Monday Morning Thought II: Is the School Parcel Tax Sacrosanct?

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School-BoardIn 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

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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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29 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thought II: Is the School Parcel Tax Sacrosanct?”

  1. Davis Progressive

    there is a whole world that doesn’t contemplate giving back taxation and is not willing to deal with real problems out of the risk of jeopardizing that taxation.

    1. hpierce

      You say rhere is a “whole world” that do not “contemplate giving back taxation and is not willing to deal with real problems out of the risk of jeopardizing that taxation.”  Can you give me/us even five names of individuals that this applies to?  “progressives” historically were in favor of ‘soaking the rich’, to assist society in general. Maybe you should consider a new blog “handle”.

      Robert Follette must be spinning in his grave.

  2. Frankly

    And, just consider the risk to renewing or adding any school funding parcel tax after a new UUT tax or a new parcel tax to take care of city budget issues.

    I think, unless and until tax measures fail, these people will not accept doing the hard work to take appropriate expense-saving steps.  And maybe that is our only hope for moving toward sustainability since the demands of the unions and other organized labor seem to expect that perpetual tax increases will always pass.

    1. hpierce

      I will vote against all the school measures (they, unlike Cities/Counties) have guaranteed State funding from local proprty taxes, and income taxes. I also pledge the same amount of money to the City to resolve the backlog of obligations.  Maybe then, City employees might see 5% of what DJUSD employees are going to be getting in COLA’s.

  3. ryankelly

    The last tax was supposed to be a temporary measure to get ourselves through the economic downturn.  We kid ourselves.  Once a tax is approved by the voters, it is then forever part of the budget.

    However, I do support the recent agreement for teachers and staff.  4% is really not that much.  It comes to around a $1.00/hour raise for many.

    Threats by parents to withhold their vote or campaign against a renewal unless they get their way just angers people in the community.  They need the families without children currently in school and those with children not in their special program to fund their child’s education, so they should be made aware of how their threats and tantrums are perceived.

    1. Frankly

      4% is really not that much.  It comes to around a $1.00/hour raise for many.

      But you leave off the multiplier effect of defined benefit pensions.  A 4% increase in pay equals a much larger percentage in the total cost of retirement benefits.

      Using easy math, if as a teacher you make $70,000 per year for working 10 months of the year, and get a 4% raise, that is $72,800… or a delta of $2,800 per year.  At retirement, assuming 75% of pay, that delta is ($52,500 – $54,600) $2,100 per year.  Now assume retirement at age 60 and life expectancy is 90.  That is 30 annual payments of $2,100 or $63,000.

      So, let’s assume the teacher getting this raise is 45 years old.

      $2,800 per year for 15 years before she retires will cost another $42,000.

      So the total cost of this 4% raise is $105,000.  Multiply that times how many employees?

      And you wonder why the district needs to keep coming back to the voter ATM for yet another tax increase.

        1. Frankly

          A senior loan underwriter in my business requires at least 10 years of experience, at least a Bachelors if not a Masters degree with emphasis in business and financial accounting.  They will work an average of 45 hours per week, get one week sick leave and two weeks of vacation and 12 paid holidays.  Their job is difficult and stressful… doing complex analytical work while also dealing directly with difficult loan officers, bankers, brokers and borrowers.  They have to do their job with top-level competency, efficiency and customer service because the industry is hyper-competitive and if the company does not retain or grow market share they can have their pay cut, or lose their job.  Their base pay will be in the $90k range and their benefits will average another $25k.  They have less job security and they don’t get a defined benefit pension and have to save for retirement in a matching 401k plan.  They do participate in a performance-profit-sharing plan that can provide them up to another 15% of their base pay if they perform well and the company does well enough too.

          To determine how much a teacher should make, the first thing we need to do is to honestly include the total value of the compensation.  How many hours worked per year, and the value of ALL the benefits?  Then we should compare that to other professions with similar education and experience requirements.

