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Chula Vista Bond Measure Could Build Affordable Housing For Teachers And Staff

John J. Montgomery Elementary School in Chula Vista

Photo by Chula Vista Elementary School District.

Above: John J. Montgomery Elementary School in Chula Vista

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The Chula Vista Elementary School Districts wants to build affordable housing units for its employees by raising local property taxes. Taxpayer advocates and teachers have some concerns.

Aired: February 5, 2020 | Transcript

As housing costs continue to rise in California, one school district could be the first in San Diego County to house its employees.

With Measure M, Chula Vista Elementary School District is asking voters to raise local property taxes to modernize classrooms and build a 100-unit affordable housing complex for teachers and staff. The district hopes the subsidized units will attract new teachers, especially for special education students and English learners.

“The district needs to incentivize coming to Chula Vista Elementary School District for those positions that we have a difficult time hiring for,” said Oscar Esquivel, a deputy superintendent who oversees the district’s finances.

Across California, school boards and superintendents are lamenting a lack of funding from the state. Declining enrollment, rising pension costs and more students receiving special education services have tightened budgets statewide.

With Measure M on the March ballot, the Chula Vista district is proposing a $300 million bond. Of that amount, $65 million would go to affordable housing units for teachers and staff. Esquivel said bonds are not just about buildings: investing in facilities is an investment in students.

RELATED: Santa Cruz, The Least Affordable Place For Teachers, Is Trying To Make It More Livable

“I’ve been here for about 20 years now, and we’re one of the first school districts to have air-conditioned all our classrooms,” he said. “It’s a priority to make sure students are comfortable in a learning environment.”

Chula Vista Elementary School District employs more than 2,500 teachers and staff. Teacher salaries range from about $51,000 to just over $103,000.

The average sale price of a home in Chula Vista is about $708,000. Affording a 30-year mortgage would require an annual household income of about $108,000.

The average three or four-bedroom apartment costs about $2500 a month, which would require a household income of about $86,000 a year.

Susan Skala, president of the district’s teachers’ union, supports Measure M with enthusiasm but is worried that living with your coworkers could create tensions at school.

“Maybe I’m up one night playing music too loudly, and that goes to work with me,” she said. “I just see potential for complications.”

The bond measure would raise property taxes by up to $30 for every $100,000 of property value. A location for the housing complex has not yet been identified, but the district said rental costs would be about 80% of market value.

The San Diego County Taxpayers Association, which reviews school bonds throughout the county, did not endorse the measure. Kelly Batten, the director of policy and governmental affairs at the Association, said the teacher housing component was the only thing holding the Association back from endorsement. She said the district didn’t provide enough details on how the money would be spent and how the housing complex would be maintained.

“When we look at bonds, if a district isn’t specific on how they’re gonna use the money, we tend to not support those,” Batten said. “We want the voters to be aware and educated on exactly how those funds will be spent.”

But Chula Vista isn’t the first district in California to tackle affordable housing with a bond. Jefferson Union High School District just south of San Francisco is breaking ground on Wednesday for their employee housing unit, which is being funded with a bond measure that passed in 2018.

School Board President Kalihmah Salahuddin said the 122-unit housing complex will help, but she called it a band-aid to the problem of recruiting and keeping teachers. She said the state needs to take education funding seriously for a more permanent solution.

“I didn’t run for school board to become a housing developer, “ Salahuddin said. “To me, it’s just a reflection of where we are in the state when it comes to education, that school boards are having to do this to keep the staff we need to educate our students.”

Despite her reluctance about staff housing, Skala agreed.

“I think it’s a noble idea,” she said. “They’re addressing the fact that we can’t solve the housing issue with just a pay increase, so maybe this is one way we can lighten the load a little bit.”

Measure M needs 55% of the votes to pass. Chula Vista voters decide on March 3.

Listen to this story by Joe Hong.

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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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