Commentary: Schools and City Face the Cost of Deferring

The city council on Tuesday and the school board in the coming weeks and months will face a difficult choice – do they ask the voters to help bail them out of past mistakes?  No one wants to look at the problem in this way, but that is reality.  The reality is also that most of the members on these bodies and the fairly recently hired school superintendent coupled with the brand new city manager were not responsible for many if not most of the practices that got us into the bind that we are in.

The teachers have the advantage right now.  It is not necessarily that the school district has made a mistake in the past.  They have prioritized programs as the way to maintain greatness in the schools.

And it is certainly not the fault of the district that the schools in Davis are disadvantaged under the current LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan) system.  Money goes to at-risk students, less money goes to affluent districts.  And while Davis is less affluent than you might at first think, with nearly a quarter of the students Title 1, the statewide average is even more so.

That means, as Matt Best explained a few months ago, the basic problem is that state funding through ADA (average daily attendance) and LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) only comes to 87 cents on
the dollar.  The district then makes up an additional 11 cents through the local parcel tax, but that has left two cents on the dollar as a “short fall” and he says over a 20-year period those numbers add up and partially explain why the district has fallen short on compensation.

However, the district has prioritized keeping jobs for teachers and keeping programs going and schools open.  What they have not dealt with is the rising and growing gap in teacher compensation.  The teacher’s union for many years stayed quiet on this front – they played the good soldiers, they supported the parcel tax and they didn’t make a lot of noise.

But what we have heard since September is deafening and it is frightening and, for many of us who are also parents in this school district, parents whose kids have been tremendously helped and benefited from the hard work of these teachers, it is time for change to occur.

There are probably cuts that can occur to reduce the need to put the full costs on the taxpayer, but at the end of the day I think we are looking at a new parcel tax in order to pay for teacher compensation increase.  And, based on community support for the teachers, it seems likely that the voters would pass such a measure.

The city in a lot of ways has a more difficult task.  The city was also hurt by the recession, but the Vanguard and others were warning even before the recession hit that the city’s compensation system was unsustainable.

You can start with the push to increase pensions at a time when the pension fund was “superfunded” – by increasing the top rate to 3 percent at 50 for safety employees and 2.5 percent at 55 for everyone else, the city immediately created a huge unfunded liability that has only increased.

A bigger mistake was taking the half cent sales tax passed by voters in 2004 and giving employees a massive pay increase.  The firefighters received a 36 percent pay increase, while everyone else received somewhere from 15 to 20 percent over a four- to five-year period.

The city masked these problems in the last decade because they were getting double-digit property tax revenue increases, but the second that economy collapsed, that disappeared.

The problem was that the city delayed fixing the structural problems.  They were able to maintain city services during the recession through attrition, which saw the reduction of 100 FTE positions.  They also saved money by deferring maintenance.

The only real structural changes occurred in the 2012-2015 MOUs.  But what has happened is that the city was able to stay afloat by deferring maintenance on roads, parks, greenbelts, and city buildings – and those bills have been amassing for a decade now and they are starting to come due.

Estimates by consultant Bob Leland put the annual need at around $8 million per year, and that is additional to the $4 million in general fund money they are currently spending on road maintenance.

With pushback from the community, council went back to the drawing board last week to further refine their revenue measure.

The form of the tax continues to change as the council now has re-opened the door for a possible two percent Utility User Tax (UUT) on gas, cable and electricity – although there is some dispute over whether electricity would be included.

In addition, there was the possibility of an expansion of a parcel tax for parks, between $100 and $125 per year.  As of now, it appears the social services tax would wait, as Mayor Davis acknowledged that “it is not ready for prime time in the sense that more details are needed.”

If opposition organizes around the parcel tax, a two-thirds majority tax, it could spell doom for the measure.  Right now it appears that the focus there would be on generating revenue for parks maintenance.  The current parks tax is $49 per year but that generates around one-quarter to one-half the actual need.

