By Bob Poppenga
One significant risk for organizations like the DJUSD, which have a history of success and “leading the pack”, is a tendency to be inward looking and failing to take advantage of innovative ideas or exciting opportunities from the “outside”. After spending over 6 months talking to a variety of Davis community leaders, parents and teachers and reading countless scientific and lay articles on the state of public education in this country and around the world, I believe that our school district is resting on its historical laurels and is not living up to its full potential.
Obviously a significant part of the challenge is inadequate state funding for public education which, in turn, translates into fewer resources to institute new programs and needed services, a failure to explore new ways of doing business, and to build, maintain, and equip facilities that meet the needs of a 21st century education. As a community, we shouldn’t be satisfied with the thought that we’re doing the best that we can be doing under current circumstances.
I have written previously about the need to break down barriers among our public and private organizations to the betterment not only of our school district, but our community as a whole (see How DJUSD Can Create Community Partnerships, Davis Vanguard, 9/24/14). Davis ranks near the top in terms of collective smarts (Luminosity’s Smartest Cities 2013), so we should be able to think creatively about how to solve problems and meet the challenges faced by our schools, despite inadequate funding.
Recently, there has been considerable discussion about how Davis can attract innovative, cutting-edge, research-oriented companies to the city, whether through development of innovation parks or by other means. The types of companies that will find Davis to be an inviting environment are likely to include those wishing to take advantage of our community’s strengths (derived from both UCD and existing companies).
Strengths include engineering, food sciences, life sciences, health sciences, agricultural sciences, and environmental sciences, among others. UCD’s effort to be a global leader in meeting future needs for safe, affordable and sustainable food supplies through its World Food Center will potentially attract a wide variety of industries to the city. One critical inducement for attracting and retaining these companies is an excellent public education system.
On the flip side, we should be thinking about what existing and future private sector companies can contribute to our schools to help them maintain their excellence and develop an outward looking, innovative culture.
The following are a few thoughts that will hopefully generate positive discussion and other creative ideas:
- Attracting more private sector businesses will increase the funding base for our District. If one or more innovation parks were developed and fully occupied, I have been told that the increase in revenue to our schools could eventually reach several million dollars annually. CORRECTION at 2:25 PM: ” I had originally been informed that a portion of the property taxes generated by new businesses locating to Davis would increase the revenue base to our schools. A knowledgeable person in the District contacted me to say that essentially no new revenue would be available to the District since any property taxes would be going to the State and not be passed through to the District (unless there was an unlikely increase in the valuation of the property). In addition, due to the recent Alameda lawsuit regarding local parcel taxes, a company would not pay more in local parcel taxes than any other parcel (apartment complex, single family home) irrespective of the size of the parcel. “
- The type of companies which the city hopes to attract will have a vested interest in good quality schools and programs and will likely contribute to our schools beyond the revenue generated by taxes.
- The School District will have an opportunity to develop college and non-college career pathways for our students that can take advantage of the breath of talent in the community. An excellent model of what we should be doing in Davis and Yolo County currently exists in the Sacramento region. NextEd is a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote programs and policies that prepare students for 21st century jobs. It is actively engaged in STEM education, developing a region-wide system of support for “career academies” and offering students opportunities to explore career, certificate, and training pathways. In addition to engaging students, NextEd provides a mechanism through which public and private sector leaders can develop and advance a common agenda. Our District could tap in to our community’s strengths to develop similar career academies or pathways in areas mentioned above. These don’t need to be housed in stand-alone buildings, but could be part of smaller “learning communities” at existing school sites. Unique programs in robotics, food production systems, global public health, or environmental sustainability are worth exploring. Business oriented students might be able to gain practical experience by watching small start-up companies take off and grow or to gain a global business perspective from larger multinational companies.
- High tech and research-oriented companies would attract a highly skilled workforce to the community and hopefully encourage families to settle in Davis. It would be more likely that spouses with specialized talents could find exciting work opportunities without having to commute to and from the city. This could help to reverse a projected downward trend in District K-12 student numbers.
- While not directly related to private sector partnerships, I believe that the District and the community would benefit by aggressively pursuing grant monies. A small “Grants Committee” composed of individuals representing the District, UCD, the City of Davis, and the private sector could help identify opportunities and support the effort. Large grants have a much better chance of being funded if granting agencies perceive there to be collaboration and a shared sense of mission among a variety of stakeholder groups.
Even though the discussion about how to grow the economic base of Davis is in its early stages, it’s not too early to have the School District engage in the dialogue. The District needs to think outside the box, cast a wide net for good ideas, and avoid the complacency that can come with prior success.
Bob Poppenga is a Professor of Clinical Veterinary Toxicology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He is a candidate for the DJUSD School Board.