Commentary: Davis’ Future to Be Decided One by Election, One by Appointment

council-board-challenges

On Thursday the Davis School Board moved a step closer to calling a special election for sometime around May.  They appear to be heading in the direction of a new parcel tax that would renew the existing amount of 320 dollars per single-family dwelling plus an additional 175 dollars.

The board will have more discussion when they return on January 6, and then a special meeting around January 13 where they would have to vote on whether to move forward.

There is good news and bad news in this number.  A poll taken by consultant Jay Ziegler found that roughly 78 percent of the public supports extending the current parcel tax while 67 percent would agree to a $200 increase.

The bad news in that is that the money the district would get is not nearly enough to compensate for the amount of reduction from the state over the last three years.  So why put forward a raise in the parcel tax if it is not enough and you end up having to lay off teachers as the voters pay more money?

But that seems to be direction the district is going, which I think is a PR disaster waiting to happen.  The board either has to bite the bullet and push for what they need, or they have to re-think things.  One of the reason that they wanted to do this in May was so that if they lost, they would not be facing the expiration of either Measure Q (2007) or Measure W (2008).

In the meantime the city council will take a very different approach to address just as crucial a problem.  The most important decision that the four remaining members of council have to decide is who the fifth member will be in order to address the second most important decision that they will have to make: the budget and fiscal reform.

The numbers are out from PERS (Public Employees Retirement System) and they are, not putting too fine a point on it, at best bad and at worst devastating.  More on that next week, assuming I can talk City Manager in interim, Paul Navazio, off the proverbial ledge.

It particularly galls me that the council has spent time doing about everything but the budget.  We finally talked about the budget for the first time a few weeks ago, but not before we dealt with everything else.

The water issue is huge, bringing in business is huge, but how much time did we really need to spend on a civics arts project for the water tank?  No offense to anyone, but I am simply not going to get in a huff over such things when we are looking down the barrel of something huge and perhaps unstoppable.

On this score Don Saylor, both as a councilmember and as a Mayor, gets a failing grade.  First, he voted to support huge and unsustainable contract increases during his first term without much regards for how the city would pay for it. 

But at that time, everyone was thinking about keeping up with the Joneses and no one was really thinking about a real estate bust that would keep the city from growing its economy.  The problem with that line of thinking is that Don Saylor and Council fully well knew funds were limited, which is why they pushed through the sales tax proposal in the middle part of the decade.

In the 2008 election, he and his colleague Stephen Souza spent a good amount of time thumping chests over a balanced budget and a 15-percent reserve.  Nevermind the writing on the wall that people like Sue Greenwald and my wife Cecilia Escamilla-Greenwald kept talking about: unfunded liability in the retiree health care, pensions, unsustainable labor contracts and unmet needs.  No, we had a balanced budget and a reserve. 

Neither Mr. Saylor nor Mr. Souza even allowed for the possibility that it was all built on a house of cards.

That was clear by September of 2008.  And they had a chance to do something about it, but instead they approved Memorandums of Understanding that did very little to deal with reform.  These “reforms” did little to deal with unfunded liabilities, they did little to deal with structural reform, they simply nibbled around the edges.

As far as I can tell, the only real change was pushing for the employees, except fire department, to take up 3% of the PERS hit that comes down the road.  Which sounds good until you see the numbers and where the numbers are going to go.

The good news is that the new councilmembers seem to understand this.  Even Stephen Souza has acknowledged that the current system is unsustainable.  And so the hope is that once Don Saylor leaves, we can see some real change.  But all of that is predicated on the council choosing wisely.

Both the city and the school district face similar challenges.  The school district has been hammered by the state to the point where they need a massive increase in local money, and  unfortunately it does not appear that they are asking for it.  I think this is a huge mistake.

I’m not saying it is going to be easy asking for a $275 or $300 increase in the parcel tax, but I think they have to ask for it.  And they have to push and claw and fight their way and take a chance that maybe they will lose.

The alternative is bad.  There is no greater way to demoralize the teachers who are already clamoring for more, having been asked to make do with less, to have the community pass a parcel tax only to announce the next day that they still have to lay off dozens of cherished teachers from this community.

When we talked with members of the board running for reelection, they were adamant that they had to ask for what they need. 

The city, on the other hand has a different sort of problem.  For years they relied on the real estate boom.  That boom is gone and the city no longer has the base to sustain its salaries and compensation, most of which were unrealistic to begin with.  The city needs to learn to live within its means and they have to figure out how to provide basic level services within current constraints.

The district has had to cut to the bone for three years running.  Any more, and you are cutting into core programs and key support services.  You are risking educational achievement when you have to increase the number of students in a classroom.  We have to all rally together again, this time asking the voters to help to step up, and I think they will but they will need to be sold on the necessity. 

