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SF voters to weigh supplementing educator salaries with parcel tax

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Public school supporters rally outside San Francisco’s Federal Building on April 11, 2017, to protest federal budget cuts to public schools and to highlight the lack of affordable teacher housing in The City. (Jessica Christian/2017 S.F. Examiner)

As teachers walk out of classrooms across the country to demand increased wages and resources, San Francisco voters are being asked to help address an educator recruitment and retention crisis on the home front by backing a tax that would boost salaries by 7 percent for two decades.

Proposition G, on the June 5 primary ballot, is expected to generate $50 million annually by levying a $298 parcel tax — a type of property tax that is not directly based on property values — on real estate owners, with a few exceptions.

If approved, the tax would commence on July 1 and adjust for inflation each year. A majority of that revenue, 75 percent, will be used to directly increase educator salaries through a fixed 7 percent add-on annually over the next 20 years.

For a first-year teacher making $62,769, the tax would translate to a $4,036 increase. A 10th-year teacher with a salary of $80,047 would receive an extra $5,527. The measure’s proponents hope the pay boost will help address the school district’s struggle with recruiting and keeping qualified teachers in recent years.

“There is a perfect storm of challenges. We have a national teacher shortage, with fewer people going into the profession across the country,” said Myong Leigh, deputy superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. “In San Francisco, we have an acute housing affordability challenge and we have constraints on the funding we get from the state.”

California currently ranks 42nd in the country in per-pupil spending, which in San Francisco is about $11,000 per student.

Prop. G would provide additional resources for students, with remaining revenue to fund classroom and school technology and increase personnel and resources at 10 high-needs schools identified by the district as historically underserved.

Funding will also be set aside for professional development, compensation for non-educator school district employees and charter schools, which stand to receive some $2 million.
The parcel tax was negotiated under threat of a teacher strike to supplement an 11 percent base salary increase and a one-time 3 percent bonus that resulted from a nearly 24-month bargaining process between the SFUSD and its educator union, United Educators of San Francisco, last fall. The tax was initially expected to raise educator salaries by 2 percent annually.

“When we first bargained, the contract anticipated a 2 percent add-on and 1 percent bonus,” said UESF Executive Vice President Susan Solomon. “But when we really looked at the numbers after the contract was settled and we could analyze it more deeply, we realized it’s 7 percent that can be generated from this $37.5 million.”
Unlike some past efforts to address low wages, Prop. G raises pay across the board and includes paraeducators, who are lower on the pay scale than teachers and have been left out of a previous parcel tax initiative.

Officially opposing the measure is the Libertarian Party of San Francisco, which takes the stance that taxation “should be voluntary, not coercive.”

“A parcel tax is increasing the cost of owning property which increases the cost of housing, because the owners have to pay the property taxes. If they rent out the housing, then in order to break even, they have to raise rents,” said the group’s outreach director, Starchild.

The Quality Teacher and Education Act was passed in 2008 and imposed a parcel tax of $198 annually, though inflation has brought that amount to $244 to date.

That parcel tax expires in 2028, and should Prop G. pass, the two taxes will overlap for the next 10 years.

Those who will be subject to paying the tax can expect to be billed upward of $500 in the first year of its implementation. Seniors over the age of 65 who own property are exempt.

Aubrey Freedman, the group’s secretary, called the additional tax “an unbelievable burden” on property owners.

“I honestly, I don’t think it will change the outcome of the government schools in San Francisco. There is one third of parents who have children in San Francisco and send them to private schools. It’s shocking for a city like San Francisco,” added Freedman.

San Francisco’s cost of living is the highest in the country, and Prop. G would come as a significant step toward ensuring that SFUSD teachers and paraeducators are paid enough remain living and working in The City, according to its supporters.

“This won’t get us to the top but it gets us a lot closer,” said Solomon. “We will still be looking at salary increases in [future] bargaining and we will be looking at the state level to move the needle. We won’t get it from federal government right now — this is really about state and local [initiatives.]”

Some 64 percent of teachers survey conducted by the school district on the issue of affordability indicated that they paid more than 30 percent of their wages towards rent or housing, according to Leigh. Of that group of teachers, the survey found that at least 15 percent are paying more than half of their income on housing.

According to federal guidelines, a household that spends more than 30 percent of its income on rent and utilities is considered rent- burdened.

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