By Nicholas von Wettberg
Diplomas have been passed out to all the proud graduates of Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) schools.
The district’s board of education, fresh off their hiring of new Superintendent Dr. John Bowes, anticipates a break of its own next month. First, though, they must attend to some last-minute business.
Four of the trustees – minus President Madhavi Sunder – met for the final regular meeting on Thursday, June 16, at the Community Chambers.
Because of Sunder’s absence, there was little in the way of an agenda, with no update on the school parcel tax.
A pair of back-to-back special meetings, however, will give the board a chance to determine the final amount and the language to be included in the 75-word measure on the November ballot.
Those meetings are scheduled to take place on the morning of Tuesday, June 28 (8:30 am), and in the evening on Wednesday, June 29.
When last heard from as a complete unit – back on June 4 – the board was unified on putting a parcel tax measure on the ballot, but divided over the exact sum it believed voters would be willing to pay.
Passage of the measure requires a supermajority vote of two-thirds by the voters at the polls.
The necessary basement funding generated from a passed tax at a rate of $620 for eight years would add up to a total of $9.5 million per year, which is 12 percent of the district’s current operating budget.
According to a draft of the measure, the amount would “maintain outstanding programs in math, science, reading and writing; retain high-quality teachers; keep class sizes small; support student health and safety; and maintain student athletics, arts and music programs…”
One of two measures (Measure E) that make up the current parcel tax expires on June 30, 2017. The measure also happens to be the last parcel tax Davis voted on, in November 2012. That amount was for $204 for four years (it passed with 69 percent of the votes).
If the statewide Proposition 30 (temporary tax initiative to fund education) had been voted down in that election, the district would have had the opportunity to levy an additional $242 in “qualified special taxes,” added onto Measure E.
There is pending litigation, as a result of the Court of Appeal ruling on Borikas v. Alameda Unified School District (Dec. 6, 2012), that the measure “exceeded the district’s taxing authority,” and “imposed a different parcel tax rate on different types of property.”
In the Alameda case, the school district may have to repay a reported $7 million under a measure now held invalid.
Voters in Davis passed Measure C in March of 2012, which went for an amount of $320 for five years (also expires June 30, 2017).
In each of the surveys recently completed by EMC Research – for the board to gauge interest levels – results showed that 71 percent of the 400 Davis voters polled would support a potential school parcel tax at the $620 amount.
Also explored in the surveys was voter support for an eight-year school parcel tax of $750 (63 percent with a solid yes) or $960 (55 percent with a solid yes).
Environment, or school climate, is an issue inherent with the passage of any measure. Davis has on the line a 32-year streak of approving school parcel taxes.
In the follow-up telephone survey that was conducted by EMC in mid-May, 72 percent of the likely voters said they were optimistic, believing that “things here in Davis are generally going in the right direction.”
The overall response reveals a positive level of trust (as did answers about the quality of education), in regard to what voters think about the school board, the district, the school’s teachers and administration, etc.
Achieving a unanimous vote on the parcel tax amount, according to trustee Susan Lovenburg, is “a really important message to convey to the community that we’re all behind this, which means there’s going to be some give and take here for us because we’re sort of, there’s a range here. There’s a range from $620 to $960.”
“From my perspective, if we can we come down on the amount tonight, we have another meeting to work on some of the specifics so I feel a little under the pressure on amount and I actually do think the one thing that I push back at, is we haven’t done any preparation for this,” Lovenburg said at the meeting on June 4. “We are more prepared going into this tax than we have been in my entire tenure on the board and that in large part is due to all of you and the interest in making sure that everybody knows what is funded by the parcel taxes…”
She added: “And for myself, I am in the middle. I do think that the polling results for $960 don’t demonstrate to me confidence that the community is able to support that amount, but I have the same concerns as Alan (Fernandes) – $620 is an increase so you’ve sort of taken the whole, ‘it’s a renewal’ question off the table, we don’t have that option so we have a risk with whatever we go with and given the polling numbers of the $620 and the $750 I have confidence based on my experience in the past that we can get there, this community can get there.”
Lovenburg said that she “definitely” supported a measure for $750 and had “almost” been convinced to go with $960 after fellow board member Fernandes had reasoned earlier in the discussion that the higher amount would provide funding for not only improved student programs and services to help in closing the achievement gap, but also for reserve funds that could be helpful come an economic downturn.
Board vice-president Barbara Archer, who took over for Sunder at Thursday’s meeting, felt the same pressure as Lovenburg about making a decision that evening, yet still aiming to reach consensus as a board.
Archer had anticipated that Sunder would not be in attendance on Thursday, and expressed her concern on June 4 that things would not be sorted out until after her return, which it turns out is pretty much what happened.