Housing crisis drives teacher shortage in Bay Area

With the academic year already under way in some Bay Area school districts, teacher shortages linked to the extreme cost of housing in the region are more prevalent than ever.

In San Jose, where classes began last week, dozens of teaching posts were vacant all summer in East Union High School District, especially in high-demand fields such as special education, math, science and speech therapy. A significant portion of the district’s 27,000 students are likely to end up being taught by job candidates who would normally be rejected because they lacked proper credentials.

Districts can use waivers of minimum requirements in emergencies. According to a San Jose Mercury-News report, the number of teachers given temporary credentials in California schools went from under 5,000 in the 2012-13 school year to 9,900 in 2015-16, the last year for which complete figures are available. That’s nearly two-thirds of the regular teacher certifications issued during the same period – a sharp change from previous eras.

Districts with deep-pockets in wealthy Silicon Valley communities have mostly been able to fill positions. But Oakland Unified has been unable to fill vacancies for special education teachers despite offering $1,000 bonuses to new hires, and has struggled to fill other teacher vacancies as well.

A San Francisco Chronicle report detailed 10 other area districts with teacher openings. San Francisco Unified had the most with 61.

District wants to be housing developer, landlord

The severity of the problem is causing districts to consider ideas that once would have seemed unlikely for a public school system. In Alameda Unified, a proposal to have the district act as the developer and then the landlord of a 70-unit apartment complex for district employees with moderate salaries has won initial OKs. It was developed after an employee survey showed nearly one in five were considering quitting and moving because of the cost of housing.

In San Mateo County, it is county officials taking the lead.

Using $5 million in county seed money, the San Mateo County Housing Endowment and Regional Trust nonprofit plans to begin offering loans to local school districts to help them build housing that teachers can afford. The funds come from a half-cent county sales tax approved by voters last fall to help deal with housing issues.

Skeptics who note the average cost of a San Mateo County home is $1.2 million and the average starting pay of teachers is $50,000 question how much help the county grant will really bring. But some local government officeholders say it’s just the start of ambitious efforts to address a worsening crisis.

In the Legislature, the same dynamic holds for Assembly Bill 45 by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, a Democrat from the Bay Area town of Richmond. It would establish a $25 million state program providing grants to qualified districts to help build housing for district employees, as well as provide loans up to $10 million to developers to build affordable shelter for district employees. With affordable housing units costing at least $300,000 in most urban areas, critics say Thurmond’s proposal wouldn’t change the status quo of the region’s housing crisis.

But like the San Mateo County program, it has its fans – including one far from the Bay Area. Riverside County school Superintendent Judy White told the Southern California News Group she thinks Richmond’s proposal can help “eliminate or minimize housing as a barrier to bringing qualified teachers to our area, that will help us fill needed positions.”

White believes AB45 could be a good vehicle to create her concept of “teacher villages” in Riverside County. Her proposal was the topic of a flattering March story in USA Today.

AB45 passed the Assembly in May and has won approval from two Senate committees, with all votes mostly along party lines.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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