Dunning Falsely Charges School District With Election Violations; Fails to Do Own Due Diligence

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chalkboardIn this morning’s Davis Enterprise, Bob Dunning makes a pretty sweeping charge that the Superintendent is “Politicking on the public’s dime,” apparently without checking facts or without a lot of accuracy.

Writes Mr. Dunning, “Our superintendent of schools  has decided to take matters into his own hands by sending out a letter on official district letterhead to this town’s senior citizens, urging a “Yes” vote on this critical school funding measure.”

He continues, “Now, if you’re raising an eyebrow about the appropriateness of a public official spending public money to influence the outcome of an election, you are not alone. Unfortunately, there’s more.”

He writes, “On the flip side of the superintendent’s letter is a formal application for the senior tax exemption that allows people 65 and over to avoid paying the very tax the superintendent is recommending a ‘Yes’ vote on.”

And he adds, “The application has already been filled out with the homeowner’s assessor parcel number and the property’s address. All that’s missing is the senior homeowner’s signature and an ‘X’ in the box signifying that the senior in question is indeed over the age of 65.”

Amazingly, the columnist writes this without asking for clarification and without fully quoting it.

The first thing to note is that this did not go out to all seniors.  In fact, in only went out to all to all seniors that hold a current senior exemption.  Mr. Dunning implies that it went out to all seniors in his opening paragraph when he says “this town’s senior citizens.”  Nowhere does he qualify that.

Our sources in the school district have confirmed that this piece only went out to those who currently hold a senior exemption.

Moreover, the first sentence of the letter reads, “Our records, show you as a current senior exemption holder.”

It is a fine line between an information piece and advocacy.

The law permits government bodies to send out information about taxes as long as they never expressly advocate for the voter to vote one way or another.  Nowhere in the letter does the Superintendent advocate that an individual actually vote one way or another.

They do however, explain what the parcel tax does and what will happen if the tax measure is not passed.

Here is the full text that is unedited:

“Our records show you as a current senior exemption holder. We are writing to you to provide you with some information about the senior citizen exemption in the District’s currently proposed parcel tax  Measure A. The week of April 4th you will receive a ballot in the mail and be asked to approve Measure A. The elections office must receive your ballot by May 3, 2011 to be counted. Please refer to your mail ballot materials for a more detailed explanation of how to complete and mail in the ballot.

Measure A seeks voter approval of a parcel tax on all parcels of real estate located within the school district. If approved, the amount of the tax will be $200 per parcel or $20 per mobile home or multi·unit dwelling per tax year. The parcel tax will be levied for the 2011 and 2012 tax years.

The District is seeking voter approval for a parcel tax in order to make up for funding shortfalls that have arisen due to the current State budget situation. As you may be  aware, the State has been cutting funding for schools for several years, and further school funding cuts are anticipated. If the District is not able to secure additional funding, a number of District programs will have to be curtailed or eliminated. The programs in question may include reduced class sizes, sufficient numbers of core subject classe, foreign language programs, music, Career Technical programs, counseling, site safety and support services.

As a senior citizen who owns a parcel of land within the District on which their primary residence is located, you will not be subject to the Measure A parcel tax if you file for an exemption. In order to be eligible for a senior citizen parcel tax exemption, please complete the exemption application form on the reverse side and submit to the District Office by June 30th.

Please call the District office at (530) 7S7-53O0 x 122 if you have any questions about how the senior citizen exemption process works. Thank you for considering the above information, and your involvement as a District voter.”

From this we see a few things.  First very clearly this is only addressed to those with an existing senior citizen exemption.

Second they provide information about the tax, what the district is seeking, and what will happen if the measure is not approved.

Third, they never advocate for the voter to vote either way.

As far as my non-legal eye can see, this is perfectly legal.  Whether it should be or not is beside the point.

Writes Mr. Dunning, “To be sure, the superintendent hasn’t given up his First Amendment rights simply because he works for the district. Like everyone else, he’s entitled to have his say, publicly, on the issues of the day. But again, like everyone else, when he starts advocating, he has to do it on his own dime, not the district’s.”

He goes on to charge, “The letter he sent out to the seniors in this town is advocacy, pure and simple.”

Not according to the law, Mr. Dunning. Unfortunately Mr. Dunning, who has legal training, never bothers to look up the law in this regard.  He is making a very serious accusation without checking his facts.  He never called the school district, the county elections office or the Political Fair Practices Commission to see what is and is not allowed under the law.  That is completely irresponsible on his part.

Mr. Dunning does raise two points in support of his contention, but neither one rises to advocacy.

First he quotes the letter, “The week of April 4th you will receive a ballot in the mail and be asked to approve Measure A.”

He writes, “It’s a nice head fake, but the ballot does not ask anyone to ‘approve’ Measure A. It simply asks if the district shall be authorized to ‘levy an emergency special tax for a period of two years’ and asks us to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ The ballot most definitely does not seek approval of the measure as the superintendent claims.”

