Tax-for-teachers idea floated

In an attempt to attract and retain quality teachers, San Francisco school officials are hoping to place a parcel tax on a June 2008 ballot that would generate a steady stream of revenue for salaries.

Wanting to reverse the tide of high teacher turnover in the district, the San FranciscoUnified School District is turning to an increasing popular trend for cash-strapped districts that need to raise funds for personnel and programs.

“We don’t want to be in the position every year where we’re struggling to pay our basic salaries,” said school board President Mark Sanchez, during a roundtable of key educational leaders Tuesday.

The San Francisco district employs more than 3,000 teachers, many who cannot afford to stay in the district because of the low salaries. A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree makes $41,116 in The City.

SFUSD recently wrapped up negotiations with its teachers union for a contract that includes a 3 percent salary hike starting in January, which one board member called “measly.”

Parcel taxes, which require a two-thirds approval vote, are generally flat fees on residential and commercial properties. They typically fund educational programs rather than construction.

School district officials and community members acknowledge that the timeline for putting a parcel tax on the June ballot is not in their favor — the school board would have to approve a measure by February, and so far, decisions about how much it would be and what exactly it would fund have not been made. There is also likely to be heavy opposition to a new tax.

Critics say a parcel tax would never pass in San Francisco because property owners already approved Proposition H, which requires that one-third of The City’s annual allocation be earmarked for free preschool programs, one-third for sports, arts, libraries and music in district schools, and one-third for general use.

Voters “are not going to be happy digging deeper into their pockets,” said Wade Randlett, president of lobbying organization SFSOS.

Members of the educational community, however, realize they have an uphill battle.

“We need to get the support of people who don’t have kids in the schools and appeal to people’s pride in The City,” said Emily Murase, a member of the school board’s Parent Advisory Council.

If SFUSD successfully levies a parcel tax, it would join dozens of school districts in the Bay Area that have already done so. Many of those taxes fund the recruitment and retention of teachers and reduced-class-size programs.

From 1983 through November 2006, California voters approved 211 parcel taxes in 416 elections, according to Education Data Partnership, a comprehensive database of kindergarten through 12th-grade schools in the state.

Since the 1980s, Bay Area parcel taxes have ranged from $39 to $550 per property a year, with terms from four to 10 years, according to Education Data Partnership.

arocha@examiner.com

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