“Townhomes for Teachers" could be a catchy slogan for a pilot program the Pinellas School District should agree to try. The idea is to convert the vacant Euclid School property near downtown St. Petersburg into affordable housing for teachers. Despite declining property values, it remains difficult for teachers to find homes in Pinellas with mortgage payments that are in line with their salaries.
In an era of deep budget cuts, School Board members Linda Lerner and Nancy Bostock argue that the district should be wary of relinquishing property valued at $1.5-million in 2006. But the counterargument is more compelling. Difficult times such as these, when the district is unlikely to be able to offer teachers substantial raises, call for innovative solutions and, indeed, some risk-taking.
The other five board members agreed this week to take a small step forward, allowing the nonprofit Downtown St. Petersburg Partnership to launch a four-month feasibility study. A School Board vote would come later. This plan was first proposed three years ago, and it is time to see if underwriting affordable housing is another creative way to attract and retain good teachers. And if teachers do not buy all of the 27 townhomes, firefighters, nurses and police officers also would be eligible.
A pilot program might be a model for the future. Or candidly, it could fail. There are plenty of details to work out. What if a teacher moves or leaves the profession? Would a teacher own just the townhome or the land as well? What's a fair price for the teacher as well as the taxpayer? But those specific questions should not stand in the way of testing a worthy idea.