          And from my perspective, in consideration of the fact that ALL teachers are paid the same based on years with butts in seats and not based on differentiation of performance, after valuing and calculating ALL the pay and benefits in consideration of the number of hours worked per year, I think teachers are well compensated.

          Now, I agree that the best teachers are probably underpaid.  But you and others would block the reforms required to different pay based on real performance.  You say that teacher performance cannot be effectively measured.  And absurd claim from my point of view, but one that nicely defends the status quo where the best teachers make the same as the worst teachers.

        2. Miwok

          It is interesting the teachers may have experience teaching, but the administrators are hired with no such requirement? In my experience working for several different schools, the administrators are often not hired with experience but low cost in mind. But it is always more than the people they manage.

        3. wdf1

          Miwok:  It is interesting the teachers may have experience teaching, but the administrators are hired with no such requirement?

          In DJUSD, every administrator that I’ve known of who had some line of supervision over teachers — vice-principal, principal, associate superintendent of instruction, superintendent — has had teaching credential classroom experience.  Bruce Colby, Associate Superintendent of Business Services, has an administrative credential in school finances and business. He does not have a teaching credential; I’m not sure that it is as critical to his work as it would be for other administrators.

        4. wdf1

          Frankly:  ...in consideration of the fact that ALL teachers are paid the same based on years with butts in seats and not based on differentiation of performance, after valuing and calculating ALL the pay and benefits in consideration of the number of hours worked per year, I think teachers are well compensated.

          But then there is this issue:

          California’s dwindling teacher supply rattling districts’ nerves

          Just as California school districts are facing new pressures to implement the Common Core State Standards and other key educational reforms, many of them are struggling with what some officials are calling the early impacts of a long-feared teacher shortage.

        5. Frankly

          The teacher supply shortage is not based on facts, it is generally propaganda from the education establishment because the myth servers their self interests.

          However, the cost of college is a factor.   Dave Ramsey routinely tells callers to drop their pursuit of a teaching credential if doing it on student debt.  The 10-month a year job does not pay enough to cover a large student debt load.  It does not make financial sense…. similar to most liberal arts pursuits.

          So, we can agree that college is too expensive.

          Ironically, it is too expensive in part because we are spending too much on public education.

        6. wdf1

          Frankly:  The teacher supply shortage is not based on facts, it is generally propaganda from the education establishment because the myth servers their self interests.

          Under what conditions would you acknowledge that there is a shortage of qualified teachers?

          Frankly:  Dave Ramsey routinely tells callers to drop their pursuit of a teaching credential if doing it on student debt. 

          You say this and still insist that there is no shortage?

          So, we can agree that college is too expensive.

          And this?

          Seems like you’re entertaining contradictory lines of thinking.

        7. Frankly

          Seems like you’re entertaining contradictory lines of thinking.

          My point is that it is not that there is a shortage of people that would like to go into teaching and that are working toward going into teaching… that is what is being implied with the propaganda… that the job does not pay enough to attract qualified candidates.

          The job pays enough, but because college education costs have risen far faster than the rate of inflation, many people cannot afford it.  But just because Dave Ramsey tells callers to not take on student debt, many still do.

          Teachers are not underpaid.  College is over-priced.

        8. wdf1

          Frankly:  You say that teacher performance cannot be effectively measured.  And absurd claim from my point of view, but one that nicely defends the status quo where the best teachers make the same as the worst teachers.

          Not measured by standardized test scores.

          Here’s an article worth considering:

          Joe Nocera, 16 June 2015:  How to Grade a Teacher

          I favor going in this direction.

          Also an article on Senate efforts to reauthorize NCLB (with potential modifications), just so you can get a measure of where the Democrat/Republican dichotomy stands:

          WaPo, 15 July 2015:  Senate rejects effort to give feds more say in identifying failing schools

        9. wdf1

          Frankly:  Teachers are not underpaid.  College is over-priced.