Actually the term for voting yes or no is to “seek approval.”  The ballot asks the voter to determine whether or not to approve the tax.  The district was more sloppy in their wording than one would like, but they did not tell the voter what to do, which is advocacy. They only stated a fact, that they will be asked “whether” to approve – omitting whether.

The second point, “Undeterred, the superintendent continues his advocacy by telling seniors that ‘The District is seeking voter approval for a parcel tax in order to make up for funding shortfalls that have arisen due to the current State budget situation.’ “

Now, that is a purely factual statement, the district is “seeking voter approval for a parcel tax,” pure and simple.  That is a fact.  That does not mean that the voters will grant it. 

There is nothing illegal in either of those statements.

There are questions about why seniors should get a waiver.  The answer is that the California law is rather limited in terms of parcel taxes.  It is a regressive tax in that everyone pays the same regardless of income. 

The closest the district can come to dealing with low income people and fixed income people is to have a senior exemption.  Many seniors are, in fact, on a fixed income and make a lower amount than other residents.  There are, of course, wealthy seniors that can have a free ride here.  There may be some poor non-seniors who own a home that could suffer, but this was the best that the district could do.

The district only sent to those who had in the past requested exemptions.  They did not send it to the general senior population.

In summary, this is not the nefarious activity that the Davis Enterprise columnist implies.  I would agree that the first sentence that Dunning cites, where it says voters will “be asked to approve Measure A” is unnecessarily sloppy.  But it still is not “express advocacy,” forbidden by the law.

Moreover, if Mr. Dunning is going to make accusations of the school district, he ought to at least have his facts right and he does not.  Nowhere does he note that this was only sent to a small group of seniors and nowhere does he refer to the law which is very clear on what is permissible by a government entity and what is not.

The rest could have been resolved by Mr. Dunning by doing a little homework and asking some questions.  That was the first thing I did when I got a copy forwarded to me.

—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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72 thoughts on “Dunning Falsely Charges School District With Election Violations; Fails to Do Own Due Diligence”

  1. rusty49

    David, there’s a big difference between what you said “The ballot asks the voter to determine whether or not to approve the tax” and what they actually sent out:

    “The week of April 4th you will receive a ballot in the mail and be asked to approve Measure A.”

    You didn’t touch on Dunning’s other point. Dunning stated:

    “And why, for heaven’s sake, would you send out a tax-exemption form for a tax that hasn’t even passed yet? Talk about a waste of taxpayer dollars.

    If this were truly an attempt by the District to help seniors obtain a tax exemption while remain fiscally prudent, you would at least wait to see if the tax passes before wasting all the postage and staff preparation time it takes to send out a tax-exempt form.”

    It may be legal as you say, but in my opinion it comes off as campaign mail and at the very least didn’t need to be sent out, especially before we even know the election results.

  2. David M. Greenwald

    Rusty:

    “It may be legal as you say, but in my opinion it comes off as campaign mail and at the very least didn’t need to be sent out, especially before we even know the election results. “

    Yes just like have a billion other information pieces, it is the loophole in the law. But it is legal.

  3. rusty49

    “Yes just like have a billion other information pieces, it is the loophole in the law. But it is legal.”

    David, let’s see how forgiving you are if you ever receive Government mail advocating for a vote that you’re against.

  4. David M. Greenwald

    I think I’m pretty consistent on these types of issues. There are loopholes in the law that the government and also non-profit groups exploit. That’s the crux of the soft money problem. As long as they do not expressly say “vote for” then it is permissible. Would I prefer the law changed? Probably. Do I think the DJUSD piece is particularly egregious? No. Particularly when you realize how few people it actually went to. If they were really trying to bend laws they would have sent it to all seniors in town, they didn’t.

  5. David M. Greenwald

    “Bob Dunning is always correct and truthful , he’s a journalist ! “

    I’m hoping that’s sarcasm. Every journalist I know would have called the district before running this piece.

  6. rusty49

    David, you still didn’t address why they would send it out before they know if Measure A even passed? Do you feel it’s ethical and fiscally prudent to do so? To me this stinks and makes makes the district look bad.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    Given the short period of time between the election and the time to declare for an exemption, it makes sense. We are talking about a few hundred people at most receiving this letter and only those who have requested it in the past. We are talking about a group of senior citizens who are not that mobile and that savvy with technology. The district told me that the people who request an exemption do not appear to be angry non-tax paying people but elderly, concerned citizens who support the schools but are on a fixed income.

  8. Matt Rexroad

    David:

    I think this sort of thing is absolutely wrong. The timing of this mailing is an attempt to influence the campaign.

    It may be legal — it is just wrong. The school district is spending taxpayer money to influence the campaign.

    In 2003 I attempted to put a 90 day black out” period on such communications from the City of Woodland to residents on topics that were the subject of a ballot measure but could not even get a second on my motion.

