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Contract negotiations begin for SF school teachers

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Teachers, counselors and librarians make an average of $68,130 per year in San Francisco. Many educators feel priced out of San Francisco because of the high cost of living. (Anna Latino/2013 S.F. Examiner)

Cassondra Curiel was known for staying late after class to help her students at Visitacion Valley Middle School. But for the past two years, the sixth-grade teacher has rushed out of her classroom for an hours-long commute to her new home out outside of San Francisco.

“The older siblings of the students I have now tell their younger sisters and brothers that I will be there for them everyday,” Curiel said. “But to tell you the truth, that is no longer the case.”

“I don’t make enough money to move back to San Francisco,” she said.

Curiel, who spoke at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday, is one of many educators who can no longer afford the rising cost of living in San Francisco.

In response, the United Educators of San Francisco is calling for “substantial” raises for all educators during contract negotiations that began Tuesday between the union and the San Francisco Unified School District.

“The time is now to turn the situation around,” teachers’ union President Lita Blanc said at the meeting. “It’s a crisis for the children, it’s a crisis for the district, it’s a crisis for ourselves.”

In the last three years, the district has boosted the average salaries of UESF members — including teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors and nurses — by 15 percent, according to SFUSD spokesperson Gentle Blythe.

While SFUSD leaders would like to increase teacher salaries again, Blythe said state funding for the district is not growing as rapidly as before and has not even returned to 2007 levels — when the recession hit and California began to lay off hundreds of teachers.

“District leaders are taking a critical look at all of our resources and we have some tough choices to make,” Blythe said, noting that it costs nearly $5 million for all UESF members to receive a 1 percent raise.

Teachers, counselors and librarians are making $68,130 on average this school year while paraprofessionals earn $35,660 on average, not including benefits, according to Blythe.

In comparison, the average tech worker earned $185,669 last year, the San Francisco Examiner previously reported, and real-estate website Trulia found that the median cost of a one-bedroom apartment in The City this month is $2,250.

“I often put in 11-hour days and I get paid a fraction of what my peers and friends who work in the private sector do,” said Dante Popalisky, a math teacher at George Washington High School who spoke at the school board meeting.

It’s unclear how many educators are leaving because of the housing crisis, but the district will have an estimated 664 open positions for teachers and paraprofessionals next school year including 465 classroom vacancies, according to SFUSD projections from January.

The district expects to fill most of the positions through various programs for new, international and emergency teachers but is still expected to start the 2017-18 school year with 164 empty positions.

“We’re going through negotiations so I can’t talk about specifics,” school board President Shamann Walton said. “But I can tell you that the district is committed to adequately compensating educators.”

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