Monday Morning Thoughts II: Yesterday I Touched the Parcel Tax Third Rail

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Yesterday in my analysis on the need for compromise on GATE and my argument that a subcommittee might have been the way to go, I wrote, “From my perspective, that (a divided vote on AIM) is not in the best interest of the district. The voters will be asked to support an extension of the parcel tax at some point. There are a lot of key issues that need to be addressed, but there will be a looming elephant in the room that is as polarizing as any issue the school district has seen.”

I was not stating that people should or even will oppose the parcel tax because of AIM. I was simply stating that controversy at the time of a parcel tax vote might be self-defeating. Just as I believe that the city council would like polarizing issues off the ballot when a tax measure comes forth, so too might it be in the interest of the school board.

I was not suggesting that people should tie their vote to the outcome of AIM, just that they might. And they might not – as one reader pointed out, there were many other dustups, from Valley Oak to the firing of popular coaches, that did not impact voting on the parcel tax.

So I will state my position clearly: I believe that AIM is a contentious issue and think it is in the best interest of the school district, from a public policy standpoint, to find a consensus policy that can gain five votes of the board.

As the father of three kids in the school district at various levels and receiving various levels of service, I unequivocally support the renewal of a parcel tax next year. My daughter a week ago began Kindergarten in the dual-immersion class at Montgomery. My nephew, who just turned four, has been attending Head Start at Montgomery and is now in a special pre-school class at Valley Oak.

I am very grateful to the school district for being able to maintain high levels of programs in the face of budget difficulties, and to the community for stepping up to ensure a high level of education for all.

That said, I would like to push the school district a bit. I have similar concerns with regard to the parcel tax as I do with regard to the city’s sales tax. The city of Davis sold the sales tax, on the idea it was an “emergency” and “temporary.” The idea was to be that, once the city’s finances improved, the sales tax would sunset. Instead, there is talk, already, and with five years to go, about an extension.

Back in the fall of 2012, the school board did what it thought it would not do – put yet another parcel tax on the ballot. However, the district faced the reality that, in the best case scenario, where the governor’s taxes passed in November 2012, it would be $3 million in the hole.

The board acted as it felt it needed to.

“Sheila [Allen] and I spent awhile saying that was an emergency parcel tax,” Board Member Gina Daleiden said at the time.  “That was absolutely what I believed at the time.  Things have only gotten worse.  It’s almost unpredictably worse.  If we’re going to say, look, game has changed, we have new information and our first job is to protect the school district as best we can, then I’m willing to talk about continuing what you are already paying to bridge us through some additional time.”

Susan Lovenburg, who was running for re-election at the time, explained, “We have known for some time that Measure A was going to sunset. It was our preference not to renew that tax.  We’ve gone to the community four times in the last five years and every time they’ve responded affirmatively.”

“It was the realization as we were working through the adopted budget for next year, that, despite the fact that we made $3.5 million in reductions, despite the fact that we’ve passed a parcel tax in March, we still have a budget that does not hold together for two years,” she continued.

Okay, the community got it in 2012, they supported it overwhelmingly in November 2012.

And we get this – while times are better and DJUSD is no longer in an emergency, it is not flush with money either. Davis got the short end of the stick on local control funding.

I would argue that there is another piece to this that we need to think about. We have gone three years without another new parcel tax. We are not contemplating a raise at this point. However, four years is coming up quickly – just a year away.

I would like to see if the school district can start to shift away from the need for parcel taxes to fund ongoing formulas during times when the state is not taking money away. Are there ways to save money? Are there programs that are less vital than others?

I understand in an emergency the need to develop revenue or lay off staff, but we will have had four years to re-think our priorities, to look into possible ways to save money.

I will support whatever parcel tax is on the ballot, and I will do so actively. However, I think we owe it to generous taxpayers and the cash-strapped city to look into ways to reduce the amount in the parcel tax – even if it is by a little.

—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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10 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts II: Yesterday I Touched the Parcel Tax Third Rail”

  1. Frankly

    I would like to see if the school district can start to shift away from the need for parcel taxes to fund ongoing formulas during times when the state is not taking money away. Are there ways to save money? Are there programs that are less vital than others?

    Why?  This goes against the self-interests of the education establishment.  And it cuases a tectonic shift in the standard campaign narrative: “Vote to raise your taxes or else the kids will suffer!”

    1. wdf1

      That was how school taxes were raised when you were growing up in California, almost all local, voted on in local elections.  In the late 70’s it shifted to the state dictating how much each district got, and more of it has shifted to state money over time.  That has been the framework through to the present.  With that state money, the state increasingly dictates how that money is to be spent.  That would be more of a liberal political perspective to funding based on contemporary understanding.

      School parcel taxes are the one tool these days by which an individual district can have more say over how much is spent on what.

      And since you have revealed that you have had a kid in the military, do you think that the billions of dollars spent on the GI bill is a waste?  Maybe just a jobs security program for college professors?

      1. hpierce

        You’re missing a piece… prior to Prop 13, and all the machinations that occurred later, schools were funded by property tax (along with cities and counties)[and, some state funding via income tax revenues], and only bonds for capital improvements (not operating expenses) for schools were separate assessments.  And even those were relatively rare.

        Your points about the State mucking things up, including “strings”, yarns and ropes, while skimming from prop tax for their purposes, is spot on.

        1. hpierce

          wdf… good point… almost forgotten… the key was they were “rates”, not fixed parcel assessments, and so when assessed values/growth occurred, so did the revenues.  I stand somewhat corrected.  Think the Los Rios assessment is still one of the old “rate” assessments, rather than the non-ad valorum (sp?) assessments that predominate today.

  2. Napoleon Pig IV

    I would not necessarily vote against a new parcel tax if the school board votes to screw up the AIM program, but if the school board votes to screw up the AIM program, I will view that as an inept decision and worth taking a hard look at whether idiots deserve the chance to waste my tax money. If the only way to keep the schools afloat and the children provided with at least a mediocre education is to provide money to idiots, then I might vote to let idiots waste my tax money, but not happily, and not forever. Oink!

    1. zaqzaq

      Since Adams and Archer both appear to have deceived the public in their campaigns concerning the AIM program why would I want to give them more of MY money to spend as they see fit?  You have parents of 600 students a year in the AIM program who want their children in that program.  Many of them and other parents whose children have graduated or with younger children who may be eligible to enter AIM have supported this program over the years.  It looks like it is about to be eliminated or severely downsized for something else that has not been vetted and tested in this school district.

      At some point the Montessori and Spanish Immersion programs will get attacked as elitist and segregationist.  For example does the Montessori program have the same percentage of SES and ESL students as regular classrooms?  Once the haters are done destroying the AIM program which is next?

      Don’s idea of a pilot program to see how the differentiated classroom would operate is a good idea.  Particularly the two math tracks that would need to be covered to match the regular math track and the AIM math track.  Prove that it can work in the classroom in Davis before destroying a program that is popular with a large portion of parents.

      1. ryankelly

        The GATE program used to be two classrooms at each grade for many years, then it expanded to 4 elementary classes and two Jr. High classes for another many years.  So a smaller program has been tested. The fact that this program has become overly popular with parents has resulted in many of the problems the District is dealing with.   Be careful of your threats. There are many voters in town who wonder why they should continue to have to pay additional money for 3 school parcel taxes and will only be too willing to vote renewals down if the people whose children would directly benefit start questioning the expense or accuse financial malfeasance by the District.

        1. zaqzaq

          ryankelly,

          It sounds like you are not defending the Archer/Adams deception regarding their true positions on the AIM program during the election.  I generally do not entrust my money with people who lied.  The Archer and Adams responses to the AIM questions demonstrate that they lied.  As David points out the school board that will want more of my money in a parcel tax is the one creating the controversy here.  The school district created controversy in how they handled the Volleyballgate issue spending over $20,000 in their investigation resulting in not retaining the coach for the boy’s season due to her behavior and then hiring her again.  That decision left many wondering what were they thinking and how they could justify the expense.

          What an awful thing to have a program that is “overly popular” where this popularity is causing problems for the district.  Now they can avoid the problems associated with the popular program by doing away with it.  The logic of that eludes me.

        2. Napoleon Pig IV

          “The logic of that eludes me.”
          zaqzaq, perhaps that particular quality of “logic” is exemplary of the type of quality public education envisioned by lying school board members and their administration sycophants. Oink!

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