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 annual retirement costs increased $50 million, more than doubling to nearly $100 million.
In 2012 retirement costs were 26 percent of the amount SFUSD spent on teacher salaries. By 2017 that figure had jumped nearly 70 percent. As a result, this year SFUSD is devoting only 29 percent of its budget to teacher salaries. That pathetic figure is yet 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 according to Governor Brown, spending per pupil in California will near $16,000 this year. SFUSD’s failure to attack retirement costs is the problem.
In the absence of reform, retirement costs will consume even more of SFUSD’s budget, as explained here. Yet the tax measure does not disclose that fact to voters. It also doesn’t disclose that retirement costs can be reduced. For example, the City of Glendale reduced OPEB costs in order to protect city services. 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 truth about the enterprise’s future finances its executives could go to jail.
In addition to suppressing current teacher salaries in order to finance retired teachers, the measure’s sponsors exempt 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.