San Francisco is working to recruit more qualified staff at its public schools and reduce educator turnover with a combination of increased financial incentives and housing.
Last week, Mayor London Breed announced a budget proposal that included $10 million in funding to attract credentialed educators to historically hard-to-staff schools.
If approved, the budget allocation will fund stipends meant to attract teachers to more challenging classroom environments and keep them invested.
The San Francisco Unified School District has historically struggled to fill teaching positions, due in part to high housing costs. As of Wednesday, the district had identified 467 vacant classroom positions for the coming year, nearly the same number as was reported last year, of which 67 percent have been filled.
The problem is particularly acute at nearly two dozen hard-to-staff schools the district has labeled “high potential” schools, mainly those serving historically underserved communities. As of Friday, a total of 54 certificated openings were listed for those schools.
Since 2008, SFUSD has offered a $2,000 annual stipend to teachers at high-potential schools and a $1,000 annual stipend to those in working in hard-to-fill subjects.
However education leaders have said that the amount of the stipends, which was agreed upon in contract bargaining with the district’s union, United Educators of San Francisco, is too small to have significant impacts.
It is unclear by how much the stipends will be increased with the new funding. SFUSD spokesperson Laura Dudnick said that the district will be working with its union “on the details of implementing the increase in stipends.”
Increasing the stipends will have “a huge impact on retention and recruitment in schools where we need it most,” said School Board Commissioner Mark Sanchez, who helped negotiate the 2008 Quality Teacher Education Act, or Proposition A, that among other things established the stipend program.
Sanchez said that he had called for the stipends to be increased a decade ago, but “lost that battle.”
“I’m excited that this is moving forward — it’s all hands on deck,” he said. “We are still expecting to replace hundreds of teachers next year. The more we can do on this end, the better.”
According to Dudnick, stipends were paid out to 1,259 teachers in hard-to-fill subjects and 1,067 teachers working in high-potential schools in the 2017-18 school year.
“We know San Francisco has one of the highest costs of living in the country and are grateful for the opportunity to provide additional compensation for teachers,” she said.
“We want teachers to stay in schools longer, develop relationships with families, the community and the administration,” said Jeff Cretan, Breed’s spokesperson, who pointed to research that “has shown that if you invest stipends up to $5,000 in high potential, harder to staff schools, you can make a difference in helping teachers to stay there.”
Heather Hough, executive director of Policy Analysis for California Education, a collaborative of nine California school districts studied the impacts of QTEA on retention and recruitment and said that “the ways we pay teachers matters regarding who we are able to recruit into the profession and who stays.”
In 2008, teachers targeted by salary increases applied to districts in larger numbers, said Hough, adding that her team also looked at the impact these teachers had on student development in regard to academic outcomes.
“After the increases went into effect, we saw those teachers were more effective than teacher in prior years,” said Hough, who added that “the research shows the stipends need to be fairly substantial for it to really impact your decision.”
Hough said that research suggests that stipends as high as $20,000 have “a dramatic effect on teacher retention.”
“We will never get to a point where those salaries are on par…but I think we can do better.”
Breed has also said previously that she plans to fast track educator housing, and the district is exploring private-public partnerships to get these types of units online quickly.
While a first-of-its-kind housing projects for teachers and paraeducators planned for the Sunset District is currently seeking approvals, Breed has announced two ballot initiatives focused on expanding and accelerating affordable housing production citywide by removing bureaucratic and zoning hurdles.
She is proposing a charter amendment that will fast track 100 percent affordable and teacher housing projects by making approval “by right,” meaning they would be exempt from discretionary review and appeals if they meet zoning requirements.
Breed is also working to place a measure on the November ballot that would rezone all publicly owned land, with the exception of parks, to allow for 100 percent affordable housing and teacher housing.
The San Francisco Examiner previously reported that SFUSD in March issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) seeking developers for three of its sites to build mixed-income, and possibly mixed-use housing projects with units reserved for educators.
UESF President Susan Solomon said that the union is currently working on expanding the income ranges of teachers that would be served by The City’s proposed educator housing projects.
“We have become more interested as rents keep going up, in helping to retain very experienced veteran educators. So maybe the Area Median Income (AMI) for these projects needs to be higher,” she said.