The pared-down proposal would generate more like $4 million of the $8 million gap, with the hopes that the council could do more along the lines of cost containment and economic development before coming back to the voters in two years, potentially with another simple majority tax.

The council still has to make these tough decisions and has two more council meetings before they hit the deadline.  The school district has more time, and probably has an easier road despite already asking for $620 a year.

But a lot rides on both measures.  A rejection of the parcel tax by the voters for the school district likely means the end of DJUSD as we know it.  A rejection of the revenue measures for the cities could fundamentally change the way the city provides services and basic infrastructure to this community.

The costs on the taxpayers will be high, but the stakes may be even higher.

—David M. Greenwald reporting



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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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43 thoughts on “Commentary: Schools and City Face the Cost of Deferring”

  1. Mark West

    “do they ask the voters to help bail them out of past mistakes?”

    Can you accurately describe the past decisions as ‘mistakes’ if there have been no significant changes to the policies in response?

    I am going to allow others to address the school issues, but for the City, our basic problem is a lack of commercial expansion coupled with an abject failure at cost containment. What policy changes have the CC majority made to address either of these issues? Did they hire a new City Manager with documented experience addressing either issue when they had the chance? If we don’t change the policies that helped create our fiscal crisis, how can we expect a different outcome?

    The better question for voters is not ‘do we bail out the past mistakes’ but rather, do we continue to fund the status quo? I would prefer to fund good governance.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Can you accurately describe the past decisions aS mistakes if there have been no significant changes to the policies in response?”

      Yes.  It would just mean that we continue to make the same mistakes.  I’m not sure I agree with that, but that’s what you have.

      1. Mark West

        “It would just mean that we continue to make the same mistakes.”

        They are certainly poor decisions, but they stop being mistakes when repeating them is intentional.

  2. Jeff M

    Ironic that the hyper-inflationary cost of unionized education employees is driven primarily by the hyper-inflationary cost of healthcare which is caused in large part by the hyper-inflationary cost of unionized healthcare employees.  Meanwhile the tax-payer is also being financially hammered by their own hyper-inflationary healthcare costs while also being financially hammered again and again by primarily Democrat politicians to pay for the hyper-inflationary cost of all unionized and collective government employees whose unions pay to get the Democrat politicians elected so they will increase the spending on the union employees.

    The common thread in all of this is unionized labor… primarily public sector unionized labor.

    Almost everywhere there is unionized labor there are costs and spending exceeding the rate of inflation.

    This is the elephant in the room that nobody talks about.

    At least with healthcare, the service keeps evolving and improving.  There is a modicum of competition that keeps providers on their toes and spurs innovation.

    However, at a time when Americans are accustom to getting increasing value for every dollar spent, the unionized education system can only threaten us with steeper decline of value if we don’t give them more money.   It is largely stuck on a 150-year old lecture model that is completely inadequate for our modern times where information flows 24×7, 365 days a year from a device in our possession most of our waking hours.

    The public education system is broken with respect to what American society needs.   But it will not change because of its true identity… it is an adult jobs program that sucks 50% of all state and local funding to benefit the adults primarily, and the kids secondarily.

    Keep giving it money and it will never change.  It will never change its approach to getting more money.  It will threaten the kids if we don’t give it more money.  It is a chicken and egg game that it keeps winning.  It is time to teach it a lesson.  The lesson is to get to work figuring out how to significantly increase the value of service to the kids, and then ask for more money to fund it.

    1. Ken A

      I’m no defender of unions, but since most union healthcare workers (including young non union MDs) make less than the average CA firefighter the “high union wages” are just a rounding error when adding up all the reasons that healthcare is so crazy that it costs over $20K for an overnight stay on the hospital (the actual cost at Sutter in Sacramento a couple years back).

      1. Jeff M

        US nurses are some of the highest paid and they work fewer hours than do nurses in almost all other industrialized countries.

        There are other medical professionals that are in the same boat.