          I think work conditions have become less tolerable.  Teachers may have once been lured to the profession by imagining a career fulfilling the role of Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poet Society, but instead find that it’s all about standardized test scores.  Finding teachers is more about replacing cogs in a machine that wear out quickly and get replaced (“burn and churn”) rather than having a long-term employee who will develop long term relationships with the community.  In fact, it really isn’t so much about relationships any more.  It’s about test scores.

    2. Davis Progressive

      leaving aside the other points, the temporary tax becomes permanent is a problem – we’re starting to see that with the city council and the parcel tax.  it’s going to make it very difficult to get new taxes passed and potentially even current taxes renewed.

    3. Misanthrop

      If you are concerned about people being so fed up with the school board majority running roughshod over the gate supporters, that they kill the next parcel tax, you seem to be pointing the finger in the wrong direction. The problem with the approach taken by Lovenburg, Archer and Adams is that they need a super majority for parcel taxes due to be renewed next year and with enough alienated gate supporters combined with the anti-tax Jose Granda and Thomas Randall types there is a good chance this board could see a parcel tax for the schools fail for the first time in Davis history.

      Its bad enough that the school board candidates were less than explicitly transparent about their actual intentions during the campaign, except to those in the know, but the roll out of the policy change has been so poor it leaves me shaking my head. How this board majority could show themselves to be so amateurish that they may win the fight over gate but lose the war over parcel taxes is frightening.

      The previous board despite whatever errors they made kept the schools funded through the darkest times of the Great Recession. One of the criticisms of that board is that they never took on gate. But has this new board stopped to think  that  the previous board might not have done so for fear of losing their thin supermajority for parcel taxes?

      Apparently not, somehow this board thinks that they can ram through changes to the program without the input from the one member who, not only got the most votes in the last election, but, also is the strongest advocate for the program and then insult taxpayers who write letters to the newspaper responding in private emails that include “I don’t mean to be rude” disclaimers while being rude and expect everyone to get in line and vote for the parcel tax renewal next year. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t but right now I wouldn’t be holding my breath.

      There was never an easy way to change the gate program as Archer pointed out the other night “This is a heavy lift.” But there could have been a better roll out. First the board could have put Gate on the agenda through the regular manner instead of two board members asking the Superintendent and then the Supt. calling a third member to supposedly comply with the Brown Act.

      Second the board could have waited for the Gate committee to try to finish its work before taking action at the board level for the district administration to take over the process.

      Third Lovenburg could have let the community know in advance what she intended to propose in her pre-written motion so that it could have been fully vetted by the community before being passed at a meeting where the People Against Gate Education turned out in force, likely because they knew what was going down, while the gate advocates never anticipated the scope of the change Lovenburg would put forth after public comment was closed.

      Fourth, the firing of Deanne Quinn executed with such cold precision shocked the gate community. Then the semantical denial that not renewing her contract was not a firing after she had served the district for over 20 years and the refusal to discuss it because its a “personnel issue” when it was really a policy issue cause keen observers to question the credibility of the board majority. But in my mind the fact that the board didn’t even thank Ms. Quinn for her 22 years of service was simply shameful. It makes me wonder if they respect their teachers at all. Thank god for tenure because we can see how this board would treat its teachers without it through both this action and the Julie Crawford debacle from the previous board.

      Fifth, and finally, to this date, the kabuki of the last hearing where 45 members of the community spoke and then Lovenburg refused to say anything because the board speaking supposedly wasn’t on the agenda and Tom Adams insulted the heartfelt outpouring from the community by talking about his summer reading. Talk about being in denial! Of course the board didn’t need to do or say anything because they already voted on June 4. That is why it was kabuki or pure theatre because if the board cared what any of these people thought they would have taken the vote after the hearing on the gate program not before it.

      Still after all of these mistakes the final decision has yet to be made so it is not too late for the trustees to get their act together and take a chance on redeeming themselves and not doing damage to the long term financial stability of the district. The board majority could still reach out to Trustee Sunder, who has long been an advocate for the gate program, and try to get her on board with the changes they intend to make to the gate program. If they do so they won’t get all the changes they want  but, because they have three votes, they will get most of what they want. The alternative that they currently are pursuing, that majority rules and that a community that is deadlocked can be run over by a board majority is a risky strategy when that board is going to need a supermajority vote in the near future.

