Editorial: Affordable Housing is needed for LG Educators

By: Bridie Beamish, Lucy Panicacci, and Kate Gruetter

Culture and National/World Editors

As the US experiences a time of economic distress, Americans watch as financial difficulties spell out issues in other areas, specifically for educators and the growing teacher shortage. Low wages and high stress exacerbate this crisis, and many educators find paying for housing difficult, leading them to seek homes outside of their school district. This search has only intensified in areas with unaffordable housing, such as the Bay Area and specifically, Los Gatos, one of the priciest zip codes in the US. In the midst of these issues, students must recognize teachers’ struggles and promote changes for educators within their community, including better pay and affordable housing. 

AP Language teacher Kristen Austin has taught at Los Gatos High School since 1999. Since then, she says that the cost of real estate has “skyrocketed.” Austin moved to Santa Cruz in the summer of 2020 after living in Los Gatos for 20 years. “I was planning for my retirement, and I couldn’t afford to live in Los Gatos and ever retire,” she stated. “So I needed to think ahead and cut my costs significantly. . .It would have been nice to stay here forever so that when my kids came back they’d have a place to stay in Los Gatos, but it wasn’t an affordable option long term.” Austin believes that this current situation is not sustainable. In order to ameliorate these circumstances, it’s essential that teacher salaries reflect living costs, so teachers can live in the same place where they work. Austin stated, “If not, we’re gonna continue to lose teachers and have trouble recruiting them and retaining them.”

English and Philosophy teacher Brian Schunk also shared his insight on what it is like to be a younger teacher living in Los Gatos. After living at his parents’ home for his first year of teaching, Schunk began renting an apartment about seven months ago. When describing the challenge of affording rent in Los Gatos, Schunk declared, “It’s definitely not easy for a first or second year teacher [to afford rent] since newer teachers get paid less.” He added, “There are a lot of comparable districts in the area that pay teachers much more with respect to cost of living.” Due to the fact that other districts pay teachers higher wages, teachers transfer to those higher-paying districts, resulting in a teacher shortage and educational challenges for many districts that do not pay higher wages. 

Though the financial situation for LGHS teachers is certainly not ideal, Schunk believes the community has done a wonderful job supporting beneficial candidates in the latest school board election. He followed up: “We can hope for brighter days, but there are a lot of factors that are outside of our control. The district is doing what it can to balance everything in terms of its budget, and they’re working within the constraints from the state. It’s more complicated than any of us can really say.”

          In the Bay Area, the housing crisis for teachers has led to drastic measures, including on-campus housing facilities and districts asking students to house teachers. In the fall of 2022, local voters approved legislation for the Jefferson Union School District in San Francisco to create a 122-unit apartment complex specifically for teachers and staff, so they can live and continue to work in the area. Teachers welcomed these arrangements. Michaela Ott, a Biology teacher at Jefferson High School, explained, “If I hadn’t gotten housing, it would have been really challenging for me to make ends meet.” She emphasized the importance of housing, proclaiming, “I feel a weight lifted off my shoulders.” 

          In October of 2022, Support Teacher Housing (STH) founder Sarah Chaffin spoke to the Mercury News about the organization’s creation of four new affordable units designed for teachers in Los Gatos. STH is an organization dedicated to creating sustainable and affordable housing for the “missing-middle” in Silicon Valley. Chaffin stated that watching her daughter cycle through teachers who could no longer afford to live in the district’s area gave her the idea to create the affordable living spaces. Chaffin explained, “All the people that are so critical, that make our economy run, those are our community helpers. They can no longer afford to live here, and there really is no help for them because they don’t qualify for the traditional affordable programs. So they’re trapped in that middle.” Community partners came together to give discounted additions to the apartment in order to keep construction costs and rents as low as possible. Los Gatos Roofing constructed the roofs for free, and Adanac Fire Protection donated a 13,000 dollar fire sprinkler system to the units. Still, the units are only a short term fix to a large scale problem.

After a decrease in teachers’ pay following the 2008 recession, the Los Gatos Saratoga Union High School District  District Teachers’ Association (DTA) ratified a new teacher contract in December 2021. This new contract guaranteed a five percent raise to all staff in each of the next three years, starting in the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Listening to teachers’ rallies for change emphasizes the importance of advocating for teachers. Austin assured that, with support, further change is possible: “I think students actually have a bigger say than they realize.” 

While it is critical for students to assist teachers by amplifying their teachers’ concerns and supporting them on strike, the district must also continue listening to and advocating for its teachers. Through standing by their teachers, the district and students of Los Gatos can help influence change and foster new attitudes in our community. This includes acknowledging the sacrifices that our teachers have made to teach in this community and provide us with a quality education. With a chain reaction of teachers quitting their jobs and moving outside of the districts in which they teach, schooling becomes much more difficult, but we cannot blame the teacher shortage and schooling difficulties on educators. Instead, it is imperative that students understand when substitutes may not be available or teachers have issues given longer commutes. Individuals can further support local organizations such as STH and be more mindful of their privilege while understanding that educational problems may arise. 

LGHS is notorious for excellent education and resources, meaning students must recognize their privilege and valuable access they have to education that other students may not receive. Though we may face challenges regarding school at times, there are other districts that struggle much more to cope with teacher shortages. Instead of getting upset when the school faces difficulties, be understanding of the benefits we have and the exceptional teachers who work hard to ensure their students receive quality education. 

(Source: CBS, Mercury News)

Categories: Editorial

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