With the release of the final numbers of the AIM program, the reduction of the program to two classrooms, the possible return of the lottery, anger and discontent once again rose to the surface.
The numbers are startling – the program has been cut from 146 new students last year to 72 this year. Blacks and Hispanic students represent nearly one-quarter of the total student population and yet just four of the 72 students in this year’s AIM class will be from those disadvantaged populations.
Adding fuel to the already smoldering fire is the fact that, with just 72 students, it seems the plan is for two classes, with 17 students going on a wait list with a to-be-determined lottery.
The Vanguard asked DJUSD Spokesperson Maria Clayton why there couldn’t be three classes of 24. She told the Vanguard that, due to “natural attrition,” given those numbers, “there is no way to do three classrooms.”
Four of the five board members, while expressing some level of concern for the demographics, are willing to tweak some of the testing protocols, but are unwilling to revisit other key factors, especially the higher 98th percentile threshold. Remember, this reduction has occurred while still using the 96th percentile as the threshold bench mark for qualification.
The frustration over the state of this program has once again brought the whispers back about mounting an opposition to the parcel tax.
For many, this is the third rail. Cutting or eliminating the parcel tax would mean slashing core programs in Davis. Davis has, for reasons that remain somewhat baffling, a far lower state tax base than typical districts. While Davis has a growing Title 1 population, it remains below state average in terms of that population and therefore receives less money through LCAP than other neighboring districts.
“Many people will be surprised to know that (Davis), however, lags far behind the rest of states in funding public education. This means that we in Davis have to step up as a community which believes in education and which believes in our children, to support our state’s future and the future of our nation,” said Board President Madhavi Sunder.
Opposing the parcel tax because of the board’s actions on AIM would, in the view of many on the board, be cutting off their nose to spite their face. It would harm all students in the form of a vendetta.
One of those with that view is Madhavi Sunder, by far the strongest defender of the AIM program on the board.
She told the Vanguard, “As President of the School Board, I cannot count the number of times parents have told me that they moved to Davis because of one thing—our public schools.”
“Without the financial support from a parcel tax, our school system would decline, and so would our home values as people find cheaper options in all of our neighboring communities,” she said.
However, for others, the district increasingly is unaccountable. The Nancy Peterson scandal has somewhat receded into the background as an unpleasant memory, however, the distrust in the district seems to be growing.
The parcel tax is about leverage to them. The district can ill-afford to lose the funding stream. And it remains far more vulnerable here than many believe.
From 2008 until 2012, the district was able to get five parcel tax votes to exceed the 2/3rd threshold. However, they had a real close call in 2011 with Measure A. Measure A passed by just 89 votes due to a series of stumbles by the district.
In September, our analysis shows the last three elections had alarmingly thin margins. Aside from Measure A, Measure C, in spring 2012, had a 972-vote margin while Measure E, in November 2012, had a 710-vote margin.
It doesn’t take a whole lot of people to switch their vote to change the dynamics. It bears noting that none of those campaigns had anything resembling organized activities. There were no precinct walks against the parcel tax. There were no paid mailers. The token opposition was a group of anti-tax people who have opposed every tax and whose arguments were not going to resonate in the population.
Still, the idea of risking the loss of millions in parcel tax monies that go to vital school programs, over the AIM program, does not sit well with a lot of people who are generally supporters of AIM.
The alternative, they say, is to change the leadership on the school board. In the fall, Susan Lovenburg and Alan Fernandes will have their seats up for reelection. Susan Lovenburg has been the strongest advocate for changing the AIM program. It was her motion that set this all in motion last June.
Alan Fernandes, on the other hand, has been more moderate. He supported the June motion but opposed the motion to terminate the contract of Deanne Quinn.
One of the strange oddities in Davis is that the people who end up getting elected to office often do not match the views of many who end up voting for them. For reasons that are not altogether clear, it may be viewed as easier to oppose and defeat the parcel tax to send a message than it would be to find a candidate that could get elected to change the policy on the board level.
But anger seems to be spilling over.
An anonymous poster said back in November, “It’s increasingly difficult to find ways to go forward in good faith with this administration and this Board, and I am a longtime supporter of DJUSD and prior parcel taxes. I hear serious doubts expressed by many community members about supporting another parcel tax given the actions of this Board over the past year since they were elected.”
The poster continues, “It is difficult to trust them with more money when it’s been spent on strategic planning that is all but ignored a year later as well as costly and wasteful investigations, and to what purpose? Are we getting our money’s worth? Right now, I’d have to say we are not.”
The problem that the school board faces going forward is, how deep does this sentiment go? It is somewhat easy to dismiss the comment if you believe it is made by a small but vocal section of the population.
But let us bear in mind again that doesn’t take a huge tidal wave in most parcel tax elections to change the outcome.
—David M. Greenwald reporting