Richard Harris Forgoes School Board Reelection to Focus on Dramatic New Parcel Tax Proposal

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In a stunning and dramatic decision by school board member Richard Harris, he announced that he will not seek reelection to the position that he was elected to in 2007, where he helped to guide the district through budget crisis after budget crisis, and one-time fix after one-time fix.

“I want to give people enough time to know that I’m not running,” he told the Vanguard.  “I’m not running because I need more time with my family and my work, but I still want to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish when I first ran.”

“I still believe in public service,” he said, and said that he started to think about what he could do to help the district.  “I’m not going to run but there’s a November election hanging out there and I can’t let that opportunity go by to try to leave a legacy that really helps fix it to the best of our ability to do.”

What he is proposing is eye-opening, stunning, and improbably – a $642 a year additional parcel tax – on top of what we already have.

“I’m going to go for it,” he said.  “I don’t know if my board is going to go for it, but staff helped me figure out the numbers and it comes to $642 a year over and above what we got.”

“If you want a gold standard of education you gotta pay for it,” he added.  “That’s what I think we deserve and that’s what I’m going to ask the people for.”

The problem, as he laid out, is that since 2007, the district has passed parcel taxes in 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2012.

Each time the district passed a parcel tax, the money was actually insufficient to prevent program cuts and layoffs.

This year the district passed a parcel tax in March and was laying off teachers the same month because the parcel tax did not cover a $3.5 million structural deficit.

“Teachers get totally frustrated because we pass a parcel tax and then we’re laying people off,” he said.

“I’m going to go all out to get this thing passed,” he said.  “We have a November electorate.  People vote.  79% of the people voted in November 2008 and we passed Measure W with almost 76%.”

Mr. Harris does not believe they can put the parcel tax on the ballot via initiative; he believes it can only come through board action which would require two of his colleagues to agree with him.

“I’ve done some looking into it and I don’t think we can [put an initiative on the ballot] on a school parcel tax,” he said.

He said that he has already consulted with Tim Taylor, his colleague and Brown Act partner.  He said that he explained the item to Mr. Taylor and Mr. Taylor said, “I’m with you.”

“Remember Tim [Taylor] was a guy that always said we were shooting too low and we were going too low,” Richard Harris told the Vanguard.  “Thing was, we could never afford to lose.”

For the parcel taxes that previously passed, the stakes were too high to lose on.  The school district needed that funding or they would have been forced to cut programs and lay off teachers.

“I’m not saying this one we can afford to lose, but let’s put it this way, we have nothing to lose,” he said.2012_VCW_Fundraising_webad

He said that if someone disagrees with him, they can run for the school board.  In the meantime, he is going to spend the same time, money and energy that he would have put into running for reelection into this parcel tax.

There are presently two parcel taxes on the books.  In May of 2011, the voters approved a two-year, $200 parcel tax as an emergency measure with the hope that the state budget crisis would be over by the time it expired in 2013.

This March, voters overwhelming approved the five-year, $320 Measure C, which replaced Measures Q and W passed in 2007 and 2008 respectively.

This new parcel tax, if the board puts it on the ballot and the voters pass it by the required two-thirds vote, would essentially replace Measure A which expires next year.

That would leave taxpayers with an increased burden from the current $520 per year to near $1000 per year.

That would certainly solve the district fiscal woes for the foreseeable future.  This would be a six-year measure.

This year, the district had to eliminate 50 positions for teachers and other employees and increase class size to close the remaining $3.5 million ongoing structural deficit.

“It’s a lot of money, but don’t tell me my kids don’t deserve that.  My kids and the district’s kids,” he said.

“I would be ignoring my fiduciary responsibility to the district, and my moral obligation to my children, if I walked away from public service without proposing this course of action,” Harris added. “That’s what I really believe.”

—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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34 thoughts on “Richard Harris Forgoes School Board Reelection to Focus on Dramatic New Parcel Tax Proposal”

  1. New Davisite

    More tax proposals… great. Why don’t you work on repealing Prop 13 so everybody pays their fair share of taxes rather than adding more taxes?

  2. rusty49

    What a surprise…..NOT!

