By Bob Poppenga
The relationship between public schools and local economic development is often overlooked in community discussions. Without debating the pros and cons of economic development in Davis, it might be instructive to look at how a community’s economic development is affected by the strength or weakness of its schools. Interestingly, I found few studies or objective reviews of the topic that were directly applicable to a community like Davis: a relatively small and affluent university city with a highly educated population, but with a significant number of English Language learners and at-risk children. Much of the information has been generated with a view toward public education’s impact on national and state economies or on economic development of local neighborhoods in larger urban areas.
The purpose of this commentary is to encourage our community to look at local economic development through the lens of our public school system. This is by no means an exhaustive treatise on the topic and is not suggesting that definitive answers are available for all aspects of the discussion.
Perhaps the most consistent finding from a variety of studies is that there is a positive relationship between the quality of local schools and residential property values of a community or neighborhood. One of the best and most comprehensive reviews is by Jonathan Weiss entitled Public Schools and Economic Development: What the Research Shows (2004). Weiss notes that there are differences in how quality is defined and therefore what specific school attributes indicative of quality increase property values. However, the link is strong irrespective of study differences (e.g., urban vs. suburban settings, neighborhoods of high vs. low incomes, etc.). A search on Zillow indicated that the median home value in Davis is $595,000 vs. $367,000 for Dixon and approximately $316,000 for both Woodland and West Sacramento. While precise data for Davis is unavailable, it is likely that the reputation of DJUSD is one of the most important motivating factors in the decision by many to buy a home in our community. I have heard from countless families that an excellent and caring environment in the Davis public schools is what drew them here when they considered where they wanted to work.
Public school districts are often one of the largest employers in a community. DJUSD has an annual budget of approximately eighty million dollars. The largest fraction of that budget goes toward salaries and benefits. If most of the teachers and staff live in the community in which they work, those dollars have a ripple effect on the local economy. Unfortunately, the high cost of housing in quality school districts can preclude teachers and staff from living in those districts. It would be enlightening to know what percentage of DJUSD teachers and staff live in Davis given its high home prices and whether any long-term trends in the number of teachers and staff able to afford a home within District boundaries are evident. Non-salary dollars also can be spent locally for goods and services. It would also be interesting to know what percentage of non-salary District dollars stay in Davis. Such data would help us better understand one of the direct impacts of our schools on the local Davis economy.
The decision of a business to locate and perhaps grow in a community depends on many factors. Local school quality is often an important consideration. It impacts the ability of a business to recruit a well-prepared workforce (either locally or attracting them from afar) but also affects broader “quality of life” considerations that are important to both managers and employees. There is a good deal of evidence that school quality can influence business site selection and labor location decisions. Education improves the adaptability of the workforce to new ideas and technology, attributes that are essential for the type of company Davis hopes to attract with “innovation parks”. In Davis, collaborative relationships between the city, our public schools, and UCD would be a powerful combination for developing sustainable businesses and high quality jobs.
Schools not only impact the local business climate but local businesses can have a profound positive effect on local schools in a number of ways. A diverse business environment can generate many partnering opportunities to provide training and mentoring of students, either through direct investment in local school facilities and programs or through internship or summer job opportunities. Highly innovative and cutting edge companies can provide exposure to high paying careers for students interested in college or non-college career pathways. I will always remember comments made several years ago by Elizabeth Cantwell, the Economic Development Officer of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. She indicated that one threat to the future of the Laboratory was not the lack of PhD researchers but instead the lack of a technically skilled trade workforce to keep the facilities and equipment running. That is why I have long championed career and technical training pathways in our local schools.
Another potentially interesting aspect of public school – business interactions was outlined in an Ed.D. thesis by Randall Napier in 2012 at the University of Kentucky. Napier examined how management and leadership ideas present in a large multinational automobile company were adopted by a Kentucky school district in which the company had a large manufacturing plant. One of the most important business practices adopted by school leadership was that of instituting a continuous improvement model focused on the improvement of products, services, or processes through either incremental or breakthrough changes. At their core, school districts are large public “businesses” engaged in education. As such they could certainly learn successful management and human resource practices applicable to their mission from the private sector.
One intriguing conclusion of Weiss’ review is that there is emerging evidence that the quality, size, and shape of school facilities can affect economic development. Beyond the potential economic impact of construction and maintenance of school facilities, buildings that are designed for multiple community uses can contribute to local economic growth. In this vein, careful consideration needs to be given to the eventual redevelopment of District offices (and maybe City Hall) in central Davis. Interestingly, there seems to be increasing agreement among researchers that the condition of school facilities affects academic achievement on standardized test scores. Finally, truly community-oriented high schools can play an important role in adult and vocational training.
As economic development proceeds in Davis, it will be critically important for the School District to have a seat at the table and to engage the community in how our District can benefit from economic development that is thoughtfully planned and implemented.
Public Schools and Economic Development: What the Research Shows, Jonathan Weiss (2004): http://ourusaschools.com/weiss_book.pdf
The Influence of Corporate Leadership and Management Practices on a Public School District, Randall Paul Napier, Jr. (2012): http://uknowledge.uky.edu/edl_etds/1/
Editor’s note: following the decision by Mace Ranch Innovation Center to put its pending project on hold, the Vanguard decided to re-start a community discussion on the future of economic development in Davis. As such, we are reaching out to a very diverse group of people and starting May 1 we are hoping to publish one op-ed a day on this subject. We are pleased to announce that so far we have over 40 commitments and counting. Beginning today, we will publish one article per day for the month of May into June. If you would like to add your voice – please submit your piece on the future of economic development in Davis (800 to 1000 words).
May 1: Robb Davis
May 2: Elaine Roberts Musser
May 3: Dan Carson
May 4: Matt Williams
May 6: Peter Bell
May 7: Bob Fung
May 9: Rob White
May 16: Alan Humason
May 17: Mike Hart
May 18: Judy Corbett
May 19: Mark Braly
May 20: Susan Rainier
May 21: Tia Will
May 22: Anya McCann