Tell the Truth SF Unified

David Crane
Lecturer and Research Scholar at Stanford University and President of Govern for California

In June San Francisco’s school board wants voters to approve a new “parcel tax” of $298 per parcel of real property. They claim the money — $50 million per year — is needed to provide teachers with living wages. That’s a worthy objective but it’s not the real reason behind the proposed tax. The real reason is buried deep in SFUSD financial reports from 2012 and 2017:

“STRS” = pensions. “OPEB” = health care for retired employees. In just five years SFUSD’s spending on pensions and retiree health care increased $50 million, more than doubling to nearly $100 million.

In 2012 retirement costs were 26 percent of the amount spent on teacher salaries. By 2017 that figure had jumped nearly 70 percent. As a result, this year only 29 percent of SFUSD’s budget will go to teacher salariesThat pathetic figure is another example of San Francisco not walking its progressive talk.

Revenues aren’t the problem. District revenues rose a healthy 36 percent over that five year period and Governor Brown’s budget shows spending per pupil in California will near $16,000 this year. SFUSD’s failure to attack retirement costs is the problem.

Absent reform, retirement costs will consume ever larger shares of SFUSD’s budget, as explained here. Absent action, the tax measure is the equivalent of applying a bandaid to a cancer. Yet the tax measure does not disclose those facts to voters or that retirement costs can be reduced.

If a private sector enterprise sought $50 million per year from investors and didn’t disclose the real reason it needed the money or the complete truth about the enterprise’s finances its executives could go to jail.

As if it’s not bad enough that SFUSD is suppressing salaries for the current generation of teachers in order to subsidize the last generation of teachers, the tax measure also exempts people older than 65 from the new tax, generating yet another wealth transfer from the young to the old.

SFUSD teachers need higher salaries. SFUSD has the money but is directing it elsewhere. The SFUSD board should attack OPEB and pension costs before asking property owners for more money.

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