        Doctors, given what they need to complete in education, are generally not over-paid IMO.   One exception are anesthesiologists.   I don’t know why but they are in the half-million per year cohort.

        1. Ken A

          A friend is an anesthesiologist who does just high risk open hearts (that often take over 12 hours and have the guy on a heart machine with his heart out of his body)  he makes good money but pays over $200K for malpractice insurance (and also pays for his own office space and part of a secretary that he shares with other MDS in his group)

    2. David Greenwald

      It’s highly ironic that you are complaining about the hyper-inflationary costs of unionized education when in fact the teachers are legitimately complaining that they are neither getting adequate pay or benefits.  What they get from this district is frankly an embarrassment.  I’m no apologist for unions, ask the firefighters.  But if this is an example of the problem of unions, you have a difficult road ahead of you.

      1. Ken A

        I have not been complaining about “the hyper-inflationary costs of unionized education ” (David’s words not mine).  Like David I think that people that work ~180 days a year should make more (not less) that the people that work ~120 days a year.

        I would actually like to see the teachers in Davis make more and if we close a school to deal with the realities of smaller families (and the increasing number of “childless by choice” families) we will have enough money to BOTH increase the pay to teachers and reduce the school parcel taxes.

        P.S. I talk to a lot of college students and in the past 30 years the price of college has gone up by over 10x, the price of home in Davis has gone up by almost 10x but the average income has only gone up by 3-5x.  Most woman that borrowed to get a grad degree today will still be paying off student loans at 40 when having kids gets a lot harder and for an increasing number of well educated but deep in debt young adults the thought of having kids (and trying to start a college fund while paying down their own student loans) just makes them laugh…

      2. Jeff M

        Here is an interesting graph.

        In terms of state teacher pay, California ranks #5 from the top.

        In terms of teacher pay per country, California only lags super small and idyllic Luxembourg and Switzerland.  And then Germany.

        US average starting pay is fourth highest in the world.  US average top pay is fifth highest in the world.  Pay after tenure is fourth highest in the world.

        Again, this is average for the US where CA teachers are the fifth highest paid in the nation.

        The district might feel embarrassed relative to what other communities in CA pay teachers, but that does not mean that Davis teachers are underpaid.

        http://static3.businessinsider.com/image/5925e90fdf1bf02f018b474f-1200/elementary-school-teachers–best-and-worst.jpg

        1. Jeff M

          Just because your friends jumped off a bridge is no reason for you to do the same.  Didn’t your mother tell you that?

          Why is it that you and other will point to other countries as a model we should adopt for things in your ideological bucket list, but then ignore them for other meaningful metrics.

          Either we are over-paying teachers, paying them enough or under-paying them.  If we are over-paying them in general, then it is wrong to measure against that data set.

          That is how the public sector plays the game to ratchet up pay.  It is a monopoly.  One community can claim that it is under-paid in relation to another community and then the other community can claim that it is now under-paid.

          Now they are all over-paid.

          That is how fire does it.

          Is Davis progressive?  If so we should be fine changing the game.

        2. David Greenwald Post author

          You’re argument here doesn’t make any sense.  The whole point of the complaint by the teachers is (A) they are getting paid a good deal less than in other districts and (B) it’s not sufficient to live on especially when they have to go out of pocket for medical.  If that’s the case then looking to macro-level data to sustain your point is useless.

        3. Jeff M

          My argument makes perfect sense but you can certainly can chose to ignore it.  If teachers are over-paid in other communities then we should not be allowing our Davis teacher pay levels to be increased by comparison.

          If teachers want to make the money paid in these other communities, then they can get a job there.   Or they can propose an improved service that needs additional funding.

           

  3. Ron

    Regarding schools, just noting that the article above is mistitled (regarding the “cost of deferring”).  That is, unless David is referring to the cost of deferring pay raises (which is something that I am not commenting on).

    Interesting idea in Oklahoma (to save money for school districts):  A 4-day schoolweek, with each of the 4 days a little longer.  I believe that other states are also looking into this:

    http://kfor.com/2017/02/07/four-day-school-week-paying-off-for-local-districts-lawmakers-want-a-change/

    1. David Greenwald

      The district deferred dealing with teacher compensation in part for budgetary reasons, but their failure to address it has created the crisis that they have today.

      1. Howard P

        A “crisis” is an individual opinion, more often than not… that said, we do need to address the overall compensation issues… we should do more… the question is “how much” more…

  4. Ron

    Jeff:  “It is largely stuck on a 150-year old lecture model that is completely inadequate for our modern times where information flows 24×7, 365 days a year from a device in our possession most of our waking hours.”

    “The public education system is broken with respect to what American society needs.   But it will not change because of its true identity… it is an adult jobs program that sucks 50% of all state and local funding to benefit the adults primarily, and the kids secondarily.”

    I also sometimes wonder if parents view schools as a taxpayer-funded “babysitter” (allowing parents to have a break, and/or work during the day). “Cripes – get them out of the house, at least sometimes!” 🙂

    Regarding all of the years I spent in school (including “commuting time”), I suspect that it’s not the most efficient way to learn.  Especially since (as you noted) electronic devices can probably be used to accomplish some of the goal (education).

     

    1. Ken A

      Quite a few people (aka voters) are happy with having the government take care of their kids for “free” every day and that is why “Head Start” keeps going despite study after study that shows poor kids that don’t go to “Head Start” are at the basically the same place at the poor kids who got a “Head Start” (aka taxpayer funded daycare with some educational basics) after a few years.  The poor vote less often than the middle class and and rich and “free” daycare has shown over the past few decades as a great way to get poor people to the polls…

       

      1. David Greenwald

        We had good experiences with head start. The main problem I’ve seen is limited slots and the lack of affordable alternatives for low income people. But not sure why this is relevant to the topic at hand.

        Also Ken, you need to respond to my email.

    2. Tia Will

      Especially since (as you noted) electronic devices can probably be used to accomplish some of the goal (education)”I am certainly no expert in this field, but have read enough and listened to enough presentations to know that many of those who are experts in childhood education and in the effects of screen time even if spent on “educational” activities do not choose the latter for their own children. I think that must more research needs to be done before we consider abandoning teacher/student learning models for digital learning models. 

      1. Ron

        I don’t know if children are different from adults, regarding the ability to learn via electronic systems. (Actually, I suspect that they learn more easily, in general.)

        But, I see some advantages of “electronic” learning (even from my own limited experience).  For one thing, you can (theoretically) have the “best presentation ever” (every single time), delivered efficiently to an infinite number of students.  (Combined with the ability to pause, or repeat the lesson an infinite number of times.) In addition, there’s the possibility of increased interactive learning, via electronic systems. (Also with the ability to repeat the process, as needed.)

        I suspect that we’ve only begun to scratch the surface, regarding the possibilities.  But, some may see this as threatening.

        In any case, kids sure seem to like electronic devices.  Each generation becomes more-and-more used to them.

        I’m quite confident that I (along with my classmates) wasted a substantial amount of time in public school systems.  (And, was ultimately left with a “bad taste in my mouth” from that experience – for several reasons.)  (Not in Davis.)  (I could tell you more, but it might start drifting from the topic at hand.)

         

         

      2. Howard P

        The reality, that most of the competent teachers know, is that students have different ‘modes’ of instruction that they learn best from… there is no one way that works “best” for any individual, much less a whole class… school is also about “socialization”… learning to ‘work and play well with others’… in the real world, often, learning and problem-solving is a group, not an individual, process… school is where one should be learning how to do that…

  5. Sharla C.

    Teachers are on a part-time schedule, but with a full time commitment.  Their salary seems low, until you look at it as part-time.  However, the profession doesn’t really make it possible to secure another job to fill in. Benefits are awful.  What if teachers were full time – 8:00-5:00 pm, 5 days a week, with 2 weeks of vacation, with schedules adjusted for evening obligations?  No mid quarter teacher work days, minimum days, no extra days off at every school holiday.  Offer periodic sabbaticals for professional development.    Change the school schedule from 7 periods and subjects taught over a year to a more compact, intense course schedule with fewer subjects taught over a semester or a quarter.  Allow more independent study or online courses at the High School level for appropriate courses, especially over Summer months?  Pay fewer teachers more and offer better benefits.

