In the last few weeks, the subject of the need to renew the school parcel taxes in 2016 keeps coming up. When angry parents a few weeks ago threatened either to vote against the parcel taxes or to work to defeat them out of anger for what was happening with the GATE/AIM program, it got people’s attention.
The district survived the Great Recession as well as could be expected by passing five parcel taxes from 2007 to 2012 that either extended the current parcel tax or raised it. That is not to say times were easy in DJUSD, with a number of teachers, staff and administrators laid off and many held without pay raises for years.
All the while, the community stepped up. The closest vote still generated 67 percent support from the community, which means that during the controversial Measure C in 2011, even that measure only generated 33 percent dissent and never generated what would be called organized opposition.
But state laws with two-thirds requirements made the passage of these measures precarious and, given the amount of weight that the parcel tax carries and how much the district relies on it, it makes the supporters of such taxes a bit uneasy at any dissent that might generate opposition to the parcel tax.
In recent weeks and from very different corners, I have heard concern that anger over the handling of the GATE program could threaten the parcel tax. What is interesting to me is that the finger seems pointed in this direction – and the messenger who is reporting on the questionable tactics and policies of the school board is being blamed for putting the measure in jeopardy.
Mind you, the overriding consideration of the school board on the night of June 4 was apparently not the passage of the parcel tax when they voted at 11:30 pm to end private instruction and direct the Superintendent to develop a plan that would appear to move us away from the self-contained GATE program.
Once again, two weeks later, on June 18, the school board was not concerned with community anger when they voted 3-2 not to renew Deanne Quinn’s VSA (variable service agreement).
So am I supposed to back off of criticism of the board’s actions while they get off without much in the way of rebuke?
This reminds me very much of the Nancy Peterson situation where a couple of board members told the community it was time to move on and focus on our true issues rather than deal with the implications of the Nancy Peterson scandal.
The school board members who were elected in November 2014 were very much aware that one of their tasks was to restore community trust.
It was Alan Fernandes, the board member who directly replaced Ms. Peterson, who made a critical point during the candidates’ forum in September, stating that rebuilding trust is critical because, without trust, the community is not going to continue to support parcel tax expenditures that enable the school district to stay afloat fiscally.
He later told the Vanguard, “The recent situation surrounding Nancy Peterson’s resignation brought to focus the issue of trust and conflicts of interest for school board trustees. Specifically, the Peterson situation highlighted the fact that a school board member must represent the community at-large. Further, it brought to the community’s attention that district policies must be drafted for the community at-large and implemented in a consistent manner so as to not favor a school board member or active volunteer anymore than a hard working guardian.
“Last night’s forum reiterated that the misuse of the public’s trust is still on the conscience of the community,” he stated. “There were questions about trust and conflicts of interest. One member of the community asked each candidate to explain what special interests each candidate represents. Although I do not represent any one particular special interest and stated that at the forum, I do have children in our schools and want them to succeed, but not at the expense of other children in our district.
“My top priority as a board member is to restore the public’s trust,” Mr. Fernandes reiterated. “The school board needs the confidence of the community to effectively develop and implement policy and procedure for the schools.”
And yet here we are, barely 8 months after that board election, and one of the most significant undertakings has been to make drastic changes to the GATE/AIM program that has resulted in significant division within the community.
Once again, the question is whether it is the fault of the messenger who reports on these happenings – rather than the board, whose actions are viewed with skepticism by many in this community, that is to blame.
I will make a critical point here which will not go over well in some quarters – while I have been happy to support all five parcel taxes to date, after the voters overwhelming passed the last one in November 2012, I suggested that the board start taking steps to wean us off the need to continue to renew and increase parcel taxes over time.
To my knowledge this has not happened and does not appear to be contemplated. I understand that the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) disadvantages Davis schools, but at the same time, I would have liked to have seen efforts to find a way to cut funding on less than essential programs.
Instead, we see from May that DTA members will receive a four percent one-time payment for 2014-15, a two percent ongoing salary increase for next year, another one-time payment of one percent for next year, and then a two percent ongoing salary increase in 2016-17.
A few weeks ago, that same increase went to the four highest paid employees of the district in a 4-1 vote. It is not that the teachers do not deserve the long overdue and modest pay increase, but where is the plan to make do without a renewal of a $400 to $500 a year parcel tax?
Everyone agrees that funding for schools is vital. But, at some point we have to plan as though the parcel tax will either not be renewed or will be renewed at a much lower rate than we are currently receiving.
Moreover, the district can’t have it both ways. They can’t pass controversial changes to key programs and then blame the critics of those changes for sowing dissent.
I think we need to do as Alan Fernandes suggested last year – and take steps to restore trust in our community. Unfortunately, I see the willingness to do so only when it serves the needs of those in control.
—David M. Greenwald reporting