    If this same mailing were to be put out the day after the election the School District staff and Board of Trustees would likely consider it to be a waste of money. The people running the campaign will say this is a public service. Great. It will be excellent to see this service provided right AFTER the election — but it won’t be.

    You can pick Dunning apart on this one — but the overall sentiment is right on.

    It is an abuse of taxpayer money that the school district is in the process of trying to get more of.

    Matt Rexroad
    662-5184

  9. rusty49

    “The district told me that the people who request an exemption do not appear to be angry non-tax paying people but elderly, concerned citizens who support the schools but are on a fixed income.”

    From what you’re saying here isn’t it likely that the district figured they were all mostly yes votes? So why not send out mailers before the election as a friendly little reminder to get out and vote. Like I said, this stinks.

  10. rusty49

    “Matt: I’m still trying to get the exact number it went out to, but it’s very small. It’s not going to influence anything.”

    If it influenced one vote it’s too many.

  11. hpierce

    [quote]Yes just like have a billion other information pieces, it is the loophole in the law. But it is legal. [/quote]Let’s find out. Please send a copy to the State Fair Political Processes office. That would go towards ‘transparency’.
    Legal vs. ethically/morally right… David, do you use the same metric for the judicial system?
    I suspect the mailer was NOT financed by DJUSD, but DTA/CTA.

  12. Don Shor

    I think your parsing of the letter is rather disingenuous. This was a clearly political letter sent by the district superintendent on official stationery, appealing to a specific sub-set of voters for clearly political reasons. Clumsy, and well-deserving of disdain. I think it will backfire.

  13. David M. Greenwald

    Statement from Sheila Allen submitted for attribution:

    [quote]I had many questions about the senior exemption myself and I am comfortable with our process and outreach.

    According to the woman who works with the public (Bruce’s assistant) the people who request an exemption do not appear to be angry non-tax paying people but elderly, concerned citizens who support the schools but are on a fixed income. The district staff works carefully and patiently with them to assure they understand the exemption. By law each separate parcel tax must have a separate exemption. The factual letter (that was checked by our lawyer to assure its neutrality) provided the information on the Measure A tax and the exemption form only to those that already have an existing exemption. The number of people who request an exemption is a small percentage of those age 65 and older in Davis.

    As someone who works with Senior Citizens I am proud that the school board includes senior exemptions as a option for those who request it. By law we are not allowed to needs test our senior exemptions or have a general exemption for low income individuals. [/quote]

  14. E Roberts Musser

    I agree wholeheartedly with both Matt Rexroad’s sentiments and Don Shor’s. It it walks like a duck, waddles like a duck, sounds like a duck, it’s a duck…

  15. Don Shor

    The informational letter could just as readily have been sent out after the election, in the event the tax passes. Then there is no question about the intent.

  16. David M. Greenwald

    Medwoman: It’s prop 13’s provision that allows an exemption for seniors, but not low income or means testing for seniors.

    Don: Why wouldn’t you want to send our your reminder before the election? Second, there is a limited time between the election and the deadline to file for exemptions, when dealing with seniors, it’s probably best to air on the side of caution.

  17. wdf1

    There has also been misinformation going out that there is an automatic exemption for seniors, ignoring the fact that you do have to fill out the exemption. The positive side of this controversy is that I think that voters who care about that part of the issue will better understand what one has to do to get a senior exemption.

    Most voters in Davis know when they’re being pandered to, and will vote accordingly. After all, we’re supposed to be the second most educated city in America according to someone.

    The way I read the original letter and Dunning’s interpretation of the letter in his column, Dunning parsed the flyer in such a way so as to appear as campaign literature. The letter is very bland and neutral by comparison. I think Dunning was just a little short on interesting material as the deadline was approaching, and this was the most engaging thing he could come up with.

  18. Don Shor

    [i]Why wouldn’t you want to send our your reminder before the election?
    [/i]
    For the rather obvious reason that it appears to be political rather than informational when it is sent before the election.

    [i]”The week of April 4th you will receive a ballot in the mail and be asked to approve Measure A.”[/i]

    Sheila: “The factual letter (that was checked by our lawyer to assure its neutrality)”

    A neutral letter would have said “approve or reject.” Perhaps they should have asked for a second opinion from a non-district lawyer. Or an English major.

    [i] there is a limited time between the election and the deadline to file for exemptions, when dealing with seniors, it’s probably best to air on the side of caution.[/i]
    The election is May 3. They have until June 30 to submit their request for exemption.

    You really don’t think this letter has the appearance of an attempt to influence the votes of a specific group of voters?

  19. rusty49

    “According to the woman who works with the public (Bruce’s assistant) the people who request an exemption do not appear to be angry non-tax paying people but elderly, concerned citizens who support the schools but are on a fixed income.”

    “Angry non-tax paying people”? That is so laughable. Why couldn’t they have been concerned no votes who feel they’re budgets are already stressed too far people, or concerned that the school district needs to budget they’re funds better people?

  20. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “The standard is not whether it looks political, it’s whether they expressly advocated passage and they do not.”

