SF teachers ask for first pay raise in five years

As the San Francisco Unified School District budget continues to dig out from the recession, public-school teachers are asking for their first pay raise in five years.

United Educators of San Francisco, representing more than 4,000 teachers, is proposing a 21 percent pay raise over the next three years, a move the union says will help allow teachers to keep living in The City despite drastic cost-of-living increases.

Hundreds of teachers made their case in front of district offices on Franklin Street before the Board of Education meeting Tuesday evening, holding signs and chanting. Supervisor David Campos urged the district to “do the right thing” at the rally.

“I’m standing here with teachers and paraprofessionals to send a clear message that we want them to get a fair salary,” Campos said.

Claudia Tirado, 44, a third-grade teacher at Fairmount Elementary, said she’s facing an Ellis Act eviction from her Mission district apartment and a raise is crucial to helping her family. Another Fairmount teacher, Alejandro Ledesma, 32, said he’s worked for the district for four years without a raise.

“I do love my job, but it just doesn’t pay the bills,” Ledesma said as he held a sign saying “Tax tech, pay educators.”

District officials have said they are committed to giving teachers raises, but SFUSD spokeswoman Gentle Blythe emphasized the bargaining is in its initial stages.

“For the first time since the Great Recession, we are finally beginning to focus on how to prioritize spending of additional resources instead of how to absorb budget cuts,” she said.

The district anticipates that the state budget will allow it to “begin making progress in restoring school site budgets and improving staff compensation,” Blythe said, but added that the union’s demands would put the district “significantly in the red.”

She added that overall compensation for SFUSD teachers is one of the highest in the Bay Area, ranking second after San Jose. The SFUSD’s highest-paid teachers fall in the middle of the Bay Area teacher pay scale at $82,000, and nearly half of all teachers make $65,000, also in the middle for teacher salaries across the region, Blythe said.

Matthew Hardy, union spokesman, countered that city teachers “get paid quite low compared to school districts surrounding us.”

“Rent is going up, teachers are getting squeezed out of The City,” he said. “Teachers are having to commute [and spend] less time with students. It benefits The City and our community to have teachers living in the city where they teach.”

Nicole Warner, 35, a special-education teacher at Washington High School and a native of San Francisco, is looking for a bigger apartment for her and her daughter but said the closest affordable place she’s found is in Vallejo, despite working two extra jobs in addition to her $51,000 annual teacher’s salary.

“What’s going to happen if I’m continuing to stay in the district and commuting 45 minutes to an hour each day?” Warner said. “It affects my job that I care very much about, and it affects the students.”

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