Commentary: A WAC for School Reconfiguration is a Worthwhile Proposal But with Caveats



The Brown Act is at once both scourge and savior in local government.  It is our savior in that it prevents public officials from making their policy decisions behind closed doors and away from the eye of public scrutiny.  We don’t have a gang of three hanging out in the conference room brokering a deal behind closed doors.

At the same time, it can be a scourge.  It means that public entities like the city council or the school board do not have a real chance to float ideas and debate them.  The challenge, then, for public bodies is how does one float ideas, discuss them, and decide whether to go forward without inevitably scaring the populace into believe something untoward is about to go down.

It is a fine line, a difficult line, but I believe that the Davis School District ultimately got it wrong in how it decided to float the idea of high school reconfiguration – the possible proposal to move the 9th grade from the three junior high campuses to the high school campus.

The proposal is strongly opposed by staff, faculty and PTA from the junior high sites.

The poor rollout of the idea forced Superintendent Winfred Roberson to issue a strong statement over a month ago to ensure the public that the school board and district “have not predetermined a 9-12 transition.”

The superintendent made it clear that any changes would not take place in the 2013-14 academic year.

He noted, “At this point in time, it is important to know that the board has directed administration to meet with stakeholders to examine the possibility of various reconfigurations as a means to deliver the best possible education to Davis students, maintain and improve our academic program and ensure the District’s long-term fiscal health.”

But that failed to quell anxiety.

Posting on Facebook, Board member Gina Dalieden made it clear that an April 18 meeting would not make the decision on whether to go forward with reconfiguration.  She wrote that Superintendent Roberson, “will NOT be asking us for a vote on implementation of any particular model. The (meeting) will be a workshop to understand information staff has collected and analyzed thus far, but that information is not complete. Community input would be one of those pieces yet to come.”

Ultimately, having had a long discussion with board member Gina Daleiden, having read her public posts on Facebook and having read her co-authored op-ed with fellow board member Tim Taylor, I truly believe that the district has not made a decision about reconfiguration.

As Ms. Daleiden and Mr. Taylor write on Sunday, “The Davis Board of Education directed staff to look beyond the status quo to explore multiple options for reconfiguring our school structure to provide academic and programmatic benefits, while generating fiscal efficiencies that could be re-invested in programs for our students across the District.”

They acknowledge that “asking questions about possibilities for large-scale change is sensitive, and our community needs and deserves the clearest communication and best information during the process. We would like to make this discussion community-based, transparent, and easily accessible, so that rumor and anxiety levels are reduced.”

What they ultimately float is the idea of a WAC for the school reconfiguration – “a Board-appointed, community advisory body, one that reports directly to the Board and is bound by the State’s open meeting law, the Brown Act. This schools advisory committee could take the information presented by District staff and others to build and evaluate models of program change and fiscal investment.”

It is a good idea.  The school board saw how effective the WAC was in taking a very difficult and complex issue, studying it, altering it, and ultimately moving forward with a better project.  In order to work properly, the body must be broadly based and encompass as much of the community’s diversity as possible.

But the good idea comes with a caveat, as well.  Ultimately, while the WAC succeeded in making a better project – smaller, cheaper, and with a better rate structure – it failed at bringing forth consensus.

The water project was as divisive an election as any we have seen in recent years.  The community was ultimately split with 54 percent supporting the water project and 46 percent in opposition to it.

I say this not to knock the idea that is put forth, admirably and I think sincerely by Ms. Daleiden and Mr. Taylor, but rather to instill a sense of a realistic accomplishment.

If the school board needs an honest evaluation of the reconfiguration and does not believe that staff itself can provide it, then they ought to go forward with the WAC idea for school reconfiguration plan.

If they however, somehow believe this is a way to forge consensus, history shows that it will not.

That gets me to my take.  The current statewide budget picture has alleviated the immediate fiscal emergency and thus the need to take immediate action on a variety of approaches.  However, it is clear that the state’s fiscal picture is foggy at best.

The school district has stayed afloat through contraction and the utilization of local revenue through the passage of parcel taxes in 2007, 2008, 2011, and twice in 2012.  As a short-term strategy, that worked.  But, longer term, the district needs to plan for life with fewer and more uncertain statewide resources.

People can argue all day about reconfiguration.  I came from a 9-12 high school that probably ranks as highly as Davis High, if not more highly.  But people in this community seem to like the 10-12 high school with a 7 through 9 junior high.  They are used to it.

One question that the district needs to explore on Thursday night before they even get to the idea of a WAC for School Reconfiguration is whether the upside of making this move is worth the angst and community upheaval the discussion will cause.

It is the unfortunate reality that, while the school board needs a mechanism to float ideas without creating anxiety in the community, anxiety and division are inherent parts of the process.

So if the board wants to go forward with exploration of this proposal, a WAC body is a way to go, but do not be deluded into believing it will achieve consensus or reduce anxiety.  People are liable to be emotional when it comes to the welfare of their children.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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One thought on “Commentary: A WAC for School Reconfiguration is a Worthwhile Proposal But with Caveats”

  1. Sherman

    Temporary buildings and multiple students per locker aside… My concern with adding more students to the DHS mix is whether the administration can guarantee sufficient supervision of the larger student body given the open campus environment. I don’t believe this is currently well managed and increasing the numbers of students will only compound the issue.

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