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Teachers Become Super-Commuters To Work In San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) --  Most people have that one teacher who changed the course of their life forever, but increasingly, students in the Bay Area are losing the opportunity to have that kind of relationship with an educator.

Thousands of teachers have left San Francisco due to a lack of affordable housing. Megan Caluza is trying desperately to avoid becoming one of them.

After 15 years at San Francisco Unified School District, she's finally become a super-commuter, someone who spends more than 90 minutes a day commuting to work.

Every morning before sunrise, she's already up. She leaves her home in Oakland, boards a BART train, transfers to an SFMTA Muni train and walks uphill to her school in San Francisco's Sunset District.

"It does feel like a huge chunk of the day, three hours, that's an eighth of my whole day," Caluza said.

She used to live in San Francisco, but after her rent went up every year, she moved from neighborhood to neighborhood. Every year she was hit with another multi-hundred dollar rent increase until one day when it increased too much.

"We got a rent increase of $400 and that was the moment we knew we had to move," she said.

The entire state is facing a teacher shortage, but in the Bay Area it's especially bad. SFUSD estimates teacher turnover has remained steady between 9% and 12% each year, but the teacher's union estimates it's higher than that at 21%.

That means anywhere from 300-700 educators leave San Francisco every year. In the past year, the union says it's lost 3,000 educators.

"In my ideal world, my home is near my students' homes, we're real neighbors," Caluza said.

Living across the Bay in Oakland, Caluza says she loses precious time with her students, her three hour commute makes it difficult to stay late at after school events and makes it challenging to invest in her new community in Oakland.

"That's a huge part of the educator life is being part of the educator community and that's suffering greatly," she said.

SFUSD has steadily increased teachers' salaries to improve retention. In 2016, the average teacher made $62,000 a year and now the average teacher makes $83,000, but in San Francisco they're still considered low income (low income in San Francisco for one person means making less than $90,450 a year).

"Housing instability for educators is now very quickly rising to crisis level," Peter Cohen said.

Cohen is the co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, a nonprofit that advocates on behalf of SFUSD's educators. His organization released a study this fall entitled "Who Will Teach Our Children?"

"Folks are realizing that a teacher who is struggling with their housing is not going to be as good at their job," Cohen said.

The study highlights how most teachers cannot afford to rent in San Francisco. At $83,000 a year, affording rent means paying less than $2,075 a month in a city where the average one bedroom costs $3,706 a month.

"It really enriches kids' educational experience when they have a connection to a teacher who's kind of there with them as they develop. That doesn't just come automatically or free, those teachers have to be respected and protected," Cohen said.

Low income and black communities, particularly San Francisco's Bayview schools, are being hit the hardest.

At Willie Brown Middle School, 76% of students are socioeconomically disadvantaged--37% of students are black at Willie Brown compared to 8% district wide. By year three at Willie Brown, 47% of teachers have left. That's more than double the district average.

In addition to increasing salaries, SFUSD is also adding much anticipated teacher housing. 100 teachers will soon be able to live at the former Francis Scott Key Elementary school. It's a $44 million project, one of many in the works around the region.

"I think we all want to believe there's a place for us here, that our wages will keep pace with the housing that's available to us," Caluza said.

For more than a decade, thousands of teachers have learned the hard way that they cannot afford to live in San Francisco. That's what Caluza's commuting all these miles for: desperately trying to avoid becoming the district's next dropout.

"This is the city I love and the community I love and to think I'm being pushed out against my will has been really hard. I love this place, I love coming to work every day, I love seeing kids, and to think someday I can't do it? It's a very difficult reality to live in every day," Caluza said.

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