Stakes Laid Out if Measure A Fails

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chalkboardOn Monday, layoff notices to 63 employees were reviewed by an administrative law judge.  According to district sources, the rank order of those layoffs will be determined by the hiring dates of the employees, with the last ones hired being the first ones laid off.

We will know in two weeks how many of those layoffs will have to go out.

The school district right now faces at least a $6 million deficit due to ongoing cuts to the state budget and the failure to fund things such as COLA (cost of living adjustment, or allowance).

Measure A would restore roughly $3 million of those cuts.

The consequences for such cuts would be dire.  If Measure A fails, seventh period would be eliminated for seventh and eighth grade students who attend Junior High.  Teaching positions would be eliminated.  Electives would be cancelled.

Elementary schools will be particularly hard hit as the district raises the student to teacher ratio that had been cut to as low as 20 to 1 over the last two decades.  Now we may be looking at, once again, 30 to 1 ratios.

Gail Mitchell, president-elect of the Davis Teachers Association, was reported by the Davis Enterprise on Monday to say, ““This year may be devastating to existing programs we have for our students.”

“Thirty children in a first-grade class will make for lower reading competency later on,” Ms. Mitchell warned.

“Measure A will help mitigate the effect of statewide cuts for our students,” she continued. “If the California Legislature approves the governor’s budget, it will help our students and all of California’s students.”

The last two parcel taxes in 2007 and 2008 easily reached the two-thirds level, with 2007’s Measure Q gaining 70 percent of the vote and Measure W in 2008 gaining 75 percent of the vote.

Things may be different this time.  For one thing, the magnitude of the tax increase was $200 over two years.  That put it right on the bubble of the polling.  Normally, the district has little opposition to the parcel tax.

However, this year, it is harder to judge. Thomas Randall has been a consistent opponent of taxes.  While he has opposed them in the past, this time he sent out a robocall to an undisclosed number of homes last Wednesday.

Earlier he had written an op-ed in the Davis Enterprise that argued, “Many low- and middle-income taxpayers struggle to pay the overall rate of property taxation in Davis.”

“The Davis school board and the governing bodies of many other local government entities have placed an inordinate number of special tax measures on the ballot in recent elections,” he wrote.  “Eight special tax measures have passed and are in effect, amounting to an additional average property tax rate of $1,188 per parcel per year. This is a 75 percent increase from approximately $673.32 since 1998, when there were just five special property tax assessments within the Davis city limits. If Measure A passes, there will be nine.”

And this time he is not alone.

In a letter to the Davis Enterprise, Jose Granda argued, “I have lived in Davis for 32 years and since 1980 I have paid the taxes the school board imposed on us. I support the schools, as you and I are paying already $320, but I like many others have reached voter fatigue, and this time we must say NO on Measure A.”

His argument is that “this is not an emergency measure,” and instead the school board will be asking next year to “increase the $320 you are already paying. If we do not say NO on A  now there will be no end in sight to over-taxation.”

His letter, however, contained factual errors and other problems.

For instance, he wrote, “The school board has reserves in the bank. They should spend those reserves before they come asking you to pay. That is also taxpayers’ money.”

What he seemed to fail to recognize is that the state mandates a school district hold a certain amount in reserve and they cannot use that money.  Moreover, it is not sufficient to cover the budget deficit even if they could use it.

He also wrote, “How come people who are temporary in Davis, living in apartments, and those who do not own property should, by voting on A, determine the property taxes on your home? Is this fair?”

This is an argument that fails to recognize that the purpose for Proposition 13’s two-thirds provision was precisely the reason he states.

Moreover, people are allowed to vote regardless of property status in all elections, that was part of the extension of the franchise.

Making the passage of Measure A even more dicey now, however, is the opposition of Bob Dunning. 

There is, of course, the infamous Sunday column on the even more infamous letter from the district.  Many have taken exception to the tone of the letter sent out by the district, but Mr. Dunning does them no favors by failing to talk to the district prior to his column.

As Richard Reed wrote in a letter to the editor on Monday, Mr. Dunning “cynically distorts an informational letter sent out by Davis schools Superintendent Winfred Roberson and disparages a fine public servant in the process.”

