School board eyes parcel tax

A proposed $198 parcel tax could help city schools keep teachers in its classrooms, but critics call the tax unfair because it taxes commerical and private property at a flat rate.

On Monday, the San Francisco Unified School District board heard the first reading of a proposed $198 annual tax on property owners — both commercial and residential — in The City.

Residents would vote June 3 on the initiative, which requires a two-thirds majority for passage, but the board has yet to move forward officially with the tax.

In the interim, school officials are determining how to deal with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal in the face of a $14.5 billion statewide budget deficit, which they say could lead to $40 million in lost revenue and potential drastic layoffs and cutbacks locally.

The estimated $28 million annually generated by the parcel tax would go toward retaining new teachers and professional training for teachers, according to district officials.

New teachers move through a revolving door that sees them come in, then leave for higher pay and less-expensive communities so they can start families of their own, said Ken Tray, a 23-year veteran of the school district and current Civics teacher at Lowell High School.

New teachers in San Francisco start out at $44,446 per year, In Hayward, they make $51,324, in Menlo Park $50,654, and in Palo Alto $48,944, according to district data.

“We need respect from the community,” Tray said. “How do you treat people with respect? There’s the chance to work at good schools and the other part is fair compensation so that you can afford to live in San Francisco.”

But renter advocates in The City charge that the proposal — a $198 flat tax on all parcels in The City with exemptions for seniors, an adjustment for inflation and mandatory citizen oversight of the revenue — is “unfair” because it does not delineate between large and small property owners. Parcel taxes can be tiered based on square footage of the parcel.

“We would be against that based on the allocation being unfair and pushing the burden onto those who can least afford to pay it,” said Janan New, director of the San Francisco Apartment Association.

Critics also argue that the school district has a reputation of mismanaging its revenue.

Tray defended the district, citing Proposition A, the $450 million bond measure passed in 2006 which included mandatory oversight of the money.

“There are some old stories out there about previous administrations, but that’s simply not the case anymore,” he said.

The school board is expected to vote Feb. 12 on placing the tax on the June 3 ballot.

dsmith@examiner.com

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