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[whitespace] Funding program strives to assist teacher housing problems

Sunnyvale--Recruit and retain. That's the mission of Santa Clara Unified School District's new mortgage assistance plan, an innovative approach to a problem faced by many local districts--hiring and keeping teachers.

Last Monday, SCUSD, which includes four schools in Sunnyvale, unveiled a partnership with Intel Corporation that will pay up to $500 a month to eligible teacher's mortgages. Roger Barnes, the district's director of education partnerships, said the infusion from the district would magnify teachers borrowing potential.

Barnes said lenders typically assume a homeowner can afford a mortgage payment one-third their monthly income. The $500, paid directly to the mortgage company would qualify the teacher for a loan normally reserved for someone earning $1,500 more per month than the teacher's base salary.

With beginning teachers earning in the mid-$30,000 range, Barnes said the assistance is sorely needed. Many teachers tire of the cost of living and leave the area, often for areas with comparable salaries and more affordable homes.

"We'd like to keep them here," he said. "We'd like to make it easier to buy a house and stay here."

Barnes said funding for the plan comes from a $10 million bond purchased by Intel, the Santa Clara-based computer company. The bond returns a below-market rate of interest. The city invests the money at a higher rate. The difference, estimated at $1.25 million, is used to fund the program. Teachers return the money after five years or when they sell their home. Barnes said teachers could repay the money, which after five years could reach $30,000, by refinancing.

The district also is building an apartment complex for new teachers that is scheduled to open in 2002.

Barnes said the details of the plan had to mesh together slowly as no models existed to copy. It may not be long, however, until other districts follow Santa Clara's lead.

Joe Rudnicki, superintendent of Sunnyvale School District, said the district is attempting to mitigate housing costs. He said the district already has trouble retaining teachers, a problem he only sees as becoming worse.

"I believe we're seeing the bare tip of this iceberg," he said. "That's the fear, a real fear."

Bob Roberts, president of the Sunnyvale School District board, said they are looking into a variety of ways to assist teachers, from building apartments to subsidizing rent to starting a housing office that helps teachers qualify for existing programs.

Roberts said he hopes to avert a teacher shortage he sees reaching a crisis level within four to five years if sufficient action is not taken..

Mike Hawks, assistant superintendent of Fremont Union High School District headquartered in Sunnyvale, said he sees the housing problem in less dire terms, but said his district is also looking at what other districts are doing.

"We're still reasonably successful recruiting, reasonably successful keeping people," he said. "[But] we're interested in good ideas and following how they work."
Sam Scott

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