He wrote, “The Davis Joint Unified School District  proposed Measure A and seeks voter approval for Measure A. The district needs the money to preserve programs because of continuing state budget cuts. The district has made no secret of this. Information on the need for Measure A is included on the district’s website.”

He added, “In response to inquiries, Superintendent Roberson sent a letter explaining Measure A to senior citizens who previously had received exemptions for Measures Q and W, two earlier parcel tax measures to support the schools, as they are similarly exempt from Measure A if they file the paper work by an upcoming deadline. It is appropriate for the district’s senior executive to explain what the ballot measure is for, as the district is proposing it.”

“The letter does not make a recommendation about how to vote and nowhere does it say vote “yes” on Measure A, yet the column repeatedly presents this as fact,” Mr. Reed concludes.  “Bob Dunning’s cynicism has finally curdled.”

In fact, it’s not just the letter. Mr. Dunning has been angry at the district since their handling of the firing of the girl’s basketball coach left something to be desired.

His complaints preceded the letter, complaining about the all-mail ballot and attempting to create some sort of controversy about a process that has been used in many jurisdictions to good effect.

In his most recent effort he writes, “I would never suggest to anyone in the Second Most Educated City in America how they should vote on a particular issue.”

However, then he, in effect, does precisely that, “I am, however, willing to share what’s going through my mind as I sit down at the kitchen table to cast my ballot in what has become a more-contentious-than-usual school parcel tax measure.”

He writes, “In the past, passage of such a tax, even with a two-thirds majority requirement, was a foregone conclusion…  This time is different. Passage of Measure A is not the slam-dunk it would have been in recent years.”

Then he goes about listing all the problems he has with the school board.

“It would be easy to simply vote “yes” and hope everything works out for the best,” he writes.  “It would also be easy to simply vote “no.” Enough is enough. You can’t keep running back to the voters every time you decide to declare an emergency.”

Suddenly he reverses course. He writes, “On the flip side of all this negativity are the talented and hard-working teachers who show up for work every day to do their level best to educate the kids of this town. They are far from being overpaid for their efforts.”

“And then there are the kids themselves. The system’s not perfect, but we are turning out great kids. Over the years, I’ve had six of my own children in the Davis school system and all have been well served by a variety of teachers. I don’t think any of them would trade the opportunities they’ve been given or the teachers they’ve had,” he continues.

Then he decides to mock the process by suggesting he would cast a write-in ballot on a yes or no question.

In the end, he decides to vote “yes” but writes, “I hope the board will read every word on my write-in ballot.  I know I am not alone in my feelings.”

Bob Dunning – opponent?  proponent?  Who knows.  It is easy to talk tough on this until you recognize the stakes.

To date, I have never gotten a good answer to what people will cut to get to six million.

So I will offer this, the person who finds $6 million to cut from the general fund budget can get a full front page article on the Vanguard.

—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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17 thoughts on “Stakes Laid Out if Measure A Fails”

  1. Observer

    I too was put off by Dunning’s left-handed support of Measure A, especially when he extols the benefits his six kids have gotten from the public schools. What a hypocrite!

  2. hpierce

    I offer four predictions… first, measure A will pass, narrowly… second, the combined assessment for the schools, after passage, will become the new “baseline” for what Davis property owners will pay, irrespective of improved funding from the State. Third, when the existing measures are up for renewal, they will be proposed to increase by 30-50%, even if the State restores funding. Fourth DTA will get 5-8% raises over the next two years.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    I’m not normally a big fan of Bob Dunning, but he did a masterful job in laying out the pros and cons of Measure A. Because he didn’t laud the schools wholeheartedly w/o reservation, he is being repeatedly and unnecessarily villified in the Vanguard. Again, more of the same in this article: either you are w us or against us on Measure A, and if you are against us you are flat out WRONG. To be against Measure A is somehow ignorant, shortsighted, etc. ad nauseum.