The district seems afraid to have to sell the public on their needs, and risk losing.  It’s a tough decision and one that will be made in the first two weeks of next year.  The same time frame in which we will learn more about who our next councilmember and Mayor will be.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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18 Comments

  1. hpierce

    [quote]A poll taken by consultant Jay Ziegler found that roughly 78 percent of the public supports extending the current parcel tax while 67 percent would agree to a $200 increase.
    [/quote][quote]I’m not saying it is going to be easy asking for a $275 or $300 increase in the parcel tax, but I think they have to ask for it. And they have to push and claw and fight their way and take a chance that maybe they will lose.[/quote]
    Law of diminishing returns… Ziegler is a professional, and a parent… his numbers indicate that going for more than a $200 increase will fail, yet you advocate for up to a $300 increase. If the measure fails, the district will lose $320/SF parcel. That will hurt, big time.
    State, UC, and city employees have made at least temporary concessions in salary/compensation. The concessions made by teachers are on the table to be rolled back. If the teachers get their ‘roll-back’, I can tell you I will vote against ANY increase in the parcel tax (having said that, I suspect the Board will make sure that the roll-back issue will not be resolved until after the election). Besides, the district is heading toward a six (6) year extension. So, if things improve over the next 6 years, and the state funds schools more, the teachers will probably want to “sop up the gravy” big time, and not to improve curriculum etc., but to get higher compensation (and higher retirement, etc.).

  2. David M. Greenwald

    That’s my point, if the measures fails they can come back in November with another proposal, but why pass a measure that you know isn’t enough?

    And btw, the teachers haven’t taken a pay increase in several years, haven’t gotten a cola, and their benefits are crappy compared to city employees. They should get those things. But right now, the focus is just on not laying off teachers. The measure would have a rollback mechanism, so it would not stay at the increased level.

  3. DavisParent

    As a parent of students in the Davis schools (one elementary, one high school), I find the issue of teachers asking for a restoration of their salary is interesting. They gave up 2.7% of their salary and are now asking for it to be given back now that the District has received government stimulus funds (meant to be used for teachers).

    Why is this such a bad thing to ask for? Given that a majority of our teachers live in Davis as well, they have also given to DSAF and pay the taxes for Measure Q and Measure W. I have also been nothing but impressed with all of my children’s teachers (well, except for maybe two at the junior high!). These are hard-working, dedicated professionals who care about our kids and work hard to make sure that they are successful.

    I think that the district should do the right thing and support their staff. Maybe they can only provide a partial restoration, but something would be better than nothing. Other school districts have used their extra funding to give ‘bonuses’ to show their support for their teachers. Unlike the previous poster, I will support both the “roll-back” and the voting for extensions of the parcel taxes.

  4. wdf1

    And btw, the teachers haven’t taken a pay increase in several years,

    The teachers took an increase approved in January, 2008. Richard Harris was the only dissenting vote on it. It was ironic, because it instantly added between $1-2 million to the deficit at the time.

    If the teachers get the extra money now, it inevitably means more teachers won’t be funded next year. An incoming Republican house that is outwardly concerned about the federal deficit would not seem inclined to offer any more federal money in the near future. So this is probably all we get from them.

    The lead time needed to initiate a parcel tax election, plus the time line of the state budget doesn’t allow for easy quick response from the district through a parcel tax. As it is, the Jan. 13 meeting may give the one opportunity to assess quickly how the district can respond to the state deficit, as the Governor’s budget will come out a week before.

    Whatever can’t be covered in a hypothetical parcel tax approval could be met by cuts, one-time funds (federal money), DSF fundraising (if they decide to do something in that area), and continued teacher concessions.

    Admittedly teachers don’t make a salary commensurate with their value to this community. But if DTA continues their current push, they will appear to be out of touch with the current economic situation, perhaps a little ungrateful for the support given by people in this community who have already made personal sacrifices (furloughs, layoffs, cutbacks, foreclosures, etc.) in this tough economy.

    It would be a better strategy for all to see the district get through this with minimal damage. When the economy begins to improve, other districts will be repairing significant damage to their budget and system, and DJUSD will be able to return more quickly to focusing on student improvements. But I don’t see DTA’s push helping toward that end. At the very least, DTA’s communications with the voting public haven’t made their case in light of the current economy.

  5. hpierce

    David… until they get to the very top of the range, all teachers get ~ 2.5% for each year they work, even in COL goes up 1%. Be honest. You may believe they should get even more. I may agree. As I understand it, most city employees got a 1% COLA, which was basically ‘eaten up’ by increases in deductions to cover the costs of the new pension formula. They are “eating” a percentage of the increases in medical coverage. They are taking at least the same number of furlough days that the teachers have been asked to do (which the teachers are lobbying to reverse. Most City employees had NO COLA and 4.6% reduction in salaries last fiscal year. At the end of the day, it appears you indicate that general city employees should get less & less and the teachers should get more and more, irrespective of individual performance.