    1) We don’t know whether this mailer is legal or not; just bc the school district says it is legal doesn’t make it so.
    2) This letter at the very least has all the appearance of impropriety.
    3) The letter cost the school district money to mail out, at a time when it is insisting it doesn’t have any money – which looks hypocritical/disingenous.
    4) The letter is singling out certain seniors for disparate treatment.
    5) Nowhere in the letter does it so much as mention that the voter can reject Measure A, which clearly places this letter in the category of advocating for Measure A any way you slice it.

  21. wdf1

    Probably most who care have already seen it, but here’s the link to Dunning’s piece in question:

    [url]http://digital.davisenterprise.com/opinion/dunning/politicking-on-the-publics-dime/[/url]

  22. medwoman

    wdf1:

    Agreed. However I think there is far too much being made here about the impact of Dunning’s column. Whether or not you happen to agree with his point of view, I think that most would agree that Dunning’s role is not that of a journalist. He is a writer of an opinion column and has staked out his position as a provocative writer which he seems to relish. While his views are frequently entertaining, I would hope that any one who is seriously considering the merits of an issue would not use the Dunning column as a source of factual information.

  23. wdf1

    ERM: [i]4) The letter is singling out certain seniors for disparate treatment.
    [/i]

    The parcel tax already singles out (legally) a certain group for disparate treatment. Other literature on the measure is less specific about how the exemption works. This information is directed specifically at seniors who might like to know more about that specific aspect.

    ERM: [i]5) Nowhere in the letter does it so much as mention that the voter can reject Measure A, which clearly places this letter in the category of advocating for Measure A any way you slice it.[/i]

    I think most voters in the U.S. understand this phrase —

    [i]The District is seeking voter approval for a parcel tax[/i] and [i]If approved,[/i]

    — to mean that the voter(s) can accept or reject it.

  24. David M. Greenwald

    “You really don’t think this letter has the appearance of an attempt to influence the votes of a specific group of voters? “

    I don’t think that was the intent, but I can see the appearance from the comments above. My only beef is with the one line which should have read “whether to approve” rather than “approve.” I think that was sloppy. I still think if this were intended to be a political mailer, they would have sent to all seniors rather than a very small percentage of the senior population.

  25. David M. Greenwald

    “1) We don’t know whether this mailer is legal or not; just bc the school district says it is legal doesn’t make it so.”

    I’m willing to bet it’s legal based on my non-lawyerly knowledge of election law. It does not expressly advocate that people vote for it, that is sufficient with regard to the law. Look it up, Ms. Lawyer.

    “2) This letter at the very least has all the appearance of impropriety.”

    That’s an opinion.

    “3) The letter cost the school district money to mail out, at a time when it is insisting it doesn’t have any money – which looks hypocritical/disingenous.”

    I doubt it cost very much and they probably have a fund for communications to the public.

    “4) The letter is singling out certain seniors for disparate treatment.”

    I’m not following you here. It is reminding people who filled out an exemption in the past that they can do so here and showing them how to do that.

    “5) Nowhere in the letter does it so much as mention that the voter can reject Measure A, which clearly places this letter in the category of advocating for Measure A any way you slice it. “

    They are not required to do that. The only legal requirement is that they not advocate for passage. They cannot say vote for X. It’s just like the soft money loophole, non-profits can provide information so long as they do not expressly advocate. There are creative efforts to mix the two. This is not even that elaborate.

  26. hpierce

    medwoman:
    Agreed. However I think there is far too much being made here about the impact of David’s blog. Whether or not you happen to agree with his point of view, I think that most would agree that David’s role is not that of a journalist. He is a writer of an opinion blog and has staked out his position as a provocative writer which he seems to relish. While his views are frequently entertaining, I would hope that any one who is seriously considering the merits of an issue would not use the Vanguard as a source of factual information.

  27. David M. Greenwald

    I try to provide as accurate an information as possible. Do I have an opinion that I share? Yes. But I try to separate that from the facts.

  28. Matt Rexroad

    one other thing that hacks me off on this issue every tie it is brought up….

    Who gets sent the letter?

    I will bet it happens to be registered voters only. Why? Because they are voting in the upcoming election.

    If this really is outreach to people to inform the residents then all elderly property owners (voting status would not matter) should get the information.

    I am willing to bet a Diet Coke this only went to registered voters.

  29. medwoman

    Matt Rexroad:

    Two questions:
    1) Why would one send specific information on a voting process to any one but likely voters?
    2) Would it not cost significantly more, and thus be presumably more objectionable, to send a general mailing to those not likely to be affected?

  30. Rifkin

    I have not yet made up my mind on how I will vote on Measure A. However, this badly written piece of propaganda is pushing me toward a ‘no’ vote.

    [i]”As a senior citizen who owns a parcel of land within the [u]District[/u] on which [u]their[/u] primary residence is located, [u]you[/u] will not be subject to the Measure A parcel tax if you file for an exemption.”[/i]

    It’s a shame our school district’s propagandist cannot write proper English. Are there no qualified editors employed by the DJUSD?