    As I pointed out yesterday, there are pros and cons on both sides of the Measure A issue. There is no “right” or “wrong” here, and everyone needs to vote their conscience. What Bob Dunning was essentially saying was this: he is angry at past mistakes and mishandling of issues by the school district, but he will reluctantly hold his nose and vote for Measure A. However, if the school district wants him to vote for a continuation of existing parcel taxes or any more increases, they had better clean up their act. I see nothing wrong w that position. Bob Dunning is entitled to it, and am glad he said what has needed to be said for a long time. The school district has made a huge number of missteps, and needs to do better…

  4. E Roberts Musser

    hpierce: “I offer four predictions… first, measure A will pass, narrowly… second, the combined assessment for the schools, after passage, will become the new “baseline” for what Davis property owners will pay, irrespective of improved funding from the State. Third, when the existing measures are up for renewal, they will be proposed to increase by 30-50%, even if the State restores funding. Fourth DTA will get 5-8% raises over the next two years.”

    I concur w your assessment. The schools are a bottomless pit that will forever be putting their hands out for more money… my only hope is they will start giving us more bang for the buck. Futile hope, I know…

  5. Mr.Toad

    “The schools are a bottomless pit that will forever be putting their hands out for more money…”

    and what would you have become without access to such a bottomless pit?

  6. Alphonso

    [b]I concur w your assessment. The schools are a bottomless pit that will forever be putting their hands out for more money… my only hope is they will start giving us more bang for the buck. Futile hope, I know…[/b]

    Which bottomless pit are you talking about – the UC System (UCD) or the local school district. It seems odd that a community that is so dependent on tax ‘Handouts” (direct contributions as well as grant money) would argue over supporting their own schools. Davis would not exist without state and federal taxpayer support.

  7. David M. Greenwald

    Measure A will expire in two years. Will they renew it if it passes this time? That’s a difficult question but it does not appear that the funding to schools will be restore by that point, so we may see them try to put another ballot. A lot is going to depend on the state budget and what it looks like.

    It’s easier to call it a money pit, but we are spending quite a bit less than we were five years ago.

  8. roger bockrath

    The real money pits in this country are the obscenely bloated military and prison system, both growth industrys. Of course both teach people “skills”. I guess it’s up to voters to decide which skills we want to teach.

    As for Bob Dunning putting SIX children through the Davis School System-I sure hope at least four of those kids were adopted. With over population being the number one problem on the planet, Bob appears to have contributed mightily!

  9. sjkelleher@hotmail.com

    Well, The district does have reserves that have not been fully utilized. They have never gone into the reserves to the depth that the law allows. In fact they always have more at the end of the year than they anticipated. This past fiscal year saw their reserves grow yet again apparently disproving the need for teachers (and students) to lose five instructional days.
    Over the past few years we have seen the school board borrow $12 million dollars for a stadium while the high school and Emerson Jr High desperately need renovation. And no, it’s not a different pot of money. A loan is a loan and is paid for out of the general fund. The same general fund that pays salaries, etc. And on that note, the district has laid out nearly $300,000 in administrator pay and benefits over the last 3 years. The same 3 years that have seen state funding cuts. Therefore, the only way to pay for these increases was to lay off people and cut services.
    I wonder how much of this bond measure would be necessary if the Board were more fiscally prudent?
    On a different note: Mr Musser, where in the world did you get the idea that the DTA would receive a 5-8% increase? The DTA hasn’t seen that kind of money in nearly a decade.

  10. Don Shor

    David: [i]”Making the passage of Measure A even more dicey now, however, is the opposition of Bob Dunning.””Bob Dunning – opponent? proponent? Who knows.”[/i]

    Bob Dunning: “We never know all the factors that go into keeping kids engaged in school, but every time we eliminate a program, we ultimately eliminate someone’s passion as well. At this point, I’m not willing to allow that to happen.
    I’m filling in the “yes” box even as we speak….”

    Seems pretty clear to me.

  11. wdf1

    Kelleher: [i]Over the past few years we have seen the school board borrow $12 million dollars for a stadium while the high school and Emerson Jr High desperately need renovation. And no, it’s not a different pot of money. A loan is a loan and is paid for out of the general fund.[/i]

    As you are an involved DTA member who presumably follows school board meetings regularly, I’m surprised to see you say this (or maybe not). The stadium loan is paid for out of remaining CFD funds. Please go on record here and say that those CFD funds can be used to pay for teachers’ salaries.

