With the last Palo Alto Unified School District Board of Education meeting, the board addressed many of the problems in the Palo Alto community on Oct. 15. The most prominent matter discussed is that of the new staff and teacher housing.
During the meeting, the board discussed the potential for staff housing on San Antonio Road on district-owned property. Many teachers and staff say they can’t afford to live in the Bay Area, which has a median housing cost 10 times above the national average.
A staff housing survey conducted in March 2019 by the district asked 1,365 respondents about their commute time to school and affordability in their current housing arrangement. 53% of respondents said they were unsatisfied with their housing arrangements, 59% of respondents said they were considering leaving the district because of the housing costs in the area and 79% of respondents said they would be interested in housing provided by the district.
Andrew Lie, president of Jefferson Union High School District Board of Education, said he believes his district’s efforts at providing affordable housing for staff will be well-received by many staff members.
“In the short term, providing below-market rate housing will alleviate the financial strain caused by soaring Bay Area rents,” Lie said. “In the long term, we hope that providing housing will help faculty and staff develop the financial stability needed to purchase a home with the money saved on rent. We plan to offer financial planning so that staff can come up with a savings plan. We already offer mortgage down payment assistance through Landed.”
Lie said housing is an important benefit that helps recruit and retain high quality faculty and staff.
“If we can lower the cost of housing, we can remove one barrier for staff to live in the community in which they teach and work,” Lie said. “The cost of housing in the San Francisco Bay Area makes it difficult for educators to live in the communities in which they work. The problem is very acute with our district, which comprises the communities of Daly City, Pacifica, Brisbane, Colma and Broadmoor.”
With the lowest property tax base of the high school districts in San Mateo County, Lie has expressed that this means that we have lower revenue than our neighbors
“This leads to lower salaries for our employees,” Lie said. “Many employees commute from communities outside of the District, or have second jobs to cover the high cost of living.”
Board President Jennifer DiBrienza said the No. 1 matter the district is addressing equity.
“Our test scores, as well as stories from our low income students and students of color, tell us we are not serving all students equally well,” DiBrienza said. “We are working hard to address this at multiple levels — academic supports for those who benefit, anti-bias work for all members of the community and family engagement to better serve all families and their needs.”
DiBrienza said the board is also focused on examining the middle school experience in the district.
“Part of that is related to the equity issue, but I also think middle school is a challenging time for all kids, and we need to be really thoughtful about how we structure the experience for students,” DiBrienza said.
DiBrienza said surrounding districts are starting to build workforce housing for their teachers.
“The county is already moving forward on a county-wide program to build housing in Palo Alto for surrounding districts to take advantage of,” DiBrienza said. “While that project is important, it is by no means enough housing for us. There is potential to eventually build housing on San Antonio at one of our properties. I look forward to working with my colleagues and the district staff to consider our options on this issue.”
Finally, the board discussed the updated designs proposed for the turf fields at Gunn and Paly. According to the district, at both sites the turf fields that are 10 years old and torn up. The new project includes removing existing turf and placing drainage systems.