    First, the propagandist switched from the second person singular to the third person plural and then back to the second person singular all in reference to the same property owner. If a 6th grader at West Davis Intermediate School had done that in my day, Mr. Willett would have given him an F. The district’s official bad writing does not give me confidence in the people asking for more money.

    Second, it’s a mistake to capitalize ‘district.’ The author of this piece did that a number of times, but not every time. Here he used the lower case:

    [i]”Measure A seeks voter approval of a parcel tax on all parcels of real estate located within the school district.”[/i]

    This author also capitalized ‘state’ when he should not have. It’s defensible to claim he was using stylized writing, and therefore his errors are acceptable. However, that defense falls apart when the propagandist is inconsistent with his capitalization of nouns for no reason.

    [i]”The programs in question may include reduced class sizes, sufficient numbers of core subject [u]classe[/u], foreign language programs, music, [u]Career Technical[/u] programs, counseling, site safety and support services.”[/i]

    Classé?

    As with district and state, the propagandist’s capitalization of ‘career technical’ is poor English.

    [i]”The week of April 4th you will receive a ballot in the mail and be asked to approve Measure A. The elections office must receive your ballot by May 3, 2011 to be counted.”[/i]

    It’s poor style to write April 4th. If you put the day of the month in front, then you should write the 4th of April. But when you place the month first, then go with April 4. Notice that in the second sentence, the propagandist correctly wrote ‘May 3.’

    It’s often stated that the test scores in Davis are high due to our fine district employees. My presumption is that many districts nearby with poorer test scores have equally talented employees. The other districts simply lack large numbers of highly educated parents. It would not surprise me if the propagandist employed by the Woodland school district could forge a better advertisement than the one the Davis district mailed out. Our superintendent should be ashamed of this trash.

  31. Rifkin

    [i]”As with district and state, the propagandist’s capitalization of ‘career technical’ is poor English.”[/i]

    By the way, I know there is a state categorical funding program called ‘career technical education.’ (That is idiotese for what everyone else calls manual arts education.) That still does not excuse capitalizing ‘career technical.’ Doing so is wrong and confirms what [s]boneheads[/s] types of people our district is paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per year each.

  32. David M. Greenwald

    Bruce Colby told me the reason they sent it now is because they typically get inundated with requests during the election anyway. “The mailing was done at the requests of seniors who swamp our offices before, during and after the elections.” They believe this will save the office money and staff time in processing applications, answering questions, etc.

  33. rusty49

    “Bruce Colby told me the reason they sent it now is because they typically get inundated with requests during the election anyway. “The mailing was done at the requests of seniors who swamp our offices before, during and after the elections.” They believe this will save the office money and staff time in processing applications, answering questions, etc.”

    So let me get this straight, first it was being spun that this is just a very small amount of voters, now it’s because the seniors swamp the offices?

  34. David M. Greenwald

    Rusty: You imply two things that are incorrect. First, that there is some “spin” going on here. The spin, if you will, came from me when it was clear from both the letter and from the district that in fact this went to not every voter but rather to only those who had applied previously for an exemption. I don’t know the exact amount but know that to be a small number.

    Second, you imply there is a disconnect between a small number and a large volume of requests. 30 would be a high volume of requests and difficult for the district to handle. My guess is there are somewhere around 200 exemptions – that is strictly a guess, I pulled it out myself, it is not spin and may not be right, but if it is more, it’s not much more. Even that small number from the standpoint of percentage of voters would be enough to swamp their offices.

  35. medwoman

    Rifkin:

    I would think that your objections to the poor writing and editing would be a strong argument in favor of supporting better K-12 education which was perhaps lacking for this individual. I can hardly see poor writing by one adult as justification for undermining education for current students.

  36. David M. Greenwald

    Okay, just talked to Bruce Colby over the phone. He said the number is actually 1000 – three hundred in Rancho Yolo alone. He said that they were very nervous about the tax increase and packing. They were already flooding their office and the office was overwhelmed with no fulltime public service person at the front desk.

    Bruce Colby helped direct the process where by the legal people and district leadership wrote the letter and cleared it with the legal people. It was not from the campaign at all. The only purpose of it was alleviating their log jam and the anxiety of the seniors involved. The Board was not officially involved with the sending of the letter, although he ran it by some of the board members.

  37. wdf1

    Rifkin: [i]The district’s official bad writing does not give me confidence in the people asking for more money.[/i]

    I would hope that those who write best in the district are teaching in some classroom.

  38. wdf1

    Rifkin: [i]It’s often stated that the test scores in Davis are high due to our fine district employees. My presumption is that many districts nearby with poorer test scores have equally talented employees. The other districts simply lack large numbers of highly educated parents.[/i]

    You imply that educated parents are influencing their offsprings’ performance either because of good DNA or because of a good home environment. I think that is valid.

