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Conflict over use of windfall funds for education, homeless erupts in protest at city meeting

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Teachers, parents and community leaders rally to urge the Board of Supervisors to provide San Francisco educators and schools with $60 million from The City’s Education Revenue Augmentation Funds outside City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

A day of intense lobbying over competing proposals for how to spend a multi-million dollar windfall reached its peak Tuesday evening when educators and their supporters shut down a Board of Supervisors hearing.

The protest came minutes before a group of city supervisors presented a plan that would earmark some $46 million of $181 million in windfall funds for homeless services and a total of $13.5 million for increasing educator salaries.

The proposal, co-sponsored by supervisors Aaron Peskin, Sandra Lee Fewer, Gordon Mar and Rafael Mandelman, was first introduced in December and has since been fleshed out. It would allocate a forgivable loan to the San Francisco Unified School District to help pay for a 7 percent educator wage hike passed by San Francisco voters in June.

Funding for the increased salaries was intended to come from a $298 parcel tax hike approved under Proposition G that is expected to generate $50 million annually. However the City Controller’s Office hasn’t disbursed the funds collected by the tax due to legal challenges over the threshold by which the measure passed, leaving the school district to shoulder the funding gap.

Two other voter-led initiatives are facing similar legal uncertainties — a commercial rents tax passed in June that would fund an expansion of early childcare education services and Proposition C, a corporate tax hike on companies with more than $500 million in annual revenue to fund homeless services that passed in November.

Mayor London Breed has put forward a proposal that would direct all of the windfall money towards supporting the goals of Prop. C, which include adding new shelter beds and expanding mental health services.

“As with the budget, how we spend that money is really about what our values and priorities are,” said Peskin. “We are living in a very interesting moment in time where those values have been expressed through three community led ballot initiatives […] as decision-makers we want to honor that intent and bridge the funding that is pending litigation.”

But San Francisco educators and their supporters want a bigger piece of the pie — or in this case, the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund [ERAF] — than what city leaders have proposed thus far.

Dozens who rallied in front of City Hall on Tuesday demanded that $60 million of the windfall money go toward teacher salaries and academic programs to address inequities. The remaining funding, they argued, should be divided equally between public service workers and homeless services.

“There’s a saying — show me your budget and I’ll show you what you care about. Does $13.5 million show me that [City Hall] cares? No,” said San Francisco School Board President Stevon Cook, who supported the rallying teachers, adding that The City should “invest in this end before it becomes a problem on the back end.”

City leaders have been divided over how the remaining $181 million in the general fund should be spent, with teacher wage hikes and homeless services emerging as top priorities.

The proposal introduced Tuesday would spend $111.4 million on affordable housing construction and site acquisition, $46 million on homeless and mental health initiatives, $10 million on early childcare services and $15.6 million to steer The City away from relying on energy provided by Pacific Gas and Electric.

“The mayor continues to be very focused on housing and homelessness, [our proposal] remains principally focused on homelessness but is putting money into some other priorities including early childhood education and schools,” Mandelman told the San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday, adding that “future budgets or additional ERAF money that comes in future years” would potentially be earmarked for the school district.

Earlier in the day, advocates for the homeless led by the Coalition on Homelessness lobbied supervisors to spend $171.4 million of the windfall money on implementing Prop C. They put forward their own proposal, which mirrored some of the homeless interventions which Breed has proposed funding, but also urged City leaders to “grow the pot” of available revenue to also address The City’s “other pressing civic needs” — including funding for the school district.

To do so, they recommend freeing up money from The City’s rainy day fund, which is also set to grow with the incoming windfall money.

Several city leaders, including District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, supported this idea.

“I represent a district now that has a huge challenge around homelessness — I want to be very clear that I am angry that we are pitting our schools, teachers and families against homelessness resources,” said Haney. “These things are not disconnected.”

School district leaders say that San Francisco’s students — including some 2,000 who are reported to be homeless — should be prioritized for the funding now.

“They will become the ones on the street,” said school board member Mark Sanchez, adding that 60 percent of San Francisco’s homeless population “comes from our city.”

The proposal is expected be discussed formally at the supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing next week.

Young students hold signs on the steps of City Hall as teachers, parents and community leaders rally to urge the Board of Supervisors to provide San Francisco educators and schools with $60 million from The City’s Education Revenue Augmentation Funds on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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