Despite underperforming Prop. 15, SF city schools stand to gain from Tuesday’s election

While Proposition 15 is lagging in the most current election count at the state level, the overwhelming approval so far...

While Proposition 15 is lagging in the most current election count at the state level, the overwhelming approval so far for Proposition J at the local level points to better days ahead for San Francisco’s public schools.

Prop. J is expected to bring $48 million to the San Francisco Unified School District annually by enacting a $288 parcel tax at a time of deep financial duress. It has about 75 percent approval thus far, surpassing the two-thirds of the vote needed to pass.

“A huge THANK YOU to the voters of San Francisco for investing in public education!” tweeted Superintendent Vincent Matthews on Wednesday. “The funds from Prop. J will help pay for raises for teachers & paraeducators, improve academic programs, and much more.”

The measure repeals Prop. G, a similar $320 parcel tax approved in June 2018 to boost educator wages. It garnered slightly less than two-thirds of the vote, leading to a legal challenge from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association that kept the revenue in escrow. The case is still being litigated, but a recent California Supreme Court ruling in favor of 2018’s Proposition C, a tax to fight homelessness that voters passed with a simple majority, sets a path for the funds to potentially be freed down the line.

There was worry a two-thirds majority would be close, but that was instantly shattered by initial results showing a 75 percent approval. To be sure, there are many votes left to count, still, but the margin is wide.

“When I saw that, I was blown away,” said Board President Mark Sanchez, who secured a top slot for re-election. “It puts us on better footing just in general, it’s a huge boon for us.”

The immediate relief it brings removes the possibility of salary cuts for educators, which were supposed to be financed by Prop. G, but contributed to SFUSD’s dire financial straits. The district faced a $22 million deficit for the current year, aided by $15 million from the general city fund, and a $66 million deficit for the following fiscal year. SFUSD has estimated it could cost up to $84 million to teach students in-person during the pandemic.

While Prop. J presents a win for public education funding, California Proposition 15 is trailing with 48 percent of the vote. It represents a first attempt to reform the infamous 1978 Proposition 13 by removing commercial property tax limitations, and could bring in up to $12 billion statewide. Forty percent of that would go to public schools.

“Assuming it doesn’t pass…we’re not giving up, it’s just too important,” said Susan Solomon, president of the United Educators of San Francisco. “You still see states who spend more on their children than in California. It’s something we should be ashamed of.”

Proposition 19, on the other hand, has a steady lead to pass. Expected to bring local governments statewide tens of millions of dollars, it closes a major loophole and would no longer allow people inheriting homes to retain the previous low property tax rate, unless the home is their primary residence. The real-estate industry backed measure also loosens restrictions on senior homeowners retaining low property tax rates when they relocate.

It’s unclear how much SFUSD will ultimately benefit should Prop. 19 pass, Sanchez said.

Sanchez, who didn’t fundraise for his campaign to retain time for board work, and fellow Board of Education Commissioner Jenny Lam, have a sizable lead in Tuesday’s school board race, making their re-election look almost certain. Coleman Advocates education policy director Kevine Boggess and former SFUSD principal Matt Alexander have enough votes thus far for the two remaining spots in a field of 10 candidates. Some 90,000 votes remain to be counted, however, and special education advocate Alida Fisher is just slightly behind Alexander.

All four were endorsed by UESF and are familiar to district stakeholders, Sanchez and Solomon noted.

“These are people I already have a working relationship with, so we’re going to be able to hit the ground running,” said Sanchez.

The Board of Education budget committee will discuss reopening costs and the budget outlook on Thursday at 4 p.m. over Zoom.

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