       

      1. ryankelly

        There was no action on the agenda for the Board to speak.  It was Sunder’s interpretation that “active listening” (clearly stated on the agenda) was defined as the Board members speaking.

        If there is long term damage to the District because angry GATE parents lead the charge to defeat the next school tax renewal, they are just digging their own hole.  I’m sure that there are many people in town who would wouldn’t mind at all not having to pay that $600 per year, especially for people who appear to be so ungrateful that they would tie their own support to how they would personally benefit.

         

         

         

        1. Misanthrop

          Ryan you really want to believe that is why Lovenburg wouldn’t speak go ahead but don’t expect the rest of us to buy it for one second. Lovenburg can’t talk about Deanne Quinn because its a personnel issue. She can’t talk about what 45 people said in a hearing because its not on the agenda for her to speak. So what are we left to do but speculate? No, actually we can apply the standard set by John Mitchell when he said of the Nixon administration “Watch what we do not what we say.” Of course as soon as you are being compared to the Nixon administration you have credibility issues. My guess is Lovenburg doesn’t want to talk because she knows that a lot of people aren’t going to be happy with what she says. Her problem is that those same people are going to be even more unhappy with what she does.

        2. Davis Progressive

          if there was no action, why terminate quinn’s vsa?

          “If there is long term damage to the District because angry GATE parents lead the charge to defeat the next school tax renewal, they are just digging their own hole.”

          why are the gate parents rather than the school board to blame?  you expect gate parents to simply suck it up?

        3. ryankelly

          He was referring to the last meeting on July 9th.  No action was to be taken and the agenda clearly stated that the Board’s role was to engage in “active listening.” (Definition: ‘Active listening‘ means, as its name suggests, actively listening. That is fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker. Active listening involves listening with all senses.”  However, Sunder decided that this meant that the Board should give comments of their own and proceeded to comment and then there was an expectation that all the Board members would speak.  When they didn’t it resulted in the criticism above..

        4. VoiceOfReasonInDavis

          RyanKelly why do you think that the agenda said “active listening” rather than the usual “discussion”? Because the board members who are trying to drastically reduce the program did not want to say what they thought, because they knew that the community would be angry.

          But more important–why won’t board members tell us what they think? After all, they have already voted to change the program–without telling us why.

        5. DavisAnon

          The Board members were pretty clear that they stated their views and had their discussion in March or June (though I would disagree after watching those meetings). So what is “active listening”? Apparently it must mean actively ignoring public input while pretending that they’re listening. What a farce. Whoever called it kabuki, absolutely nailed it.

    4. DavisAnon

      I’m ok with the teacher raises. They did much of the heavy lifting during the budget cuts (increases in class size, etc). I am completely opposed to the 4% raises for the superintendents. Those who are earning close to $200,000 do not need to get the same percent raise (which is far more costly in dollars). Any administrative raises should be specifically based on performance. The way I see it, with a rare exception, these administrators should be returning a portion of their salaries to the taxpayers, not getting a bigger handout.

  4. Anon

    What I find so frustrating about the DJUSD is their unwillingness to address their infrastructure problems.  Davis has one high school, that is way over utilized and is deteriorating.  Look what happened with the MPR that had to be torn down due to mold issues from a failure to do proper maintenance, and the only reason that is going to be fixed is the one time sale of the Grande property.  The school board obsesses about perceived problems with the AIM program, while it seems to ignore basic infrastructure needs.  This is precisely what the city did, and look where that got us!

    1. Davis Progressive

      i think the school district was focused on the classroom for a long time due to cutbacks from the state.  but like the city, they allowed facilities issues to fester and because they are so reliant on the parcel tax, i think they are afraid to try a facilities bond too.

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