    But an additional point in having an educated community is that they value education highly enough to consider voting for this. They value the local schools enough to take local initiative to do something about it.

    I wish all school districts would respond in kind, but I only live in Davis. The best result that I can hope for is that we set an example for other school districts to follow, if they care enough about their local schools. The state is unreliable.

  39. hpierce

    Let’s see… fixed income… last time I checked, my income is fixed. I cannot increase it by additional effort. Rancho Yolo residents have concerns? As I understand it, they OWN their trailer, and rent their “space”… the park is taxed, as I understand it, at multifamily rates… isn’t that $20/YEAR per the proposal, or less than $2/month? At least half of that amount was spent per letter that went out, discounting the legal review that was probably charged out at over $200/Hr.
    The money is no longer the issue. The principle that you can obliquely reassure seniors (independent of whether their ‘fixed income’ is $20,000 or $80,000 per year, to vote for a tax they can exempt themselves from is WRONG. I had been on the fence how to vote, and I have supported every previous school district parcel tax. Given the lack of commitment by DJUSD employees to make the same degree of sacrifices that other state/local/UC employees have made, I have voted NO, and the ballot is in the mail. I will however show it is not the money, but the principle, and will send a $200 check to the district before the end of May (if the measure fails), and another one next May.

  40. JustSaying

    How much did Colby say this alternative (to temporarily moving someone to the front) cost?

    Did he say the number just happened to be “actually 1000”–or is that an estimate (or low-ball guess)?

    Which board members reviewed it? Did he mean–by the board not being “officially involved”–that it didn’t

    involve action at a board meeting? Or, that no more than two board members reviewed and discussed it at the same time?

    What did he mean that the Rancho Yolo people (or all the geezers?) were “very nervous” about “packing”?

    What kind of “log jam” did he suggest he needed to “alleviate”? Too many people swarming the empty front desk?

    During how many past elections did he say that they’ve “typically (gotten) inundated with requests…before, during and after…” about school parcel tax senior exemptions? How many such elections have there been here anyway?

    Did he confirm that the mailing was sent only to the small number of seniors who already knew all about the process since everyone of them had gone through it before? if “he mailing was done at the requests of seniors who swamp our offices,” why did he decided [u]not[/u] to send it to the people most likely to swamp the office, the ones who did not already know the process?

    Seems like you probably would have asked Mr. Colby at least some of these questions in order to come up with the answers you report. Hope you fill us in.

    If I sound skeptical, I am. Because of the this is playing out, the more likely scenario is that somebody got concerned that the geezers hadn’t gotten the already clear message that they wouldn’t have to fork up $200 if this passed. So, the lightbulb went off: Let’s rush out a letter, complete with completed application form, so we can head off a senior revolt!

    The first justification sets the stage for an even more embarrassing coverup of how this mailing really came about. Now, it turns out unnamed legal people and unnamed “district leadership” wrote it. Mr. Colby then “helped coordinate” it with more unnamed legal people and unnamed .board members.

    Too bad Mr. Colby didn’t just confess to a misguided, but well-intentioned effort–fall on his sword, as they say. Now, whatever the intentions, the results probably won’t be good for the kids.

  41. David Thompson

    I can confirm that there has been an active series of requests made by a number of board members and residents of Rancho Yolo to the offices of the Yolo County Clerk’s and to the School District over the past few weeks. The manner in which the written material was presented in the mailed information is very confusing to the 330 residents of Rancho Yolo. As a result, I can only assume that many Rancho Yolo residents called either of those offices plus the City and other senior advocacy groups.

    I do think that the letter went out in good faith due to the influx of calls and emails; however, the wording of the letter is causing confusion.

    There are reasonable points for confusion:

    •The document received by residents of Rancho Yolo from DJUSD provides them with an Assessors Parcel Number and the space number for their address in Rancho Yolo. It then goes on to tell them that as property owners they are under penalty of perjury entitled to an exemption. However, none of the 330 seniors living at Rancho Yolo own any part of the property. All the Rancho Yolo residents know that someone else owns the property so I am assuming that signing under penalty of perjury that you do own property which is not yours is frightening. However, the letter from the School District states:

    “As a senior citizen who owns a parcel of land within the District on which their primary residence is located, you will not be subject to the Measure A parcel tax if you file for an exemption.”

    •The residents of Rancho Yolo do own the home but they do not own the parcel underneath them and this of course is called a parcel tax.
    •Many people living at Rancho Yolo also do not actually own the home as a home. Many of them have chosen to own the home as personal property like a car. So what is their status?
    •The letter talks about the Tax being $200 per parcel or $20 per Mobile Home. But the letter is all about parcels so some seniors at Rancho Yolo figured they were going to be paying $200 a year.
    •Members of the board of Ranch Yolo Community Association have been trying to obtain clarification as to the tax status of the residents. Some progress has been made but it is understandable that many Rancho Yolo residents are calling both the County Clerk and the DJUSD. It certainly is continued proof that the status of residents of Rancho Yolo remains unclear and as a result a little frightening. This is especially true for the almost 200 low income seniors living there on fixed incomes.