      1. Sean Raycraft

        Teachers often work longer than 8-5. School dances, athletics, clubs, parent teacher meetings, class preparation etc etc etc. Means they work long after the sun goes down.

        1. Jeff M

          Every private sector professional employee does this.  Teachers are not special in that way… except for those 10 months of the year they don’t have to work.

          One area I agree that teachers need to be compensated for the materials they purchase for the classroom.  Or they should be able to get a tax credit for it.

    1. Tia Will

      Sharla & Jeff

      I thought much as you are expressing until my own daughter became a teacher. I thought that teachers work days were short, every weekend off and long winter & summer breaks. This may be true for some. But for my daughter, a science teacher, her work day begins at least an hour before the students arrive many days in order to set up that days experiments or displays. She teaches with a one hour lunch break which frequently coincides with staff meeting time. She frequently is in the classroom for at least an hour after class is dismissed cleaning up, storing equipment and supplies. After school she has at least one to two hours additional work in the form of homework correction and/or lesson planning based on the students understanding levels of that days work. Lesson plans are typically drawn up on her weekend, but must be modified on the basis of the demonstrated learning or lack thereof. These are the typical days. This does not include the preparation and time required for parent teacher meetings or for special events such as the science fair that she just organized, ran and judged, including the celebratory end of the unit with a meal for students and parents at the end of the nutrition unit.

      Her summers so far have consisted of several weeks of additional training. If one adds it all up, she is essentially working more than what you have defined as full time during the school year and part of the summer. She makes a bit more than some entry level teachers because she comes with an MA, subject expertise and three years of classroom experience, but she delivers because of her specialization and commitment to ongoing training.

      I agree with Jeff that there should be merit based compensation, but again would ask what criteria or parameters he would use and how he would plan structuring the transition.

      1. Marina Khan

        They STILL ONLY WORK less than a full year… some of us worked 24/7 and got nothing ever… also our choices…not complaining.. but a family of two teachers is able to travel over one fourth of a work year..  I mean teachers in the US….

        MOST other countries, which David again takes statistics out of context and compares apples to oranges…..TEACH a FULL DAY 6 days a week…

        Also thought it is common for ALL folks to get 5-6 weeks of vacation a year in the better countries, most teachers and administrators and anyone working with schools or other jobs do NOT get such a long summer break either…

         

      2. Sharla C.

        I’m not being understood.  Teachers are hired as part-time, but with a full time commitment.  So let’s consider hiring full time employees and reorganize how education is delivered.  This would benefit students too.

    2. Brian Bennett

      50% of teachers quit within the first 5 years. It’s a hard job, and no teacher spends just 180 days.

       

      More to the point, neighboring districts:

      Pay 10-15% more than Davis

      Have better benefits

      Have lower housing costs (~30%)

      …and our state has a teacher shortage coming.

      So how exactly will DJUSD attract and retain quality teachers, if they don’t offer somewhat competitive compensation?

      1. Jeff M

        Please provide cites for that outrageous claim that 50% of teachers quit within the first 5 years.  I cannot find any reliable data to support that.  I cannot find any reliable data that comes anywhere close to that.  By the way, a 20% turn-over rate for teachers within the first five years would be healthy, IMO.  Because it is clear that many people think they want to be a teacher but are not a good fit for the career.  It would be better to get them moving to a better fit career within five years so they don’t get “job lock” (Nancy Pelosi’s famous term).