  6. Mr.Toad

    I thought the teachers were asking to restore the instructional days that were cut this year? Yes, that would result in higher pay but it would also result, at least theoretically, in better educational advancement. So if I am correct, it isn’t just about pay, its also about learning.

  7. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “I’m not saying it is going to be easy asking for a $275 or $300 increase in the parcel tax, but I think they have to ask for it. And they have to push and claw and fight their way and take a chance that maybe they will lose.”

    From the Davis Enterprise: “Election consultant and Davis parent Jay Zeigler advises the school board on a voluntary basis. The poll found 78 percent of voters support extending the existing parcel tax at the current $320 level, Ziegler told trustees. When a group of those polled were asked of they would support a $200 increase to the existing parcel tax, 67 percent indicated they would vote yes. A two-thirds majority is required for approval in an election. When asked if they would support a $100 increase, 69 percent of that same group indicated they would vote yes.”

    It seems clear to ask for even a $200 increase will be questionable to pass. The polling numbers speak for themselves. The School Board has wisely chosen to ask for only what they know it is likely they can get. To ask for more will almost surely result in defeat. Now how would that help our schools? Taxpayers are struggling mightily to keep their collective heads above water as it is…

    Another issue is the MPR vs the new stadium. The School Board decided the fix to the stadium was more important than the MPR. But now the MPR has a sizeable roof leak which the School Board has known about for a long time; and there is now a mold problem – which is predictable if the roof leaks. As such, the MPR has had to be shut down, and there is no money to fix it. To a lot of the public, it appears that a bad decision was made to fix the stadium in such a way that it is the latest and the best – fancy press box and all; while letting the MPR where the kids eat lunch every day go to ruin. This was bad PR for the School Board/school administration. Now before I hear the “facilities money is not the same as operating money”, see below:

    However, from the Davis Enterprise: “Zeigler added that the messages that appeared to draw the broadest support among voters in the poll were that the parcel tax would
    *”Protect existing junior high and high school elective courses in music, arts, (world) languages and Advanced Placement courses,” 82%
    *”Fund important programs for struggling readers,” 76 percent; and
    *”Preserve vocational and technical training courses,” 74 percent.”

    It would be wise for the parcel tax to used just for the items listed above. But in the minds of the public, the MPR disaster was a public relations debacle…

    From the Davis Enterprise: “The parcel tax discussion occurs as CA school districts are bracing for new budget cuts expected to be unveiled Jan. 10, when Governor Jerry Brown presents his state budget proposal. Brown said earlier this week that the state deficit is worse than he had expected – about $28 billion rather than $25 billion – and warned that further cuts in education funding are inevitable.”

    I would say the Davis Schools Foundation and Blue and White Foundation had better start gearing up for collecting whatever donations they can get – we are in for a rough ride and tough times ahead. (CA has the second worst credit rating of all 50 states, one step above Illinois (Obama’s home state)). And shame on the news media which keeps insisting we are no longer in a recession. Who are they trying to kid? I’m not a big fan of Jerry Brown, but I wish him well in his fight to bring CA in line again, to be more fiscally responsible – not an easy task w the mess he has been left to deal with…

  8. Don Shor

    I urge the school board to put the renewal on and the increase on as separate parcel tax measures for voter approval. Make the renewal long term (six years) and the emergency parcel tax short term (two years). Any long term increase in funding will simply become the new starting point for teacher salary negotiations. So it has to be of short duration, or that funding becomes the new status quo. All public employees are going to have to become more realistic about their wages and benefits.

  9. wdf1

    And shame on the news media which keeps insisting we are no longer in a recession.

    Depends on your perspective. Government revenues usually lag in economic cycles.

  10. wdf1

    It would be wise for the parcel tax to used just for the items listed above. But in the minds of the public, the MPR disaster was a public relations debacle…

    I disagree. This is a situation where different factions wanted something in facilities upgrades. Whatever choice made would disappoint the others. You had/have your preference. I actually preferred the Emerson upgrade, but I don’t find myself in a mood to condemn the school board for not going my way on this. Fixing the roof is comparatively manageable ($300K)relative to upgrading Emerson (?) or building a new stadium (was it $6 million?).