    David Thompson, Neighborhood Partners, LLC
    Consultants to RYCA

  42. David M. Greenwald

    JS:

    “How much did Colby say this alternative (to temporarily moving someone to the front) cost?”

    I didn’t ask, but he felt it was cheaper than an alternative approach.

    “Did he say the number just happened to be “actually 1000″–or is that an estimate (or low-ball guess)?”

    He said the number was about 1000.

    “Which board members reviewed it? Did he mean–by the board not being “officially involved”–that it didn’t involve action at a board meeting? Or, that no more than two board members reviewed and discussed it at the same time?”

    Do not know which but I know that it was not an official actions. I believe he would have talked to them individually.

    “What did he mean that the Rancho Yolo people (or all the geezers?) were “very nervous” about “packing”?”

    Not sure, I was trying to type fast as he talked on the phone.

    “What kind of “log jam” did he suggest he needed to “alleviate”? Too many people swarming the empty front desk?”

    There was one person to handle more people than she could handle.

    “During how many past elections did he say that they’ve “typically (gotten) inundated with requests…before, during and after…” about school parcel tax senior exemptions? How many such elections have there been here anyway?”

    I’m not sure how it has worked in the past or whether they are less equipped with budget cuts to handle it. I can remember 07 and 08.

    “Did he confirm that the mailing was sent only to the small number of seniors who already knew all about the process since everyone of them had gone through it before? if “he mailing was done at the requests of seniors who swamp our offices,” why did he decided not to send it to the people most likely to swamp the office, the ones who did not already know the process?”

    It seemed that the people who had applied in the past were the ones concerned about making sure that they were able to get the waiver again.

  43. wdf1

    [i]The first justification sets the stage for an even more embarrassing coverup of how this mailing really came about. Now, it turns out unnamed legal people and unnamed “district leadership” wrote it. Mr. Colby then “helped coordinate” it with more unnamed legal people and unnamed .board members.[/i]

    It is Sunday at the end of Spring Break. Dunning’s column was first posted online, sometime around 5 p.m. I’m aware of at least two school board members who were out of town last night and this morning. Under the given circumstances, I think there was a very good effort to provide as much information as possible. I applaud DMG for taking the time to call around to see if there was more to the story. It would have been really easy for him to have echoed Dunning’s gripe.

    The point is, I don’t see a coverup in play. I would at least wait and see what the district comes up with in the next day or so before making statements like that.

  44. medwoman

    Hpierce,

    If everyone were as fair minded and non punitive about this as you appear to be, I would not take issue with the criticism of this mailer.
    What disturbed me is that it seems to represent yet another excuse for those who just plain don’t care about the schools and don’t want to say so or those who just abhor taxes on principle and would not support a tax regardless of it’s potential benefit.

    Once again, it is the current students who will be the big losers if this measure does not pass. And, my “yes” ballot has already been sent ; )

  45. hpierce

    BTW, if Colby talked to more than 2 members, that’s a potential violation of Brown Act (serial conversations). Had this been the City or the County, I suspect David would be all over that potential issue. But not for DJUSD.

  46. hpierce

    jrberg makes an interesting point… the following assumes that Dunning got the letter mailed to him (don’t know if that is a fact, or not)…if David is correct, Dunning has filed for the exemption… which is interesting, if true, as he still has kids in the system… if Dunning got the letter WITHOUT claiming the exemption, that belies the representations made that it was only mailed to those claiming the exemption in the past… which strikes me as strange, in that if you’ve filed in the past, why do you need a mailer to learn how to file (unless the district is assuming memory issues)…

  47. Rifkin

    [i]”Haven’t seen this point made yet, but did Dunning receive one of the mailers himself? He IS of the qualifying age….”[/i]

    FWIW, Bob Dunning is under age 65.

  48. Rifkin

    [i]”I would think that your objections to the poor writing and editing would be a strong argument in favor of supporting better K-12 education which was perhaps lacking for this individual.”[/i]

    I support ‘better K-12 education.’ However, spending more money on education does not mean achieving better results. This is especially so when we have official policies of not paying for performance.

    I’m sure that if we paid our teachers based on how well they graded out, almost all of our teachers would perform better. It may come as a surprise to you, but people respond to incentives.

  49. jrberg

    [i]FWIW, Bob Dunning is under age 65. [/i]

    If so, he’s about to turn 65. He’s about exactly the same age as I am, but I don’t remember his birthdate. I can’t wait until he starts his next family at age 70… (That’s snark, for you humor impaired folks.)

  50. Observer

    A tempest in a teapot, but Rusty (This once only) is right, as it Max Rexroad. To send out information on how to get an exemption for a law that isn’t a law ye, is clearly campaigning. There should be an apology and some hand slapping, then move on.

