious location to consider if you work in SF but are paid below the median.

            Some towns further out along BART are cheaper again. The real city is the Bay Area and not SF.

  4. mission resident

    Teachers should get first dibs on all affordable housing. Police and firefighters could also be in that category. Only when there are no more teachers, firefighters and police officers looking for affordable housing should others get to win that lottery. No offense to any other professions, but teachers, police and firefighters are the most important jobs in the city. They should always get priority over any other profession. Until they all are settled in affordable housing, we can open it up to the rest of the city.

    I am as much of a free market guy as any, but I disagree with Alex as teachers and police are much more effective if they live in the same community as those they teach and protect. It helps build trust and makes a community stronger.

    • Bert

      So public sector workers should get an even better deal than they already get?

      • mission resident

        only teachers, police and firefighters as they are the most important. not all public sector workers should get a better deal. Personally, I would prefer to fire 25% of school administrators and pay teachers 100K or more. It would make the system run more efficiently and we’d have a more competitive teachers pool to choose from. Teachers are THE MOST important of all public sector professions.

  5. FORMER teacher

    SFUSD did NOT say that teachers “earn an average salary of $86,000 a year” — that’s ridiculous. They said teachers “earn an average of $86,000 in salary and health benefits”. It’s also impossible because the SFUSD teachers’ salary scale tops out at $82,000 — if you have 26+ years of service and a masters degree. Without the masters it tops out at $60,000. Both Oakland and Fremont pay less — Fremont appears to have higher salaries, but they have to pay for their own health insurance so that’s illusory.

    See:
    http://www.sfusd.edu/en/assets/sfusd-staff/contract%20and%20salary%20schedules/Teachers%20TK-12%20Salary%20Schedule.pdf
    http://www.ousd.k12.ca.us/cms/lib07/CA01001176/Centricity/Domain/105/K12T%202-24-14.pdf
    http://www.fremont.k12.ca.us/cms/lib04/CA01000848/Centricity/Domain/91/Certificated_for_Website.pdf

    Laura, please correct this in your article – it’s completely false and gives readers a horribly skewed view of the problem. But then, that’s pretty much what SFUSD wanted to happen when they released the aggregate figure…

  6. OutBoundDelay

    Don’t have to feel too bad. Teachers–all public employees in fact–will get the last laugh when their pensions come due. But meanwhile, playing the sympathy card to squeeze out as much as possible.

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