Homework troubles

School district helps the city with affordable housing, but teachers say they're the ones who need help



The San Francisco Board of Education approved a land swap with city government on Dec. 10, gifting San Francisco an empty lot that it will use to build new affordable housing. That's 115 units of living space for low-income San Francisco renters, wrapped in a bow for the holidays.

The proposal was the brainchild of board members Hydra Mendoza-McDonnell and Sandra Lee Fewer, who worked on the measure with the Mayor's Office of Housing for over two years. The district will trade a lot on 1950 Mission street and another on Connecticut Street in exchange for a property it currently rents from the city of San Francisco. The city will also pay SFUSD $4.5 million, according to district data.

The deal was the culmination of that work, which Fewer said was the right thing to do.

"Could we get more money from [selling] this property with a private developer? I'm sure. But would we get the value? No," Fewer said at the meeting.

The original intent of the land swap was to provide affordable housing for the school district's employees. Project proponents say school district workers are being priced out of San Francisco in droves. But the affordable housing project will be general use, with no specific provisions for teachers or other SFUSD workers.

teachersinSF Though the teachers' union supports the land swap, United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly warned that teachers are in dire need.

"It's more than an oversight, it's an insult, felt very deeply, and very bitterly," Kelly said at the podium. "Affordable housing will not house a single teacher, not a single one, because of where the dollar breaks are."

The board has made various promises over the past decade to aid with teacher housing, all empty words, Kelly told the Guardian. There's yet to be a solution from the school district or the board on finding sustainable housing for teachers.

The problem is a microcosm of one of San Francisco's toughest challenges during this tech-fueled affordable housing crisis. Affordable housing helps the poor, and the rich certainly don't need help staying in the city, but help for middle-income earners is hard to come by.



Research from education nonprofit ASCD shows most first-year teachers face three challenges: difficulty learning to manage classroom behavior, an overload of curriculum creation, and lack of school support. San Francisco's new teachers face a fourth: finding a place to sleep at night.

Second-year SFUSD science teacher Kate Magary, 29, knows this all too well. Her first year on the job went from challenging to hellish as she looked for an affordable place to live.

Despite having a modestly salaried full-time job, she couldn't afford a studio on her own. She eventually found a room for rent on Craigslist, but her noisy roommates made grading papers and writing curriculum a constant challenge. She started a new apartment hunt, but even that was like a full-time job.

"As a first-year teacher, it was awful," Magary said. "I tried not to let it affect me too much at school, but the stress from home eventually made it with me to the classroom."

She over-disciplined some kids, she said, and her patience was at the breaking point for most of the year. When teachers suffer, students suffer.

Magary is a science teacher at the Academy of Arts and Sciences, which is on the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts campus at Twin Peaks. Three-story homes and apartment buildings dot the hills along the road from Market Street on her drive to school, but Magary can't afford them.