  51. JustSaying

    [quote]“The document received by residents of Rancho Yolo from DJUSD provides them with an Assessors Parcel Number and the space number for their address in Rancho Yolo. It then goes on to tell them that as property owners they are under penalty of perjury entitled to an exemption. However, none of the 330 seniors living at Rancho Yolo own any part of the property.”[/quote]David T., where are you getting such information? You must be mistaken, for–as had been said repeatedly and verified and “confirmed”–“this piece only went out to those who currently hold a senior exemption.” Is it possible that a different version of the letter went Rancho Yolo-ites than the one David read? [quote]“Our record show you as a current senior exemption holder.”[/quote]Have all of the 330 seniors at Rancho Yolo applied for and received current exemptions? Are they really concerned (or “packing” to leave) because they’re worried about the major burden this new parcel tax will place on their standard of living?

    You note that the Rancho Yolo board members have been trying to obtain clarification as to the tax status of the residents. But it sounds as though you’re saying the residents were really confused [u]after[/u] they received the district letter.

  52. Shelley

    “FWIW, Bob Dunning is under age 65.

    If so, he’s about to turn 65. He’s about exactly the same age as I am, but I don’t remember his birthdate. I can’t wait until he starts his next family at age 70… (That’s snark, for you humor impaired folks.)”

    I am stunned at what this blog believes is “ok” to post. In 15 years of living in Davis and in all my years married to and raising a family with Bob Dunning, I have never–NEVER–seen my family inserted into an issue.
    Bob’s family has absolutely nothing to do with this issue and jrberg doesn’t know anything about us. His comment was inappropriate, insulting to me and my kids and absolutely classless.

  53. Mr.Toad

    Dunning rips the district and rightfully so but he also stops short of condemning the proposal because of the mistakes of the proponents. Vote yes. I have always supported prior votes even though I didn’t have kids in school. Now that I have a child in DJUSD I hope that people will vote to support my kid’s education.

  54. JustSaying

    I’m with you and your kid, Mr. Toad. We’d voted for every special levy for schools and for the Mary L. Stephens Library since we got to this burg. I’m confident that this one will will be approved ’cause it’s what Davis is all about, keeping the city a great place to bring up children.

    Living Green in Davis is over-rated, but we’re justifiably proud of our schools and other learning opportunities here. Vote “YES”! These recent goofy controversies (inappropriate campaigning, appropriate coach firing) will pass soon. But we’ll take much longer to recover if our schools keep losing capacity to do the job.

  55. David Thompson

    Since December of 2009, the board of Rancho Yolo Community Association have been engaged in an effort to fully understand every legal and regulatory aspect that applies to Rancho Yolo and its residents. This was part of the due diligence RYCA went through as part of its proposal to buy the park. However, for 15 months neither the City Council nor the City Manager would ever respond to any of RYCA’s written requests. Last month under the new five person Council we are grateful that the embargo on communcation with RYCA appears to be lifting.

    Most people would not understand the immense complications of owning a home which sits on land rented by the month. Go to http://www.community.coop/davis/ryca or http://community.coop/twinpines/parks/stories.html.

    Amongst those problems is the lack of clarification when it comes to voting and property taxes.

    JustSaying is correct to ask me to clarify who got the letter. He is right the letter was received by “senior exemption holders”. However, as almost all the RY households contain seniors and many do have “the senior exemption” then of course most residents of RY did receive the letter.

    About a month ago, members of the RYCA board began a conversation that was spurred by discussion of the possible tripling of water rates. This moved into trying to determine whether the owner of the park would get the increase and then pass that on through monthly rents or would there be a bill to each home? In all of this would there be a senior exemption or would there be a low income exemption? Some taxes allow one and not the other.

    Then community discussion of Measure A began and similar questions were raised. I would say that board members of RYCA began to search for answers a few weeks ago and many calls starting going to DJUSD and others. A number of RY seniors I am told did start to make visits and calls to the DJUSD office. I honestly believe that the letter from DJUSD was an appropriate attempt to help residents of RY who were already receiving the senior exemption understand their status relating to Measure A. I am grateful that the Superintendent made the attempt and that probably helped a number of present exemption holders.

    However, more work needs to be done explaining both the status and the process and using the correct terminology (home yes, parcel no) as it applies to those mobile home owners who rent a space by the month at Rancho Yolo.

    Keep in mind that the parcel tax is applied to each home at RY and so there is only one exemption for each home. However, there is in many cases more than one voter at each home.

    David Thompson, Neighborhood Partners, LLC.

  56. Thomas Randall, Jr

    Hello,

    What the DJUSD did was certainly inappropriate in mailing out this letter prematurely offering a Senior Citizen Parcel Tax Exemption before the election on Measure A was decided. Clearly, and act of arrogance on the DJUSD Administration’s part.

    There are many reasons to be opposed to Measure A like I am and I offer commentary in that regard on the following website and its also connected to a Facebook webpage as well (see below):

    http://www.yvm.net/vme/no-on-a

    And the “No on A” campaign has also been doing phone calling as well.

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