    Many politicked that Measure C needed to pass because the Measure Q $200 parcel tax would go away so we really weren’t raising our taxes. I and many others said that was all BS as we all knew they would either try and renew that tax or replace it with another tax. Well it looks like they’re really going to go for it this time. Here’s to hoping they’re way over reaching.

  3. David M. Greenwald

    Rusty: You’re misreading what is going on here. There is no they, this is one person who has decided to forgo his political career and going to attempt to get the Parcel Tax placed on the ballot and passed. Measure C combined Measures Q and W. That would remain on the books. Measure Richard Harris would be something new, well beyond anything ever proposed.

    It’s fair to argue that he’s overreaching, it’s not fair to argue the rest of what you said, because the people who passed that never envisioned this proposal.

  4. rusty49

    “He said that he has already consulted with Tim Taylor, his colleague and Brown Act partner, he said that he explained the item to Mr. Taylor and Mr. Taylor said, “I’m with you.”

    “Remember Tim [Taylor] was a guy that always said we were shooting too low and we were going too low,” Richard Harris told the Vanguard.”

    Well, there’s a good start to the “they”.

  5. Don Shor

    Well, if nothing else, this should give the children of the district a good lesson in price elasticity. We need more econ education in the schools.

  6. JustSaying

    “I’m not saying this one we can afford to lose, but let’s put it this way, we have nothing to lose….”

    What an odd view of governance, that we should squeeze even more out of taxpayers/voters just because some jerks were so calculating the last two times around. No, there’s “nothing to lose” if one doesn’t consider the goodwill and support of Davis residents or the waste in paying for another measure campaign and the related election costs.

    Prop 13 and the court decision that found that the school funding method resulted in disparate educations have left us with, as yet, unsolved government financial problems that only a constitutional convention can solve. We’re a mess, and continuing to avoid paying for government services we need and want has made things unbearable for too many.

    Fix the real problems. Stop trying to make Davis its own little, unaffected island of privilege. If you’ve got a bunch of bucks to run another school measure campaign, just donate it to the Davis School Foundation instead.

  7. Frankly

    Additional parcel tax is DOA unless it includes complete education system reform. No more taking more out of my pocket to pay for the status quo. You want more from me, then sell me on what more you will do for me.

    I think he is wasting his time.

    [i]”Fix the real problems. Stop trying to make Davis its own little, unaffected island of privilege. If you’ve got a bunch of bucks to run another school measure campaign, just donate it to the Davis School Foundation instead.”[/i]

    Excellent!

  8. Mr.Toad

    Does he want to put it on the ballot with both the Brown and Munger initiatives? He would perhaps be better off waiting to see if those can pass before clogging the ballot with distractors.

  9. JustSaying

    [quote]“There is no they, this is one person who has decided to forgo his political career and going to attempt to get the Parcel Tax placed on the ballot and passed.”

    “… I still want to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish when I first ran.”[/quote] This is political suicide for the school district. First, voters will not believe this is just the rantings of one crazed, retiring politician. To say that “they” didn’t evaluate, poll and discuss such various options is to suggest we’ve had a batch of incompetents running our school district in recent years.

    Starting yet another campaign so soon–this one aimed at us paying $1,000 per family on top of what we already pay to fully fund schools–is folly. Failure might not result in long-term embarrassment for Richard Harris as he moves on to spend more time with his family. But, win or lose, the campaign will leave a stain of DJUSD itself for years to come.

    If he wants to be accountable for such a controversial move, he needs to be running for another term. That way, he can suffer the consequences of his own folly when voters run him out of office.

    I’ve supported every parcel tax for our schools and our library. I won’t support one that’s so poorly thought out and that appears to be a make-good on his past “one-time-fix after one-time-fix” strategy.”

    I think Richard Harris has provided excellent leadership over the past five, difficult years. If he wants to leave the board, he should do it with our thanks–not with our resentment for dragging us through another contentious school parcel tax for which he won’t be around to deal with the public fallout.

  10. Mr.Toad

    He’s bailing out but might try to get us to swallow the while bottle of castor oil as he fades from the scene. Obviously he knows he is tilting at windmills but has nothing to lose trying. He has figured out that constantly being behind the 8 ball is no fun so he is going for one big fix so whoever follows him can get on with ribbon cutting and all the rest of the fun stuff.

    Its an audacious plan if he could pull it off.

