School Beat: Yes on Proposition A–Every Child Deserves a Great Teacher

by Rachel Norton on April 3, 2008

It’s no surprise to anyone that California’s school funding formulas are seriously flawed – our state is 46th in the nation in per student funding, and if the Governor gets his way, we’ll likely fall to dead last on the list. For decades, local communities have sought to take matters into their own hands by assessing additional property taxes to make ends meet and free their schools from the periodic bust cycles brought on by wildly fluctuating state appropriations for education.

Now it’s San Francisco’s turn. On June 3, voters will be asked to approve Proposition A, which assesses $198 each year per land parcel in the City. While no one particularly likes taxes, this assessment is modest compared to those passed in these nearby communities:

• Albany–$250 per parcel (passed 2005);
• Lafayette $313 per parcel (passed 2007);
• Kentfield–$774 per parcel (passed 2008).

In fact, California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction remarked to me recently that he was surprised San Francisco hadn’t instituted a parcel tax long before now, and committed to help campaign locally for Proposition A. Even the San Francisco Republican Party acknowledges the need for a tax to fund teacher recruitment and retention.

Proposition A will give San Francisco residents more control over our education funding, and insulate us from the drastic cost-cutting that periodically happens when state revenues suddenly fall short, as they have this year. The funds raised will be primarily for teacher recruitment, retention and training, as well as upgrading and replacing old technologies.

Studies continually show that the single biggest factor in student achievement is a quality teacher. I’ve been a San Francisco public school parent for six years, and I never cease to be amazed at the quality of our teachers. My oldest daughter is in special education, and started in a district preschool program when she was just three years old. The first teacher who worked with us was an exceptionally skilled and intuitive teacher who helped my daughter get ready to thrive in mainstream Kindergarten; I will always be grateful to her for the head start she gave my child.

Each year since then, we have been so fortunate to work with teachers who put their students first, who figure out what their students need and then work tirelessly to help them achieve it. This year, my daughter’s third grade teacher is one of the most dedicated and creative professionals I have ever met.
We ask a tremendous amount of our teachers. We ask them to work long hours; to work with challenging populations; to do amazing things with little administrative support and few resources. And they do it–for less than they could earn in districts just a few miles away. But I worry about our teachers’ morale and I worry about burnout, since studies also show that many teachers leave the profession in their first three years of teaching.

My younger daughter’s teacher loves her students and is a joy to watch in the classroom, but as someone new to the profession she is still getting used to the incredible demands of the job. Last month, she got a pink slip, which – though it was no reflection on the quality of her teaching and the focus and effort she brings to her job – felt like a slap in the face. For the first time, she said, she wondered whether it was all worth it. “My husband and I want to stay in San Francisco and have our own family here,” she told me. “But maybe it’s just too hard.”

These are difficult times for California schools; Proposition A gives San Francisco one measure of financial control over our schools, enabling us to pay our teachers better, recruit the best new teachers and keep and support the ones we have. Passing this measure is a way we can say to San Francisco teachers: “We care about you. We support you. Our city would be less without you.”

Proposition A will only pass if it receives a two-thirds majority on June 3rd. Every child deserves a great teacher, and our teachers need your support. Support them by voting YES on Proposition A.

Rachel Norton is a parent of two children currently attending a San Francisco public school. She is a candidate for the Board of Education in November. To learn more about Proposition A, please visit the Vote Yes on Proposition A web site (http://www.voteyesonpropositiona.com).

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