Yesterday I picked up a newspaper (yes they still actually print them!) and read the following headline: "For teachers in pricey enclaves, paying the rent a tough assignment". Wait a minute, I thought, is this article about my own staff? Every year I lose teachers and support staff for the simple reason that they can't afford to live within a reasonable commuting distance from the school. They search out and find positions farther afield, away from the crazy prices and low vacancy rates of the Greater Vancouver area, or they desert the province altogether. Even the ones who stay, are worn down by the long commutes or crippling rents that have a huge impact on their quality of life. An individual school like ours can't do much to mitigate this problem, but it would appear from the above mentioned article, that a number of school districts in the United States have taken up the challenge in a creative and effective way.
The solution, in an era of declining enrolments and under utilized schools has been, not to sell of property, but to convert it to subsidized housing for staff! In San Francisco for example, the school district has announced that they are going to build 100 housing units on district property and implement rental subsidies and forgivable housing loans to help to retain younger faculty and staff.In Silicon Valley, the district is converting a closed elementary school site to 200 rental units and offering them to staff at below market rates. Rather than selling off property to developers, they are using it to attract and retain high calibre staff. Universities have been doing the same thing for years in order to attract professors to areas with high costs of living. Independent schools, especially those with boarding, offer faculty housing as an additional incentive to getting the best people to relocate. This is not a new idea, it just hasn't been actively applied in our public school districts.
Perhaps now is the time for some creative thinking. This is a project that school districts, the province, and employee unions should be able to get behind. Rather that disposing of property as a one time cash grab, how about using it to invest in the long-term stability of the system, and the maintenance of high quality and less stressed staff?
It's a win/win for everyone!