2007 to 2012 entailed six long and hard years for the school district. During that time, the voters of Davis stepped up in 2007, 2008, 2011 and twice in 2012 to either renew or pass new parcel taxes. During that time, the Vanguard argued that new tax measures needed to go to the schools which need to have top priority.
However, times have changed. The school district – aided by both community donations and five parcel taxes – will receive about a $4.3 million boost from the state next year.
On Thursday, teachers came forward at the school board meeting to urge the board to prioritize salary increases for teachers.
Let me be clear – in an ideal world, we would pay teachers what we pay firefighters and athletic programs would be holding bake sales in order to get new uniforms, but that is not the reality we face. I understand that teachers accepted furlough days and salary cuts while times were bad and had to work in larger classes.
While we were glad to see Superintendent Winfred Roberson and Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby note that the school district faces a long list of needs, everyone needs to stop for a second. The school district does not have $4.3 million to play with right now. That came from the community. That came largely in the form of parcel taxes.
For six years, the school district could have no better partner than the city of Davis. The city of Davis never put a competing parcel tax measure on the ballot. The city of Davis in 2012 asked for only a $49 parks tax when they probably needed three times that. Every single councilmember in the city of Davis backed every single parcel tax measure on the ballot.
It is time for the school district to return the favor. The parcel tax in 2012 was passed with the notion that it was an emergency to help the school district avoid additional layoffs of teachers. If the city has additional money that it can spend, that emergency has passed.
The city of Davis now faces its own emergency. It needs to pass a sales tax measure this June and it really needs to pass a second tax measure in the fall to fund parks and roads.
As I write here today, it is difficult to conceive that the city could pass two tax measures this year, but if the school district agrees to give back some of their parcel taxes from the November 2012 election, then perhaps that changes the prognosis.
The school district should be mindful as well that the people most likely to benefit in this community from a city parcel tax are kids and families. We have a decaying street system that makes it a hazard for kids who are walking and biking to safely get to school.
Parks are badly in need of an infrastructure upgrade and the prime benefactors of those will be children. From that standpoint, the school district, which has been helped so much by the community, now needs to step up for the community and allow the city to have its turn in fixing its fiscal mess – the schools were given no less of a courtesy by the city in the last six years.
But there is another issue at play here, as well, and that has to do with the leadership of the teacher’s union itself. Back in 2012, voters in March approved Measure C. However, Measure C did not go far enough and the school district faced a $3.5 million deficit.
The teachers at that time could have taken concessions that would have saved the jobs 57 teachers. The DTA refused to take concessions that the other two bargaining groups in the school district accepted and that decision meant that the district laid off 57 teachers.
One teacher on Thursday noted that Davis may lose some of its finest young teachers, but in fact that happened just two years ago and the DTA had every ability to prevent that.
Finally, it should be noted that the district is not exactly swimming in surplus money. Bruce Colby at the Thursday meeting noted that, while this was the first budget increase in several years, the $4.3 million is not nearly enough to cover all of the needs that have accumulated over the years.
He argued that, while the additional money is nice, it does not begin to cover the $15 million which the district has lost over the last five years.
However, given what the community has done so far, that it is the city’s turn for emergency money and the school district needs to think long and hard before figuring out how to spend the $4.3 million to cover things like class size reduction or employee compensation. There are still emergencies in this community – we are glad for now that the schools are out of the woods.
—David M. Greenwald reporting