  11. wdf1

    There is a lot of explaining to do with this. What does he propose funding? It won’t fly to ask for a blank check.

    I don’t think the public conversation has developed enough to present this for a vote. There is already a DSF fundraising campaign ([url]http://www.davisschoolsfoundation.org/about-us/news/funding-history/dollar-a-day/[/url]) going on through July 4. How successful will that be? Do the goals of that campaign resonate with the community? Prior parcel taxes (Measures W, A, & C) developed out of DSF community fundraising efforts.

    And it would be best to poll the community.

    But even more crucial, what does DTA think of this? They just spent a couple of months attacking the school district for being fiscally irresponsible, claiming the district had the money available to reduce class sizes and not cut back on teaching staff. How would DTA explain supporting something like this in light of their recent criticisms, assuming they were to support it? It would be tough to go out and sell this to the public when DTA has been saying, “The money is there, don’t cut the teachers.”

  12. David M. Greenwald

    “Additional parcel tax is DOA unless it includes complete education system reform. “

    Right, as though you speak for the community on this issue Jeff.

  13. David M. Greenwald

    “What an odd view of governance, that we should squeeze even more out of taxpayers/voters just because some jerks were so calculating the last two times around. No, there’s “nothing to lose” if one doesn’t consider the goodwill and support of Davis residents or the waste in paying for another measure campaign and the related election costs.”

    I thought it was an odd view of governance that we would pass a parcel tax and then turn around and lay off teachers next month. Why not lay it on the table, ask for what they need, and see if the community is willing to pay? If they aren’t, then you have to change the way you run the school district.

  14. David M. Greenwald

    ” But, win or lose, the campaign will leave a stain of DJUSD itself for years to come.”

    How is that? The school district asks for what it needs, why is that a horrible thing?

  15. Michael Harrington

    Let’s hear his and Tim’s proposal before trashing it

    I think Rchard and Tim are smart and I believe they might have something very interesting to propose

  16. SODA

    In my opinion Ruchard Harris has shown himself to be arrogant and distainful of public input during his term and this is another indication
    Throwing money at status quo won’t make long term differences
    BTW whose bright idea was it to close the HS lot the week before school was out when something was also happening at Vets?

  17. trudave

    “If you want a gold standard of education you gotta pay for it,”

    Exactly. Has anyone checked out the price of private school? Yes,
    $1000 is a lot of money but it’s still a bargain for an excellent education. I’m sick and tired of people demanding services but being unwilling to pay for them. This initiative has my vote.

  18. Michael Harrington

    SODA: I dont know if you have been an elected official or not, or have sat on an elected Board like the DJUSD, but I think this Board has done a great job with dealing with what has been a near-total fiscal meltdown since 2007, and the kids are still being taught, the school house doors are open, and our kids are growing up in a first class school system.

    You have seen the story yesterday about the 40% decrease in median family wealth since 2007?? There has not been anything comparable to this disaster since 1932, when my mother was born at the start of the Great Depression.

    So unless you, SODA, have sat on a board like the DJUSD and dealt with the fiscal meltdown that these Boards members have lived through, and lived to tell the tale, I suggest you back off from the personal attacks, give all five Board members a “Thank You” for sitting up there and keeping the doors open.

    Now, Mr. Harris’ ideas for a new funding program may or may not be acceptable to the voting public, but I commend him and Tim Taylor for wanting to try something new, whatever it is they are thinking about.

  19. Ryan Kelly

    A thousand dollars a year, which essentially doubles the school taxes paid to $85/month. This will be a tough sell for many. If it passes, families will have to consider where to cut their household costs to afford this. But better everyone, than the teachers and administrators, is that the thinking? Where’s Mike H’s outrage over this raise in fees? Oh, wait. This must not be viewed as growth inducing.

  20. Michael Harrington

    Ryan Kelly: Lighten up. Last fall, you and your buddies lost the fight to stick us with the huge and bogus water rate increases. Get over it, unless you just want to broadcast your bitterness over and over for the Vanguard readership?

    Funny that you would trash Richard Harris for possibly proposing a tax increase for the schools that is a small fraction of the annual rate increases you tried to dump on every house and business in Davis. It tells me that you are anti-schools, or at least want something for nothing.

