At the School Board meeting on Tuesday night the School Board recognized Ruby Bridges teacher, Mandie Cline as Teacher of the Year, but on the same night teachers came up to speak out about how it is becoming increasingly difficult for Alameda teachers to afford living in the Bay Area on their teachers’ salaries.
According to the teachers that spoke, Alameda teachers are the second lowest compensated teachers in Alameda County. Add to that the high cost of Bay Area living and there is a recipe for an exodus. In fact the teachers also spoke about how Alameda’s teachers have to abandon AUSD for greener pastures because of the low compensation.
At some point we, as a community, need to decide what we are going to do to retain our experienced and veteran teaching staff.
Unsurprisingly we are not the only community to struggle with salaries and increased cost of living, but unlike Alameda some communities have attempted to address the issue by helping with housing costs. Earlier this year Governing magazine pointed out that where housing is expensive, there is a lack of teachers:
In many urban areas, the cost of housing is so high that educators simply cannot afford to live anywhere near the school where they teach. As a result, many wind up with a tortuous commute after working long hours.
These housing shortages are problematic not only for recruitment but also when it comes to retention of teachers. That’s because a new, young teacher might be able to afford an apartment or a house by renting with roommates, but if they get married and have children, it can be impossible for the family to find an affordable place to live.
When districts fail to retain teachers, the quality of the educational system suffers. According to Anne Podolsky of the Learning Policy Institute, “we found that teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement throughout a teacher’s career.” On top of that, educators who live in the same area as their students also have a better understanding of their pupils’ roots, the places they gather and the general ambience of the community.
And NPR covered the issue as well pointing out that teachers are paying a disproportionate amount of their income on housing alone:
Inside, third-grade teacher Tara Hunt, a 16-year veteran, is preparing for the next teaching day. She gets up around 4 a.m. to make it in from the coastal village of Capitola — a commute that can take two hours in traffic.
She desperately wants to move closer to work. But, so far, that’s not happening.
“This is where all the tech jobs are. And it’s pushing out your community helpers,” she says. “The cost of living just keeps going up and up.”
Hunt can’t help but wonder: “Who do we blame? Do we blame the homeowners who are renting out their property? Do we blame the city?”
I ask Hunt what percentage of her monthly income she’s spending on housing: “More than 50 percent for rent, no question. Not including utilities.”
The general rule, I remind her, is that you shouldn’t spend more than one-third. “Right,” she says, laughing “Whoever came up with that rule never lived in California. They’re from Missouri or Ohio.”
But here’s what some cities are doing:
Cities and communities, meantime, are scrambling to find solutions. Scores of cities have added affordable-housing quotas to rules on new development. Some are debating building subsidized condos or apartments specifically for teachers.
Palo Alto’s City Council is exploring several ideas including subsidized housing for teachers and other public servants who can’t afford local rents but make too much to qualify for low-income housing.
San Francisco is taking several steps, including forgivable housing loans, mortgage assistance and, eventually, affordable housing specifically for teachers. In May the city will restart its Teacher Next Door program, which offers city teachers up to $20,000 toward the purchase of their first home.
Alameda has yet to really address the housing shortage for teachers and is still in a sort of denial about the need to properly compensate the teaching staff. Neglecting one is bad enough, but both will lead to more attrition that will make Alameda no longer the place of “great schools” like we are accustomed to bragging about.