The City’s students need Prop. A

Practical concepts like “free-market incentives,” “more teacher accountability” and “replicating successful programs” have not been much associated with the San Francisco Unified School District. But Proposition A, the $198 parcel tax on every residential and commercial property, actually packages a well-thought-out long-term investment strategy that could significantly help overcome some of The City’s thorniest educational issues.

Proposition A is expected to bring in $28.8 million annually during its 20-year lifespan. Seventy percent of the revenues must go to teacher salaries and professional development. The remaining 30 percent is divided among sensible purposes, such as adequate maintenance support for classroom computers, a charter school allocation, grants for schools with the best test-score improvements — and the district’s first organized effort to study and replicate its schools’ most successful achievement programs.

Under development for 18 months, Proposition A is a comprehensive approach to fixing the seemingly intractable “achievement gap” among low-income, minority and new-immigrant students. It directly addresses the obvious fact that the most gifted and experienced teachers tend to transfer out of rougher city schools as soon as seniority qualifies them for less draining assignments.

If passed, higher pay and more mentoring support would go to teachers in low-performing schools. Salary increases would be front-loaded to new teachers in their earliest years and there would be retention bonuses for teachers who continue in The City. Hard-to-recruit math and science specialists would get extra money, too. Annual incentives could add $10,000 to base salaries.

The starting teacher salary would rise from $47,478 to $52,250 — considerably closer to the $54,571 mark in San Jose, the Bay Area leader. SFUSD teachers’ top salary would climb as well. These changes would make San Francisco schools notably more competitive among the neighboring districts that now poach our classroom talent.

Along with all these incentives, Proposition A also is something of a civil-service reform. Any teacher receiving just one annual unsatisfactory evaluation would now be required to undergo Peer Assistance Review coaching and could be recommended for prompt termination if the mentors did not see sufficient improvement.

The $198 parcel tax cannot be directly passed to renters by their landlords and there is a senior exemption process. An independent oversight group will monitor where the spending goes, and the district has laudably tightened its fiscal procedures in recent years.

Proposition A deserves your “yes” vote on June 3. This is an impressive and all-too-rare example of teachers unions, school administrators and business supporters hammering out a deal to benefit the most struggling SFUSD students. It is hard to imagine that happening under the more autocratic superintendents who passed through before Carlos Garcia arrived last July.

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