On Wednesday, the school board candidates were asked to weigh in on the parcel tax and whether it should be allowed to expire or whether they would support renewal.
Specifically they were asked: “Given the fact that Proposition 30 passed in 2012, and (the current parcel taxes) are in effect until the end of 2016, do you think a new parcel tax measure should be placed in front of the voters at any time in the next 4 years?”
Barbara Archer had noted the Measure A sunset, and that currently we have on the books Measure C and Measure E.
Chuck Rairdan went first on this one and explained, “I think now with the passage of Prop 30 would be perhaps a good time to pass on additional parcel taxes and to take a real hard look at the budget and see with the improving fiscal picture, where we can better apply some of our increasing resources.”
He would add, “I think it goes back into establishing trust and confidence with the board and the management of our limited resources.” He stated, “With a hard look at the budget and then establishing some of that trust and confidence, I think we could then be in a position to go out and perhaps ask for some additional support.”
“For now we need to proceed without asking for additional funds from the community and see what we can do for the new improvement,” he concluded.
“California public schools are in the most challenging period that we have been in,” Madhavi Sunder stated. “We are ranked dead last… number 50 of all the states, we are spending $8500 per child. The top states are spending $19,000 per child. In Davis we get less than the state average of $8500, we get about $7700 per child from the state, parcel taxes that make up the difference in a bring us to about $8700 per child.”
“Thank God they are bringing us to that $8700,” she stated. “We need the support of the community, but that is why this election is so important.” She continued, “The community has to have confidence again in the leadership of our schools in what our schools are doing, in how they’re run, in how the money is being spent…”
Tom Adams pointed out, “I want to reinforce the point about local control funding formula. Davis is is not a winner in that game. Davis has to make up for the deficit in funding with its own resources. So in that sense, for us to talk about ending parcel taxes at this point means we’re going to be back to reduced services and that would one of the worst things we can do for our kids.”
He said that in 2007 the district was in good shape with strong resource levels. When can we expect to return to that level of funding? The answer was 2021. “That’s our local viewpoint of things,” he said, noting that we don’t have excess money coming our way. “But we can make that commitment among ourselves to make sure that we get the resources that our kids need.”
Barbara Archer noted that the measures on the books total about $9 million in funding. In 2007 the district was doing all right, but by 2012 the district had lost $12 million. We were facing massive layoffs and the closure of critical services and programs.
“I sure as heck don’t want to go back to the time when we were looking at a $10 million loss,” she stated. “This is not fluff stuff.” She thanked the community, noting that Measure C which provided $6.5 million in funding passed with a 72 percent majority. “So really it’s a community choice,” she continued. “Davis chooses libraries. Davis chooses music. Davis chooses science.”
Alan Fernandes: “Madhavi did an excellent job of actually talking straight, giving you the exact facts of what our figures look like folks; and Barbara also sort of highlighted more to the point of what the parcel taxes represent vis-à-vis our overall budget.”
“To the question of should [a parcel tax] be placed on the ballot within the next four years, absolutely,” he said. Without the parcel tax, we won’t be able to do things like increase counseling, reduce class sizes, “We’re not going to be able to do any of those, we’re going to have to regress without a parcel tax.”
“Yes, there are ways to ensure that we’re getting the most out of our dollars, but let me tell you, we experienced the greatest restriction of our district that we have seen in quite some time,” he said. “Plan that a parcel tax will be on the ballot within the next four years, because if it’s not, the kind of schools we are all talking about building for our kids is going to be a more difficult reality to achieve, if not impossible.”
Noted parcel tax critic Jose Granda found common ground with Chuck Rairdan’s answer, calling it the “only answer that has been sensible.” He described the others to be “addicted to parcel taxes.” “At some point they have to be responsible to the taxpayers,” he said. He challenged people to answer what difference the parcel taxes have made with their children.
“I believe that the board needs to take a hard look and be truthful to the community,” he said, noting that the board told the community it was a temporary tax but came back attempting to renew this, and has kept doing that since 1980.
“I am not against the taxes,” he said. “I paid those taxes since 1980.”
“But at some point we need to respect the taxpayers, we can’t be treating them like an ATM machine every time that we run the budget in the red,” he continued.
Mike Nolan said that the legislature has built a “Winchester Mystery House” with rooms and hallways designed to “hide where the money is going.” “The money goes primarily to the big districts in the state,” he said. “There are 1000 school districts and 40% of all the kids live in one of them.”
20% of our unrestricted funds comes from the parcel tax, he said. “The new funding formula gives more money to those districts with higher English-learner and poor economically challenged, and Davis doesn’t meet any of that criteria… All of the districts around us will get more money because they all meet that criteria except for Davis.”
Regarding the parcel tax, he said that “the money that’s raised here is spent locally.”
Bob Poppenga said that a board member must advocate for public education and “I’m a strong believer in public education. When you look at the alternatives, to what happens if kids aren’t given a quality public education, the costs are tremendous.”
He said, keeping that in mind, “Our costs are pretty modest.” He noted there is competition for tax dollars and that the city of Davis is in a bit of trouble, as well.
“Our needs are very great. I think it goes back to establishing a level of trust in the community that we’re watching the dollars we spent, that we’re putting them where they’re most needed,” he added. “I would love to see some extra money go to summer enrichment programs for at-risk kids – I think that’s critical. I think the district all needs to look at its facilities – the facilities are not in great shape.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting