Analysis: Is a School Parcel Tax in Real Jeopardy?



Following yesterday’s column, the Vanguard received an interesting email from a resident. In it they predict that a parcel tax next June will fail for the school district. For one thing, the suggestion was made that the board would put it on the ballot for June with a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment), believing if it fails they would then have time to come back in November with a smaller parcel tax.

The timing in June would be interesting, pitting the schools against a potential tax measure for the city. It is possible that that could spell doom for both.

The resident notes that there is a large and growing group that may vote against the tax measure. First, you have the baseline anti-tax people. In the last three parcel taxes in 2011 and 2012, that number ranged from just under 33 percent of the vote to less than 28 percent of the vote. It is a small group, numerically speaking, but that is just the baseline.

The district has been fortunate that no one more formidable than Jose Granda and his band of anti-tax nuts have taken them on. In spring of 2011, however, Measure A passed by just 89 votes due to a series of stumbles by the district and the campaign.

The question is whether current crises are enough to push the number of opponents higher. You have those who are angry at the district over GATE/AIM and the firing of Deanne Quinn. Are these people angry enough to lodge a protest vote?

It was rightly pointed out that past controversies like Valley Oak did not produce a backlash. But that was also a different time. The district was facing a true crisis, and while the people might have been angry at the closing of Valley Oak, they were not willing to see the layoffs of hundreds of teachers as a viable protest.

But our look at the last three elections shows the margins are alarmingly thin. Measure A in 2011, as we noted, was beset with controversy and passed by only 89 votes. Both Measure C and Measure E were passed with greater margins. Measure C, in spring 2012, had a 972-vote margin while Measure E, in November 2012, had a 710-vote margin.

But in both cases, if just 1000 people switched their votes in those elections, the measures would have failed. 1000 people is a lot but not insurmountable. If we figure that there are 2000 GATE students in the district, with single-parent households and multiple students in some households, you might be talking about 3000 current GATE parents who are registered voters. We can expand that number by looking at the population of all parents who once had kids in GATE programs.

However, assuming around 3000 current GATE parents, 1000 seems like a high percentage of parents who would have to be angry enough to file a protest vote for the GATE/AIM issue alone to bring down the parcel tax.

But there are other considerations. For one thing the last three parcel taxes were passed under the threat of mass layoffs. It was a true fiscal emergency for the school district and the voters as a whole, many of whom have no children in the schools currently, stepped up to support the schools.

Times have changed. While finances remain precarious, the school board was actually able to give raises to teachers and administrators this year. We have had no calls for layoffs since 2012.

However, the resident notes that the school district is not only talking renewal in June 2016, but a COLA on top of it. They noted that there are people who believe that parcel tax should be smaller not larger, going forward, based on this consideration.

So take out the fiscal emergency, add a perceived unnecessary rate increase, and throw in a competing tax measure by the city – which would appear to be in far worse fiscal shape than the school district at the moment – and you start to have cause for concern.

There is one other factor that the resident brings up. If the district really puts a parcel tax on for June when they could wait until November, many residents will realize they have a freebie – they can have a chance to register a strong protest vote and then get a second chance to make sure that the district doesn’t lose money in November.

Add that all up and it seems entirely possible that a June parcel tax vote is doomed.

But we have believed that before, only to see the school district pull out of it. And it is certainly not too late to rectify the situation. As one reader pointed out this weekend, we have not even seen what the district administration has recommended on GATE/AIM.

Our belief remains that we need to find a way to a 5-0 vote on GATE/AIM. It is too soon to tell whether that is possible, and certainly the move against a subcommittee to forge a consensus was disconcerting.

One thing is clear – people are angry about a lot of things. What is less clear is whether and how that anger will eventually manifest itself.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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27 thoughts on “Analysis: Is a School Parcel Tax in Real Jeopardy?”

  1. wdf1

    Vanguard:  For one thing, the suggestion was made that the board would put it on the ballot for June with a COLA, believing if it fails they would then have time to come back in November with a smaller parcel tax.

    I understand that the school parcel tax is scheduled to go on the November 2016 ballot.

  2. zaqzaq

    The district will have to do a good job explaining how Brown’s new funding formula screws Davis resulting in the need for the additional parcel tax.  Overall school funding has increased statewide with the economic recovery.  Local housing prices are going up.  Many people will wonder why they need the additional money.  The Cannery development will introduce new residents who are paying a Mello Roos tax on top of rather high home owners association fees who may not want to pay an additional tax as their budgets are stretched.

    Then there are the past and probably future controversial actions taken by the board.  Many people move here for the schools.  Dismantling the AIM program may very well harm that reputation.  The board should strive to reach a 5 vote consensus on all items avoiding angering voters.  Does this school board want to be the first that looses a parcel tax vote?  A parcel tax denial would be a clear vote of no confidence on the current school board.

  3. Napoleon Pig IV

    A minor math matter:  If a measure passes by 972 votes, then only 487 of those 972 voters need to change their vote to defeat it. Or, if all 972 of those voters plus one more decide they are too disgusted to vote at all, the measure will lose.

    More importantly, if the current board votes to destroy the AIM program, or stands idly by while the district administration does it for them slowly without a vote, it won’t be necessary for “AIM parents” to mount public opposition to a new parcel tax. It will be obvious to a much wider range of taxpayers and voters that Davis has abandoned its longstanding commitment to quality education. With that evidence in hand, lots of parents and other voters will conclude they have better uses for their money than the propagation of public policy idiocy.

  4. ryankelly

    There was a school bond that failed back in the 90’s, when it appeared on the same ballot as a City tax.  This resulted in several more years of extremely overcrowded schools – 1200 at Emerson and Holmes Jr. Highs, due to the delay in building Harper.  The campaign against taxes was directed at the city tax, but the arguments against the tax spilled over to the school bond.   Any opposition to a school tax will doom the tax renewal.

      1. hpierce

        The 55% is interesting… I think it should be 60%, not 50%, 55%, or 67%.  For a typical entity (City/County) it takes a 3/5 vote to put a revenue measure on the ballot.  I’d apply the same standard (as a ‘ceiling’) to any levy that currently requires 67%.  But that’s just me.

        Am OK with the levies that currently require the 50% + 1 vote to remain as is.

        [You have to remember that Paul Gann (as in Jarvis/Gann, prop 13) wanted it to be at a 80% or higher threshold]

  5. DavisAnon

    Unfortunately I do think passage of a parcel tax is very definitely in jeopardy, and the Board has only itself to blame. The public elected this Board in hopes of regaining trust lost by the last Board and its poor handling of coaches, etc. This new Board seems to have no idea they are supposed to be public servants. They are outright disdainful of the public by refusing to explain how their decisions are good for students, firing longtime trusted employees without explanation, timing key issues (AIM) so that teachers, the district AIM committee (and families) are excluded from the discussion, refusing to even consider a subcommittee to work through these issues, etc.

    Of the majority bloc of 3 trustees, two seem to actively meet with the public but make it very clear their minds are already made up and they are completely unwilling to entertain other views. The third member just doesn’t seem to follow up and meet with anyone. I’ve spoken with many parents who feel demoralized and hopeless. They feel that the ballot box is the only potential way for their voices to be heard anymore on these issues.

    On top of that, we have close to 600 out-of-district students who are preventing taxpaying students from attending their local schools or gaining access to special programs and yet outside students pay no parcel taxes! It’s one thing to pull together as a community and support parcel taxes during times of budget cuts, but that is not the current situation. I’m very concerned that the public may finally say “no more” due to the arrogance of this Board. As a homeowner, I worry greatly about what this will mean for property values in our town.

  6. ryankelly

    You make it sound like all is doom and gloom – that the District is in shambles.  If you are really concerned, then you and others need to get to work changing the view of the District – maybe find a few positives?

    1. DavisAnon

      What makes you think I haven’t been trying to do exactly that? For many years I have dedicated a very large number of hours to supporting education in this community in any way I can – in the classroom, supporting teachers, as a  liaison, fundraiser, organizer, etc. That is how I have heard the disdain voiced by many parents and teachers about the Board’s recent behavior.

      Public education is the lifeblood for any community, and even more so a university town like ours that relies on attracting professors who will be evaluating  local public education opportunities for their own families in deciding whether to work at our university or another.

      As someone who fought hard for prior parcel taxes,  it’s troubling to see how carelessly this Board wields its power by getting rid of valued employees and causing turmoil by ignoring public input and questions when an effort to compromise and cooperate could garner so much goodwill. Their actions are eroding the goodwill of the community that will be needed for future parcel taxes. When I hear citizens asking how to start a recall campaign for this Board, I question how we will get the next parcel tax passed  and what it will mean for our schools, students, and community if it does not pass. I’m not trying to be doom and gloom, but burying my head in the sand isn’t going to serve our students or town well either.

    2. zaqzaq


      “If you are really concerned, then you and others need to get to work changing the view of the District – maybe find a few positives?”

      That is a rather asinine statement to be making.  It appears that three board members have made up their minds on the AIM issue and it is going to be rammed down the throats of those voting citizens who support the program.  Remember, it is a POPULAR program with many voting citizens.  I see not positives in these actions.  Adams and Archer have deceived the voters in their campaigns and now feel empowered to act.  This arrogant behavior clearly demonstrates an assumption that the public vote in favor of taxes to support public education in Davis is automatic and will be supported no matter what their actions.  I believe this assumption is misplaced and that when faced with a choice between fixing the roads and giving more money to schools when the state expenditures is on the rise is a mistake.  This is just another reason for my family to investigate the private school options in the area which thankfully we have the resources to pay for.

      I would really like to know which board member was the author of the rude and arrogant response to a voting citizen last spring.


    3. VoiceOfReasonInDavis


      ryankelly–Zaqzaq is right that criticizing the district’s decision is not undermining the district. He/she is trying to get the district to do the right thing, by the one of the few ways that most residents can have their voices heard by those in charge.

      And how do you you know that Zaqzaq is not doing things to improve the district?

      How would you feel if someone told you to stop criticizing others and work on improving the district?

  7. ryankelly

    Me: “If you are really concerned, then you and others need to get to work changing the view of the District – maybe find a few positives?”

    zigzag: “That is a rather asinine statement to be making.”

    I stopped reading right here.

    1. ryankelly

      Being told that my suggestion to try to find some positives about what’s happening in the District is an asinine statement, ends the conversation.  They have a right to respond, just not be insulting and expect me to be willing to hear what they have to say.

      I went back and forced myself to read zigzag’s comment.  It looks like they are making plans to pull their children out of Davis schools.  So there is your answer to whether they are making efforts to improve Davis schools.

      1. zaqzaq


        You poor tortured soul for having to read my comments.  It must have been awful having to read something contrary to your elitist opinion.  For your information my family has participated in committees in the school district in order to improve the quality of the education.  That was not a positive experience.  Based on where the board is going that time and effort was wasted in my opinion.  The board is forcing many parents to take a serious look at alternatives to the local public schools.

        When the board members conceal their true positions on the AIM program during the election and move to eliminate it my family has every right to examine our options for our children.  Taking one of our children out of the school district and placing the child in a private school is our right if we believe that the local schools are not the best fit for our child.  We can then support the private school with our time and funds to improve that school instead of a local public school.  Again our right to exercise.  I feel sorry for those parents who lack the resources that we have at our disposal who do not have an alternative.

        After the volleyball gate disaster the new board should have learned the importance of consensus and transparency.  That lesson has not been learned by the liars Archer and  Adams.  Their arrogance as they move forward on dismantling the AIM program is forcing our family to take a serious look at the best options for our children.  Get over it.  If we move our children out of the public school system you can be sure that we will campaign against any local school taxes as we will be spending enough of our hard earned dollars on a private school.  We were pleased with the quality of the local schools until this change in policy.

        1. ryankelly

          As someone who has voted for and paid for school taxes to educate others’ children over many years, I find your stance to be selfish, but it is good clearly know where you stand on this.  As you state, it is certainly your right to do as you wish in regarding the placement of your child. However, no matter how angry you are, you must accept that your satisfaction with Davis schools up to this point was partially the result of the generosity of the Davis community, who have paid these taxes even where they do not currently have school-aged children.

        2. zaqzaq

          To date my family has supported each additional tax on the ballot for the city and schools even when we did not have children as it seemed to be the right thing to do.  When the school board violates trust and screws up the quality of the education I can also withdraw  support through a changed voting pattern or non-participation in other areas regarding the school district.  Moving a child into a private school creates a financial burden that will impact my willingness to pay more money into the local schools now and through the remainder of my residency in Davis.

          I rarely agree with David here and he is right that the board needs to reach a consensus on the AIM program along with making sure the public is aware of their positions prior to taking action.

  8. wdf1

    IMO, the bigger conversation is the standardized testing.  What are we looking for in when trying to identify AIM/GATE students, and is OLSAT and/or TONI the appropriate way to make that identification.

    Those questions aren’t being fully answered.

    Meanwhile, the first statewide Common Core test score results came out today.

    Jeff Hudson, 9/9/2015, Davis Enterprise: State releases new testing data


  9. DavisAnon

    Adams and Archer lied to the public about their intentions regarding the AIM program during the campaign. As an aside I spoke to each of them myself about many different issues and directly asked their views on AIM prior to the election. Neither of them indicated any intention to make significant changes. Now they refuse to explain their reasoning to the public as they apparently feel they’ve been clear about their intentions regarding AIM all along. It’s inexcusable behavior like this that makes me have some understanding of why some voters want to pursue a recall, although I myself would hope this Board could start behaving more respectfully of the public they serve without needing to resort to such extreme measures.

    1. Don Shor

      The projections suggest that if the qualification score were raised to the 98th percentile and after private testing has been eliminated, the range of self-contained requests will be between 63 and 73 students. These numbers suggest that the district would offer between two and three sections of self-contained classrooms.

      Presently about 140 in self-contained GATE? That’s a drastic reduction.

      1. hpierce

        Yet, the reduction would result in a ‘self-contained’ population similar to many similar sized districts, historically.  Historically, and in my opinion, preferably, there would be students that need/would greatly benefit from inclusion in some classes/subjects, but not all.

        One of my biggest issues is this “self-contained” imperative that some people believe is necessary for so many students. Some need the self-contained model.  But very few (%-age).

        1. hpierce

          Don, I think we may agree where we want to be, but I’m seeing many supporters of GATE/AIM implying nothing less than expansion/augmentation of the program is a “decimation/abolition” of the program.  Seems to be an “all or nothing” mentality.

          I’m supportive of evaluation and likely adjustment “down” in scope and numbers.  Think it has grown beyond the important parameters.  I do not want to see the end of the program, as I see it CRUCIAL for some students, nor do I believe we should “keep on trucking”.

          1. Don Shor

            Ok, I’ve read carefully through the report to make sure I didn’t miss something. Let’s just say the Sept. 17 meeting is going to be very contentious. This is a significant reduction (decimation is about right) of the GATE program. It certainly is not “differentiated GATE” as wdf has advocated at neighborhood schools. It is not differentiated GATE at all. It is a drastic cut in self-contained GATE, combined with expanded teacher training in differentiation. There is no plan provided for clusters of GATE-identified students in differentiated classrooms. Students who miss the 98% cutoff will apparently just be put in regular classrooms, with teachers who have had some more training. There is no description of how the new “AIM differentiation specialist” will interact with these students. There is no basis given for the decision to use the relatively high cutoff score of 98%.
            It seems that the goal is to reduce the program, merge most students back into the student body, and give teachers some more training.
            That will correctly be perceived as a major reduction in the GATE program, with no pilot programs and no attempt at parent buy-in. This will be a big mess.

  10. iWitness

    It might be good to keep in mind that a fourth-grader is usually in fourth grade for only that one year and cannot wait for a school district electorate to revote itself back into something approaching respectability, shed administrators hired after a vaunted search process finds people with minimal experience best suited for the jobs, and stop voting by name familiarity, lawn sign proliferation, patronage of incumbents, or loudness of support for gutting an excellent program.  I assume that zaqzaq’s decision also will have something to do with more than his/her own students’ needs.  I’m really uncomfortable with my students profiting from access to a program from now on apparently limited to the usual highly verbal suspects, and inequitable.  But equity was never on the mind of the school boardies  who want to limit the program to one test because the second might include a few “mistakes”  — even though there’s no evidence that it does so.  It’s really hard to suffer heavy taxation without better representation on the school board not even on the horizon.   Unfortunately the private school scene in this region isn’t rich with opportunities like those found in the Bay Area, affluent LA,  San Diego/La Jolla or other districts in Davis’s comparison band.   The old school on school parcel taxes is that if you start failing to get them across, you won’t regain the decades of solidarity behind them. We need to keep our teachers, not our administrators, not our board members elected by pacs, run by a pack, and responding to a pack.

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