        Higher housing costs in Davis impact every one living in Davis… including the people that you would tax more to subsidize housing for teachers.  How is that fair?

        We need to stop comparing our city government employee to the over-paid government employees in other communities.

        Our state might have a teacher shortage coming (although the unionized education industry manufactures lots of disingenuous reports to push this narrative), but this is more because the system pushes the need for costly teacher credentials rather than implementing a talent vetting and training model.

        The existing credentialing model requires at least a year of non-paid teacher internship in addition to a rigorous Bachelors program that often takes 5-6 years for students to complete rather than the 4-year degree.  And then if multiple subjects and specialty teaching is added…

        But again, we are missing the opportunity to reform the entire system to one that better fits our modern economy and society.  I have a friend that built his family a mountain cabin with minimal existing construction skills primarily from the Internet and YouTube videos.  The Khan Academy and other on-line resources that are free and near free provide best-in-category repayable instruction instead of cycling through new teachers that re-invent the wheel each time… and often rather badly.   We need fewer subject-matter expert teachers, and more facilitators, counselors and tutors.   As for tutors, we should have a  program that brings in college students to work part time… they will better sync with the grade-school students given their more recent experience mastering subject, and the tutoring will help the college student advance (the best way to learn is to learn to teach) while making money to help pay for their massive education costs.

        We are really blowing it here… failing to harness and leverage the opportunity and value of the world’s information at our fingertips.  The use of technology to help establish individualized learning paths for each and every student.  To give them help where they need it and advance them where they are wired to advance.

        Why do we need 20,000 Algebra teachers in this state?  It is the same damn class that all high school students need to pass.   Why not memorialize the best set of classroom presentations and put them on a screen with a facilitator and tutor… or allow them to complete the subject remotely if they can, add a computerized learning program that constantly tests and advances each student, gives them social networking access so they can work with other students throughout the nation, gives access to on-line real-time tutors 24×7 and real face-to-face tutors as needed.

        The reason that we are not thinking this way is that the adult jobs program would be threatened by it.   We need to stop rewarding a system that refuses to innovate only because it is hording jobs.

        1. Jeff M

          50% and 17%.  Now there is some consistency!

          I don’t trust any of it since it is clearly biased toward the profession and likely funded by the unions.

          You find similar things out there related to law enforcement attrition rates.

          It is in the unions’ interest to push a narrative that the job does not pay well enough to retain employees.  It is simply not true.  It is more likely that people leave because they realize that they cannot make a difference in the rigged system and rigid rules where the low performer in the office next to them makes more only because he/she has a butt in the seat for more years.

          https://www.15five.com/blog/top-10-reasons-employees-leave-jobs-infographic/

  6. Marina Khan

    wow, my international PhD staff (or at least MA/MS) made much less than that at UCDavis…

    no matter WHAT I did to increase their scales/salaries etc, whenever any funds were allocated…… at UCD the unions were not a help to getting my staff up the ranks….

    So a teacher in CA needs to have an masters in anything….I mean for public schools.. Masters in EDU is one of the EASIEST Masters to get…

    At UCD the unions pushed in, in the 80s, that ones educational level means nothing…

    And the union salary scales at UCD only PROVE that….

    The reason I shared this is 1) I don’t really think that is a poor salary and I KNOW most DHS teachers make lots more…2) I struggled to get my analysts above the AAIV levels..  to no avail. . my  staff were all PHD or MS level…no one cared.. the unions ACTUALLY would fight me on reclasses.. even within the unions…

    MOST teachers have spouses and families, so double that and that is WAY more than I ever made as a HIGH LEVEL Senior Manager at UCD…

     

     

  7. Marina Khan

    if one is single and puts their life into their children at their school, even many maintenance folks end up leaving over $3mil to their children and school…..one sees those stories all the time, where folks who are considered lowly paid end up leaving multi-millions to those they most care about…

    why is that NOT HAPPENING at the DJUSD?

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