S.F. Mayor Offers $10 Million in Stipends in Bid to Keep Teachers at Highest-Need Schools

Mayor London Breed, pictured here speaking at a private event in October 2018, has advocated for retaining more teachers in the city through financial incentives and affordable housing. (Foundations World Economic Forum/Flickr)

Teachers at San Francisco's hardest-to-staff schools began the school year with news of a much-welcomed bonus.

More than 1,000 teachers at San Francisco Unified's so-called high-potential schools, which predominantly serve lower-income students of color, will receive an additional $3,000 stipend this year. The funding comes from a new $10 million, two-year pilot program, announced Monday — on the first day of school — by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, in an effort to retain educators at schools with high teacher turnover.

This comes in addition to the $2,000 annual stipends that teachers at these schools already receive on top of their base salaries, a bump stemming from a 2008 voter-approved bond. In the coming fiscal year, those educators will also receive an additional $2,500, bringing their total stipend amount to $7,500, the mayor's office said.

"Students in San Francisco deserve a high-quality education, regardless of where they live or go to school," Breed said in a statement. "San Francisco is an expensive place to live and we hope that these stipends will help our educators afford the cost of living so that they can be part of the community in which they work."

California's housing crisis has taken a particularly tough toll on the state's educators, particularly those living and working in expensive coastal regions, where average teaching salaries have generally failed to keep pace with skyrocketing rents or home prices and other living costs.

[Check out the interactive teacher-housing cost calulator tool below.]

Almost nowhere is this more apparent than in notoriously expensive San Francisco. Here, the average SFUSD teacher makes nearly $84,000, according to the district, a salary that's slightly higher than the average for teachers statewide but still hardly enough to cover expenses in a city where rents alone typically exceed $3,000.

"Relatively low pay, on top of a full-fledged housing crisis is a big reason why teachers leave the district," said Jenny Lam, a San Francisco Board of Education commissioner, who also serves as Breed's education adviser. "We see that the turnover rate at high-potential schools is higher. So this is an opportunity to focus in on [those] schools. ... The goal is to continue building retention over time."

Breed's new stipend plan comes on the heels of recent efforts by her administration to create more affordable housing for teachers in the city. One upcoming ballot measure would allow 100% affordable and educator housing to be built on parcels of public land that are over 10,000 square feet (not including parks).

At San Francisco’s 25 high-potential schools, nearly all of which are in the city's Bayview, Mission and southeastern neighborhoods, roughly a third of educators are first- or second-year teachers, and the turnover rate is 27%, as compared to the districtwide rate of 21%, according to the mayor's office.

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"This is fantastic for schools like ours," said Emmanuel S. Stewart, principal of Dr. George Washington Carver Elementary School in the Bayview-Hunter's Point neighborhood. "It's something they should've been paying us for a long time. ... Our educators very seldom get the full compensation they deserve."

Nearly 70% of his school's staff lives outside of San Francisco, Stewart said, noting that an increasing number of his students have also moved out of the city but are still enrolled and now commute to school.

In the three years Stewart has been principal at Carver, at least 10 teachers have departed, many for jobs in higher-paying districts, he said. Last year, three of his young teachers accepted positions at higher-income schools in Palo Alto, taking with them "the [teaching] knowledge that we gave them," he said.

Stewart said he hopes similar financial incentives will be offered to his school's classified staff, including the custodians, food-service workers and instructional assistants, who typically make less than teachers and often face even greater financial strain.

"I'm hoping they'll really consider everyone who’s dedicated time to our community," he said.

Latrice Simmons, an educator at Carver, said she moved out of San Francisco several years ago, and now commutes from Daly City.

"I can’t afford to live in the city. It just got so expensive I couldn’t continue,” she said. "A lot of us are having a hard time staying in the neighborhoods we teach in."

The extra cash the district is offering is a much-needed boost, but still not enough for most teachers to be able to continue living in San Francisco, Simmons said.

"I’ll be honest. We kind of need more," she said. "The typical studio apartment starts at about $3,000. There's not too much left over at that."

But that all aside, she added, "I'm committed to staying in San Francisco, and specifically staying in schools where people look like me. I want to make sure brown and black children have access to a quality education."

How much housing can California teachers afford?

An interactive tool from EdSource, produced by Yuxuan Xie, Daniel J. Willis and Justin Allen.

(Note: salary data based on 2017-18 California Department of Education figures.)


KQED's Holly McDede contributed reporting to this article.

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