    I am not for, or against, the Harris/Taylor proposal: I don’t even know what it is. Give them a fair chance before you trash them for trying something new.

    Call me anytime to discuss so you can get your fall 2011 loss off your shoulders and move on. 759-8440. I won’t charge you fees.

  21. Ryan Kelly

    I pay my property taxes.

    Thinking that $85 per month will be tough on Davis households doesn’t make me anti-schools any more than not wanting to pay increased water rates makes me anti-water.

    The strategy to attack people will not win people over, Mike. I suggest that any campaign keep you at arms length if it hopes to win over the voters.

    Mike, you may think you know me, but you don’t. I don’t belong to any group you describe. But I know you.

  22. JustSaying

    [quote]“I thought it was an odd view of governance that we would pass a parcel tax and then turn around and lay off teachers next month. Why not lay it on the table, ask for what they need, and see if the community is willing to pay? If they aren’t, then you have to change the way you run the school district.”

    “But, win or lose, the campaign will leave a stain of DJUSD itself for years to come.”

    “How is that? The school district asks for what it needs, why is that a horrible thing?”[/quote]I agree with your observation that laying off teachers just after telling us we needed to pass a parcel tax or have to cut back on programs and teachers is an odd view of how we except the school board to operate.

    I also agree that the district should ask for what it needs. But, now we find out that, instead, they asked just for what they thought they could get away with based on what their polls revealed voters probably would tolerate.

    We elect school board members to [u]manage[/u] the money they’re provided to operate our schools, not to just ask for more whether it’s one-time-fix after one-time-fix or a Big Fix all at once.

    Nothing personal about Richard Harris, but imposing his personal desire to operate a Big Fix on a school board which he’s abandoning is bad judgment and bad timing. Let those who’ll have to live with the fallout from a contentious, possibly failed parcel tax vote decide whether to proceed with one and, if so, whether to go modest or massive.

    There’s just something, how can it be put?…uh, yes…a little arrogant in the way Harris has tied his stunning retirement notice to this dramatic announcement for piling on yet another parcel tax.

    Michael Harrington wants us to wait until we find out what he wants to do with the money until we start criticizing his “proposal.” But, Harris is the one who picked the timing for his drama.

    Michael also points out the median family wealth drop in the last five years as an indicator of what the board has had to deal with. But, this cuts another way as well–those who want more parcel tax votes should consider how this financial crisis might affect even voters who have voted “yes” in the past.[quote]“Has anyone checked out the price of private school? Yes, $1000 is a lot of money but it’s still a bargain for an excellent education. I’m sick and tired of people demanding services but being unwilling to pay for them.”[/quote]True, but there are two difficulties in looking at it this way. First, lots of families are getting no schooling out of their school taxes; they’ve appropriately voted “yes,” but might get fed up if they think games are being played. And, as good as as a Davis education is, it is not a private school education, thanks to class sizes, student capabilities and other differences in the clientele and resources.

    Finally, we need to acknowledge that DJUSD board members have been blessed in ways that other school district leaders haven’t been. We have a history of school support that others envy. We give our district “extra” money, above and beyond regular school funds, with which other districts have to operate.

  23. Jim Frame

    First we thought the state takebacks would be modest, then we saw that they were substantial but we thought they would be temporary, now it’s anybody’s guess whether or not school districts will ever get back what they used to get from the state. That means that the assortment of stopgap efforts the district has been using isn’t going to get us where we want to go, and that a realistic and sustainable funding plan needs to be developed.

    By deciding not to run for reelection, Richard gains the freedom to explore possibilities that would be difficult for a trustee trying to retain a seat. I don’t know if he can pull a rabbit out of his hat, but I’m willing to let him try. If he fails, we’re no worse off than before.

    It’s not as though he can unilaterally force a new tax measure onto the ballot; whatever he and Tim propose will have to be approved by the board majority in the normal public process. I applaud Richard for taking the initiative, and hope he finds a successful approach to solving the DJUSD budget woes.

  24. David M. Greenwald

    ” But, now we find out that, instead, they asked just for what they thought they could get away with based on what their polls revealed voters probably would tolerate.”

    Now we find that out? NO. We knew that from the start. I reported it in every article on Measure C, that we were not covering the full $10 million, we were going to be $3.5 million short. We did not just find this out.

