Many Branham teachers already know what they’ll do with the $6,500 salary increase if voters pass Measure K, a parcel tax that’s expect-
ed to provide a $16.7 million windfall each year for the district. English teacher Mike Espinoza plans to pay off his student loans. Science teacher Juan Fernandez plans to do more traveling. French teacher Laurel Garceau wants to pay off her home equity line of credit. Math teacher Amanda Wilson will use it toward her mortgage.
“I’m pro anything when it comes to increased funding for schools,” said English teacher Melanie Vega.
Measure K, which is up for a vote at the special primary election in March, will tax $298 for each unit of land, and is expected to generate
$16.7 million dollars each year for the eight years it’s in effect. District leaders plan to use that money toward increasing teacher salaries and providing more mental health services and resources for students.
Increasing career technical education (CTE) services was also a priority for the authors of the measure. While facilities bonds cover the district’s need for physical infrastructure, this parcel tax aims to account for the personnel and human needs involved in the education process.
Teachers priced out of district
The Measure K funds come at a time of rising income inequality, especially in the money-rich Silicon Valley, whose top earners make 12.2
times as much as those at the bottom of the economic ladder, a gap that’s wider than anywhere in the state, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, which analyzed 2018 U.S. Census bureau data makes it hard for teachers and staff to find reasonable housing accommodations, especially if they are the sole breadwinner in their family.
According to a 2018 Bear Witness survey, more than 57% of teachers don’t live in the district, where an average three- room family home in Branham’s 95118 often tops $1 million.
“So many teachers (including me) have either moved away or are considering moving away because they can’t afford to live here,” said English teacher Tobie Schweizer, who has taught at Branham for 16 years.
To be considered low-income in San Jose, a family of four has to make below $94,000. The starting teacher salary is $60,000, among the lowest in the county.
“That’s already far below poverty wages in the Bay Area,” said special education teacher Nick Cortez, who is leading the teacher union’s charge to get Measure K passed.
‘We don’t feel valued’
Social science teacher Tania Eaton, a single parent and Branham’s 2016 teacher of the year, wakes up at 5 a.m., teaches six
periods, and then heads to her second job where she teaches SAT prep once a week, just to run out of money by the middle of
She lives in a two bedroom house with her three children, one who attends Branham. She said that her rent takes out
more than half of her paycheck. When the money dries out halfway through the month, she said that she has to start feed-
ing her children macaroni and cheese and Top Ramen for dinner.
Because of this, she has considered leaving Branham and moving in with her mom for a while.
“We (as teachers) don’t feel valued,” Eaton said in an interview last year.
In early 2019, the Campbell High School Teachers Association (CHSTA) agreed to a 4% salary increase, while acknowledging that they will continue to negotiate for a larger increase come this school year.
Cortez, the special education teacher leading efforts to get this passed, said that Measure K will increase the chances of negotiation a more permanent salary increase.
Campaigning for Measure K
Cortez has been active in trying to get voters in the district to approve of the measure, which needs a supermajority —66.7% — to pass. According to Ballotpedia, a nonprofit political encyclopedia, barely half are approved by voters. He has attended special meetings, attended phone banking sessions, written personalized postcards for senior citizens who can choose to opt out of paying a parcel tax. He has attended PTA meetings to seek endorsements from different neighborhood associations. He even takes the effort on to social media, something
that he’s said he’s been loathe to do if it weren’t for Measure K. He’s also walked around neighborhoods on weekends with a small group of teachers and administrators to find anyone who would listen.
“We’ve done a lot and we’re really hopeful that it will pass,” he said.
Canvassing the neighborhood
You don’t know who you’ll meet while walking Branham neighborhoods to talk up Measure K. On one Saturday expedition in early Feb-
ruary, Cortez and two reporters who followed him had their palms read by a man named Gene.
Cortez had been knocking on doors for the past two hours trying to convince voters to vote yes on Measure K. The exchanges had been short and uneventful until now.
While Cortez was making his pitch for Measure K, Gene insisted he start over and shake his hand. Judging from Cortez’s hand, Gene said
he was “authentic,” while he said that the reporter was “creative,” “symmetrical,” but lacked “interpersonal relationships.”
Cortez that day was joined by district superintendent Dr. Robert Bravo, Principal Cheryl Lawton, special education teacher
Michael Dopheide, Measure K volunteer coordinator Sasha Shapiro and school board president Kalen Gallagher.
While the support needed for this parcel tax exists already, the teachers and administrators involved still hope to gain a small
percentage of voters that they feel will secure and solidify its approval.
Measures for measure
The district is no stranger to successful ballot initiatives. In 2016, it convinced voters to pass the Measure AA bond, which raised millions to fund campus renovations such as the four two-story buildings at Branham. However, increased teacher pay has been a thorny issue for both sides, as teachers share stories of working side jobs and long commutes from affordable neighborhoods to make ends meet.
The availability of funds from parcel taxes also creates a disparity in the amount of money the district can spend on its students and staff.
The district receives around $13,000 per student. Compared to Palo Alto and Mountain View, which receive around $20,000 per student. This means they have more money to go into personal funds.
Staff of San Jose Unified School District make an average of $67,497 compared to CUHSD’s $52,000 to $67,000. The 4% pay increase that was negotiated last year was a temporary relief, but not enough for staffers, as the cost of living has increased proportionally.
To many involved in the advocacy for Measure K, the issue of funding for schools in the Bay Area seems symptomatic of a larger issue with school funding. Cortez said that the use of a parcel tax to fund public education is only a Band-Aid solution where funding for CUHSD’s
needs in the long term may prove challenging.
Prop. 13 has made it impossible for schools to raise taxes based on property values.
“I don’t know anywhere outside of California that passes a parcel tax to fund schools, this is not typical way to fund schools,” he said.
Gallagher, the board president, said that the limitations force the schools to be creative in searching for revenue streams.
“It’s so expensive to live here,” he said. “We can’t control what the state gives us, but what we can control is what we asked the community to put forward.”