There will be time for Hail Mary passes later both in the context of a parcel tax and perhaps some voluntary fundraising by the Davis Schools Foundation. But the bottom line for last night was this was simply inevitable and the part of their fiduciary duties that not one of the board members signed on to or particularly enjoys.
The night of course did not end without some last second appeals and finger-pointing.
The finger pointing came from Board member Richard Harris. He pointed out that teacher concessions which are coming, are coming too late to avoid added angst. The inability to agree to concessions earlier mean an additional 20 teachers will be noticed of possible layoffs. Those layoffs will be rescinded between March 15 and May 15 when all arrangements are final, but the bottom line is that we are seeing 20% more teachers and employees overall given notices. This will produce added community angst and could cost the district valuable personnel.
The other part of what happened is that a lot of the cuts focus on vocational education programs and while looking at the absolute numbers it does not appear to be that many, in terms of the size of the program it is enough that it will be decimated.
The problem of course is that you have to cut something and it is not as though English, Math, Science, and Social Science are not facing huge cuts as well. Those programs are facing a total 15 position cuts, throw in three more for Spanish and you see a huge chunk of the secondary cuts.
The other devastating cuts are to the secondary counseling services that are losing the equivalent of seven full-time positions. That number represents about half of counseling positions at the secondary level that would be eliminated.
Is this a position that we can do without? It depends on what one means by do without, I suppose. Counselors are often on the front-lines preventing problems with students at their most vulnerable and volatile age. They deal with issues of bullying, violence, and suicide prevention among more mundane functions. We have certainly seen in society in the years following the Columbine tragedy and the Virginia Tech tragedy the need for more proactive counselors and intervention.
So while I am not suggesting this will bring about that magnitude of a problem, it is important to recognize that counselors can perform a vital function that is not merely theoretical. One source we have seen suggests that the American School Counseling Association recommends a student-to-counselor ration of 250 to 1. These cuts would drop the district’s ratio to 565 to 1 which is below the current national average of 475 to 1.
What people need to remember is that during tough times, we can make do with fewer resources for sure. The average person will be just fine with a smaller number of counselors, just as the average student is probably okay in a classroom with 34 students rather than 28 or 24. The same goes with County Health Services, the average person who has health insurance will survive alright without those services. However, the vulnerable students who need to the extra attention, the extra care, those in society without medical coverage, will be impacted and these cuts will have devastating impact.
I truly believe that schools in Davis will be largely okay after these cuts for the average student. It is those students who vulnerable that I fear for.
Someone yesterday posted and complained about the state of education as it is, imagine that education system with fewer resources and teachers to handle the kinds of problems we ask them to handle.
That we have little choice does not mean we should not worry about the impact of these cuts.
The idea of this being a “loan” came from Richard Harris’ misinterpretation of Mr. Hulsizer’s idea at the last school board meeting.
Unfortunately I repeated this misinterpretation despite evidence to the contrary.
The proposal then is to expand the parcel tax to $600 as a stop-gap tax measure and put into an automatic deflator that provides for its reduction and elimination when the current IOUs are repaid. The tax payment reduction and sunset would be included in the measure to give certainty to the voters that the tax is temporary.
The district is in the process now of polling the public to see the mood.
I will reiterate my position that I have stated many times, if we want to find new sources of revenue we need to off-set them with decreases in taxes from other sources.
I am very concerned that this is what the voters are looking at this year:
First, a renewal of the sales tax in June.
Second, a parcel tax measure in November.
Third, an 18% increase in water rates that will take place at some point in the next year.
The fact that the city wants to increase the cost to basic services, renew their existing tax, and continue to pay the employees roughly the same amount as they have, is concerning to say the least.
The school district obviously does not want to get into a fight with the city over resources, and I hope that revenue sharing ideas are brought forward. In my view, it is a crime that we pay teachers nearly half of what we pay firefighters.
We need a community discussion on what the spending priorities ought to be.
—David M. Greenwald reporting