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San Francisco teachers rightfully tempted by better pay elsewhere

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San Francisco teachers and supporters rally outside San Francisco’s Federal Building on April 11 to protest federal budget cuts to public schools and to highlight the lack of affordable housing in San Francisco. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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It seems like there’s an exodus every spring.

Great teachers leave the San Francisco Unified School District for public school jobs on the Peninsula, in the South Bay or in Marin, where they can make significantly more money doing the exact same work.

Teaching in a big, urban school district is demanding and stressful, and the sky-high cost of living in San Francisco, coupled with the housing crunch, doesn’t make it any easier. SFUSD teachers often live with multiple roommates or take on second jobs just to get by.

And forget about buying a home. A new report from the National Council on Teacher Quality found that a beginning teacher in San Francisco who saves 10 percent of his or her salary every month would need to save for 30 years just to have enough for a down payment on a median-priced home.

There no logical reason for this. We are a wealthy city, and we pay our nurses, police officers, firefighters and other public employees well. Why are teachers getting such a raw deal?

When I saw the recent news that the SFUSD and the teacher’s union had reached an agreement in their current contract negotiations, I was thrilled. Finally, a substantial raise, I thought. Unfortunately, my optimism dimmed as I read through the details.

The proposed raises aren’t inconsequential, but they don’t do much to address the pay difference between San Francisco and the districts that surround it. For example, a teacher with a Master’s Degree and 15 years of experience who switched from San Francisco to Palo Alto would make $25,000 more a year. In Marin County’s Tamalpais Union High School District, they’d make $32,000 more. And in Mountain View-Los Altos, they’d make almost $54,000 more per year.

I love the SFUSD. I’ve worked in the district since 2002, and my children go to school here. It would break my heart to leave the district, but it’s hard to justify staying when I could make substantially more money doing the same work in a neighboring community.

The SFUSD loses teachers to other school districts all the time. If we want to keep experienced educators in The City, then the mayor, the Board of Supervisors and the Board of Education need to get together, get creative and make a determined push to give our teachers a real raise.

Christopher Pepper is a health education teacher in the San Francisco Unified School District.

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