By Nicholas von Wettberg
According to a recent follow-up telephone survey of 400 likely Davis voters, over half of those polled were in support of a $960 parcel tax for improvements in Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) schools.
While the overall numbers from the research reflected positively on the district-wide school climate, the amount of potential interest, however, fell well short of the required two-thirds vote for such a measure.
As a result, EMC Research will recommend to school board members at Thursday’s meeting that the dollar amount originally proposed for the measure appear on the November ballot.
Trustees requested the follow-up survey after they were given results from the firm’s initial study, in which 71-percent of 400 likely Davis voters responded that they would support a school parcel tax at a proposed $620 for 8 years.
The board could be called aspirational in its decision to further explore voter support for an increase in the funding of district programming, especially with a sampled 41-percent voter base unaware of a current parcel tax, but the difference in tax amount would raise approximately $5 million more per year for Davis schools.
Much of that additional funding would go toward one of the district’s current priorities: closing the achievement/opportunity gap, in the form of “providing more support for struggling students, high-quality teachers, additional literacy and math specialists, innovative science programs and improved art and music.”
In the follow-up survey, conducted from May 15-22, the tenth question presented was, “If the election were held today, would you vote yes to approve this measure ($960 for 8 years) or no to reject it?”
Fifty-five percent of the voters responded with a solid yes to the question, which amounted to a 16-percent drop compared to answers from the study in April.
In both of the EMC interviews, there was a plus/minus Margin of Error of 4.9 percentage points.
One key finding was that, similar to the previous survey, subgroups including older voters and high-propensity voters were less in favor of supporting an increase “than the overall support level.”
The follow-up survey also revealed that district parents had some trouble supporting the increase, with 57 percent of parents of a DJUSD student voting a solid yes – a 14-percent decrease when compared to the findings from the first study.
If Davis renters and others were the only subgroup to cast a vote in the General Election, there might be a chance for an increased amount to be placed on that ballot.
A sizable 71 percent of that category (enough to surpass the threshold) replied with a solid yes to the support for the $960 amount. The same could be said for voters, ages 18-49, whose responses recorded a similar percentage.
Voting homeowners, on the other hand, were not so receptive to a boost in yet another tax, as successful and important as the extra funding has been to Davis education for the past 32 years.
Only 47 percent of homeowners responded with a solid yes, which was down 19 percent from the previous survey.
Component-wise, the study confirmed that voters are concerned about issues like retaining high-quality teachers, providing outstanding academic programs and providing more support for struggling students.
As for the term, “support for struggling students,” there was a marked difference in importance level between how it was worded in each survey.
In the proposal for a $620 measure, it read, “Providing support for struggling students,” which garnered a reply of very important from 58 percent of likely Davis voters.
Comparatively, only 46 percent of voters gave a very important reply to the phrase, ”Closing the achievement gap by providing more support for struggling students.”
Other language tested in the polls showed favorable ratings (an increase of 17 percent) when a word like “maintaining” was used instead of “improving,” or through the omission of the word “additional.”
Questions 21 through 27 in the survey gauged the support level of voters when presented with reasons for backing the measure.
Respondents were asked, “Now I’m going to read you some additional information about the proposed school parcel tax measure for Davis Joint Unified School District. After hearing each statement, please tell me if it makes you much more likely to support the measure, somewhat more likely to support it, or if it makes no difference to you.”
The statement voters supported the most was, “This measure will prevent the district from having to lay off over 100 teachers.”
Just over half those polled (51 percent) answered that they would be much more likely to support the measure for that reason.
The second highest percentage (44 percent) of voter support came after being read the statement, “All of the revenue from this measure will be spent here in our local schools and cannot be taken away by the state.”
Conversely, when posed with statements that opposed the proposed increase, over half of the reported voters were less likely (25 percent much less and 28 percent somewhat less) to support the measure, not only because of the overall amount involved but also because the increase comes at too fast a rate.
The statement read to voters was, “$960/parcel is just too expensive and it represents an 80% increase above what we currently pay for Davis schools.”
It seems clear that after hearing the results of the follow-up survey the board will reject an increase in the amount for a school parcel tax, sticking instead to the original plan for a measure of $620 for 8 years (raising approximately $9.5 million per year for programming).