SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Mail-in ballots for the June election going out next week in San Francisco will feature a familiar item for voters: Prop G, a parcel tax to increase pay for teachers.
Voters were told in 2008 that Prop A’s $198 parcel tax was needed because “San Francisco has the highest cost of living of any city in California” and with the parcel tax, the schools could “recruit and pay teachers a living wage so they don’t keep leaving.”
Voters passed Prop A.
Proposition G asks for another parcel tax — this one for $298 a parcel because, “San Francisco is one of the most expensive places to live in the country” and the tax will help teachers “afford to live here.”
Reeta Madhavan is the Chief Financial Officer for the San Francisco Unified School District.
“We are hoping that the new Prop G ballot passes, If that passes, it’ll provide an additional $50 million to the school district,” said Madhavan. “Our district operating budget is about $800 million.”
The school district’s operating budget grew from $528 million in the 2009-2010 budget to $770 million in 2016-2017 budget. That’s an increase of more than $240 million since Prop A passed.
So why the need for another parcel tax?
One reason is the dramatic rise in pension costs.
“I believe in 2013-2014, everybody at the state level realized that there was a huge deficit in the CalSTRS plan,” explained Madhavan.
CalSTRS is the state pension plan just for California teachers. Several years ago it was on the brink of disaster. To rescue it, a new law increased the amount school districts have to pay.
In fiscal year 2009-2010, San Francisco’s school district paid $20 million to CalSTRS. In fiscal year 2016-2017, it was $53 million. And that number is going to get bigger by about $5 million a year until at least 2020.
This is one reason the school district says it needs a parcel tax to fund teacher salaries.
“To answer your question, whether that’s a reason we need Prop G, that’s one of the reasons,” said Madhavan. “Because, think about it: if we had that $5 million each year, we could put that towards teacher salaries versus paying it out in increased CalSTRS contributions.”
Joe Nation is a professor of public policy at Stanford. He says teachers should be paid more, but if pensions are taking away from money for teachers salaries, voters should know.
“If you’re asking to raise taxes for pensions, just say it’s for pensions,” said Nation.