  11. wdf1

    Sunday, Jeff Hudson/Davis Enterprise article on the DHS MPR roof:

    [url]http://search.davisenterprise.com/display.php?id=72457[/url]

    Friday, Jeff Hudson/Davis Enterprise article on the parcel tax poll:

    [url]http://search.davisenterprise.com/display.php?id=72440[/url]

    Sunday, Jeff Hudson/Davis Enterprise article on DTA paycut restoration:

    [url]http://search.davisenterprise.com/display.php?id=72459[/url]

  12. E Roberts Musser

    To wdf1: Do you read the articles you provide links for? From the Hudson article on the MPR: “Demolish the MPR and replace it with a new student commons building, as outlined in the school district’s Long-Range Facilities Master Plan, at a cost of $9 million. The district does not have anywhere near that amount available for new facilities construction.”
    And the district does not have the money to construct a new MPR bc it spent so much money renovating the stadium. And I agree w you that Emerson should have been a higher priority than the stadium, but obviously the MPR should have been the top priority. It is where the kids eat lunch…

    erm: “And shame on the news media which keeps insisting we are no longer in a recession.”
    wdf1: “Depends on your perspective. Government revenues usually lag in economic cycles.”

    With all due respect(this is really a visceral overreaction on my part perhaps), if you believe we are out of the recession, then you believe in the Easter Bunny…

    Don Shor: “I urge the school board to put the renewal on and the increase on as separate parcel tax measures for voter approval. Make the renewal long term (six years) and the emergency parcel tax short term (two years). Any long term increase in funding will simply become the new starting point for teacher salary negotiations. So it has to be of short duration, or that funding becomes the new status quo. All public employees are going to have to become more realistic about their wages and benefits.”

    This is an excellent suggestion…

  13. wdf1

    To wdf1: Do you read the articles you provide links for?

    Religiously, Elaine. Sometimes I even scrapbook the articles from the print editions. And here’s the section you left out as one of the options:

    [quote]Install a new roof, with remediation for mold and asbestos, at a cost of between $251,000 and $376,000 — probably closer to the higher figure. The new roof would have a 15-year warranty.[/quote]

    This is the choice that the school board chose. It is an unfortunate thing to be paying for it now, but it is manageable. Hopefully that will give some more useful life to the building for a while.

    With all due respect(this is really a visceral overreaction on my part perhaps), if you believe we are out of the recession, then you believe in the Easter Bunny…

    Based on what I see around me, no, it doesn’t look like we’re out of the recession. But I can see how others could say that we are if you choose certain statistics.

  14. Kane607

    DMG: I’m not saying it is going to be easy asking for a $275 or $300 increase in the parcel tax, but I think they have to ask for it. And they have to push and claw and fight their way and take a chance that maybe they will lose.

    LOL! what’s not easy? shaking people down for more money? its never stopped you people before. I’m sure tim taylor has a real hard time sleeping knowing he’s going to have to turn people upside down and shake. I also love the “push and claw and fight”. that’s cute. the people who are fighting the good fight are those who are struggling to make ends meet. not the spend-happy school board.

    and the Davis schools foundation has blood on its hands for kicking in all that money enabling the school board to spend limitlessly instead of balancing a budget, which if they did, they wouldn’t be in as much trouble as they are in now.

  15. wdf1

    and the Davis schools foundation has blood on its hands for kicking in all that money enabling the school board to spend limitlessly instead of balancing a budget, which if they did, they wouldn’t be in as much trouble as they are in now.

    LOL! You could also go all out and blame your enabling neighbors for making donations to DSF and voting for parcel taxes, but that might mean blaming some people you actually like! So much safer and a cleaner conscience to blame institutions and politicians.

    The school board has balanced all of its budgets, by the way. If you think things are bad in Davis, then you would be appalled to find out what’s happening in most other school districts in California.

  16. E Roberts Musser

    wdf1: “This is the choice that the school board chose. It is an unfortunate thing to be paying for it now, but it is manageable. Hopefully that will give some more useful life to the building for a while.”

    That is the choice the school board had to make bc they had already spent so much facilities money on renovating the stadium, among other things…

  17. E Roberts Musser

    To wdf1: By the way, since you seem to be pretty knowledgeable about the school system, why are they not willing to use the new city/school auditorium as an MPR? It would seem to be a perfect solution. What am I missing here?

  18. wdf1

    To wdf1: By the way, since you seem to be pretty knowledgeable about the school system, why are they not willing to use the new city/school auditorium as an MPR? It would seem to be a perfect solution. What am I missing here?

    MPR means Multi-Purpose Room. I don’t know if you’ve been in DHS’ MPR, but it can be used as a performance space, a large meeting room, a lunch room. As a performance space, it is very limited, and the acoustics suck. The hard metal folding chairs are also not comfortable for a performance where you’d have to sit down for three hours.

    You couldn’t serve lunch in the Brunelle auditorium, and you can’t arrange chairs however you like. But it is ideal for a number of performing groups, and it does bring revenue to the district when outside groups use it. I believe there is a church that regularly rents it on Sunday morning, for instance. Chairs are more comfortable, too.

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