  12. davehart

    Look down there at the little people scurrying around and fighting amongst themselves over how to divvy up the crumbs we left them. They’re so predictable and so pathetic. We can always count on the really selfish ones to stir it up and divert attention away from us. Bwahh ha hahahaha!

  13. wdf1

    DMG: [i]Measure A will expire in two years. Will they renew it if it passes this time?[/i]

    The reason for thinking they won’t is that the California economy is generally improving. Government revenues are a lagging indicator in coming out of a recession. By this time next year, more people will be filing on more income, which should begin to soften the situation starting with the 2012-13 school/fiscal year. This article explains some of this, also how schools attract business:

    [url]http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704662604576256920202986158.html?mod=WSJ_WSJ_News_SanFranciscoBayArea68_4[/url]

  14. Rifkin

    Probably because I agree with her post (04/19/11 – 08:52 AM), I want to endorse and second what Elaine said. I think her take on Bob Dunning’s columns on this topic are spot on.

    Observer: [i]”I too was put off by Dunning’s left-handed support of Measure A …”[/i]

    You have every right to be put off. I, though, disagree with your assessment if it is your opinion that a person can not come down on one side and have reservations about the side he is on or the people who are in charge of that side*. In other words, I think it is perfectly okay to take one side but to not do so without expressing honest reservations.

    *I should note that this is how I feel almost every time I vote for some individual for public office. I don’t fit neatly into the Republican or Democratic camps. I can vote for a Republican, but dislike his voting for welfare payments to rich farmers or selling out to corporations looking to get away with not paying taxes or his right-wing religious crap. I can vote for a Democrat, but dislike her signing onto exorbitant salaries and benefits to public employees or voting for protectionist legislation or her advocacy for racist programs like Affirmative Action and other set-aside programs which discriminate on the basis of race, gender, etc. For me, it is always voting for the lesser of two evils.

  15. sjkelleher@hotmail.com

    Heya wdf1
    Well, I certainly haven’t heard that there was $10-12 million remaining in the CFD funds. Or that the money in the funds is sufficient to cover the loan payments. I do know that over time this may be the case. Not sure what the interim debt load might be on our general fund.
    But that begs the question of fiscal priorities. I will go on record there.
    For instance, why prioritize a sports facility over academic facilities?
    Why were these CFD funds not directed towards the decrepit high school MPR renovation which was slated to happen when the rest of the high school was redone?
    Why were these funds not used to renovate Emerson jr High?
    I definitely attended the Board meeting 6 years ago when the Emerson staff and students presented a Powerpoint slide show depicting water stained classrom walls, rusting pipes and disintegrating ceiling tiles. What happens to our budget if that school is declared unfit for habitation as the HS MPR was? Where do those students go? We have an inescapable mandate to educate students. That should be our priority. We have no such mandate to provide improved sports facilities. That should take a back seat until the academic needs of our students are fulfilled.

  16. wdf1

    I understand the loan repayment and debt financing to be covered in the CFD funds, and not the general fund, and so has no impact on salaries.

    I followed that issue specifically because I wanted to make sure that whatever facilities project was chosen would not impact the general fund.

    There is an FAQ page for many common questions about the district budget:

    [url]http://www.djusd.net/district/business/budget/questions[/url]

  17. E Roberts Musser

    Rifkin: “*I should note that this is how I feel almost every time I vote for some individual for public office. I don’t fit neatly into the Republican or Democratic camps. I can vote for a Republican, but dislike his voting for welfare payments to rich farmers or selling out to corporations looking to get away with not paying taxes or his right-wing religious crap. I can vote for a Democrat, but dislike her signing onto exorbitant salaries and benefits to public employees or voting for protectionist legislation or her advocacy for racist programs like Affirmative Action and other set-aside programs which discriminate on the basis of race, gender, etc. For me, it is always voting for the lesser of two evils.”

    No, no Rich, you’ve got the exact language not quite correct. As Jay Leno would say, it is choosing the “evil of two lessers”!!! I call it “holding your nose” when voting!!! I just could not agree w you more on this one…

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