  25. wdf1

    There is a long lead time (maybe 100+ days?) between when the board has to vote to have a parcel tax and the election. Even before that, you have to allow about 30 days for sufficient board discussion and public comment. The problem is that the fiscal situation with the state can change within that time, making a parcel tax not completely responsive to the situation that the district ultimately must deal with.

    Then once a parcel tax passes, the situation can change further, as we have seen.

  26. JustSaying

    [quote]“But, now we find out that, instead, they asked just for what they thought they could get away with based on what their polls revealed voters probably would tolerate.”

    “Now we find that out? NO. We knew that from the start. I reported it in every article on Measure C, that we were not covering the full $10 million, we were going to be $3.5 million short. We did not just find this out.”[/quote]You [u]must[/u] know we’re talking about two different things. You, that the amount they picked for the measure was less than the total shortfall. And, me, the [u]reason[/u] they selected the amount they did. RIGHT!? (Not that lots of folks don’t know that people pay pollsters to figure out how to run a political campaign.)[quote]“By deciding not to run for reelection, Richard gains the freedom to explore possibilities that would be difficult for a trustee trying to retain a seat.”[/quote]My point, exactly, and a freedom that will negatively impact the board he’s leaving and the district should he decide to exercise it by trying to hustle a Big Fix parcel tax so soon.

  27. E Roberts Musser

    The last attempt to increase the school parcel tax ($200) by far less than Richard Harris’ proposed $642 just barely passed w a 67% vote. I have to wonder why Mr. Harris has decided to tilt at windmills all of the sudden, knowing full well it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in h_ll of succeeding. All it does is “stir the pot” and cause a lot of angst for school board members, rather than allowing them to deal with the matters at hand in a practical manner. In other words it is a distraction – or was that the intention?

  28. wdf1

    ERM: [i]The last attempt to increase the school parcel tax ($200) by far less than Richard Harris’ proposed $642 just barely passed w a 67% vote.[/i]

    Harris doesn’t propose to raise the school parcel tax by $642. $200 of it is a renewal of Measure A, which is set to expire June 30, 2013. It is really a $442 increase.

  29. E Roberts Musser

    To wdf1: Thanks for the clarification. But a $442 increase won’t fly either and is a mere distraction that stirs the pot but solves nothing…

    Reminds me of the observation “…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing…”

  30. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine: I find it interesting how you can out of one side of your mouth council patience and out of the other side of your mouth dismiss things out of hand without the slightest bit of insight or research.

  31. David M. Greenwald

    “You must know we’re talking about two different things.”

    We’re really not. The practical portion of getting a parcel tax passed was always a critical part of the equation how much.

  32. 91 Octane

    dismiss things out of hand without the slightest bit of insight or research.

    look whos effin talking – Mr. Sue Greenwald is in second place.

  33. medwoman

    “I thought it was an odd view of governance that we would pass a parcel tax and then turn around and lay off teachers next month. Why not lay it on the table, ask for what they need, and see if the community is willing to pay? If they aren’t, then you have to change the way you run the school district.”

    What I would like to see is a change in the way we ask the taxpayers for money. I would like to see complete honesty and transparency in providing the proponents best estimate of what a certain amount of money would actually buy. I would propose putting this forward in a multiple choice question. The ballot argument for the proposal could state the outcome of each amount of money approved for the district in terms of layoffs, programs cut, or positions and programs added in terms of tax amount paid and let the voters decide what kind of educational system they are willing to fund.

    The question could be phrased quite simply as are the multiple choice donation request funds we are all now familiar with. How much tax are you willing to pay for the public education system?
    a ) $ 0
    b) $ 250
    C) $ 500
    d) $ 1000
    e) another amount with write in space provided
    for example.

    The highest number approved by the majority needed to pass is the number that is implemented.

    This would allow the local voters to purchase the system they want and end the posturing around how ballot measures and arguments are worded in order to maximize your chances of getting as much of what you need as the voters are felt likely to approve and would , I think help
    Reduce the deceptive arguments employed against the measure since there is a 0 option available. From my long term experience with the public schools and the level of support for them in this community, my guess is that the community would choose to support a very high level of education since it seems to be a major value in our community.

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