by Nicholas von Wettberg
Come November, Davis voters will have a school parcel tax on the ballot of $620 annually for eight years.
At a special meeting on Tuesday morning, the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) board of education agreed to the recommended amount, length of term, and programs and services affected.
Also detailed was the wording (text) of the ballot measure.
Finalization takes place on Wednesday night at the Community Chambers.
Davis residents are invited to attend the parcel tax public hearing. The special meeting begins at 7 pm.
School parcel taxes, with a required two-thirds approval for passage, are nothing new to the academically-minded district, having been a part of the educational funding landscape for the past three decades.
Some lively discussion ensued from the five trustees during the meeting, which centered mostly on the measure’s amount.
Eventually, the board voted 4-0 in favor of the $620 (or “lower”) amount. Trustee Alan Fernandes abstained from the process – in disagreement.
Throughout the past few months discussing the topic, Fernandes was the most vocal member of the board that endorsed the highest cost, totaling $950.
That was the sum a recent follow-up telephone survey had polled potential voters about, along with the amounts $620 and $750.
There was a minor divide over whether taxpayers would be willing to have the tax firmly in place (for eight years) or flexible enough for a sooner re-up (for four years).
Trustee Susan Lovenburg, who has the longest tenure on the board, dissented on the length of term (4-1 vote in favor of eight years).
Lovenburg said there’s an entire generation of parents unfamiliar with the parcel tax, which is one of the reason’s she opposed to a measure of more than four years.
She also said she was in favor of a tax with an amount above what many consider the status quo.
“I’ve always favored some increase over $620,” Lovenburg said. “Mostly because I’m concerned about the inherent conflict in the message that $620 is a renewal when it’s actually an increase. I also think that it’s important to actually use this opportunity to do as much as we can for students and I think the support for $620 is so strong that I believe there’s a compelling case that we can aim a little bit higher than $620.”
As far as programs and services Lovenburg would support, given an increase in additional funding, they were the elementary choral program, garden and recycling programs, and STEM technology support.
For both telephone surveys, in which potential voter interest was gauged, over 71 percent of respondents gave a solid yes to agreeing to pay a school parcel tax of $620.
The approval percentage dropped to 64 percent when the tax amount was increased to $750, and to 55 percent (with a solid “yes”) for an increase to $960.
The conversation about the measure included interim Superintendent Kevin French, Associate Supervisor Bruce Colby and district legal counsel.
For Board President Madhavi Sunder, the amount is important, but so is the fact the community has consistently backed its school parcel taxes, which she says sets a positive culture.
“We all agree that it is the citizens’ support of our Davis public schools that makes us the excellent school district that we are,” Sunder said. “Our current parcel taxes contribute a whopping 12 percent of our annual budget in the amount of $9.5 million. We’re proud that the Davis community, young and old, parent and non-parent, understands that investing in our children is the best possible investment in our future for economic and social prosperity for everyone in this community.”
During the discussion, Fernandes asked his fellow board members to bring a new perspective into the fold about the measure.
“I think this community wants us to reach big and so for the amount I have been very clear, I’ve been in favor of a parcel tax above $900,” Fernandes said. “I don’t know that everyone is there, here, but I’m certainly supportive of going downward. I like the $750 we polled at that and it is a nice round number. Our median home price in Davis is $585,000 so we’re talking a tenth of a percent of the value of the home dedicated to probably the most important thing that keeps our home values where they are, which is our schools.”
Fernandes added that he thought the community could not only afford a parcel tax as high as $750, but he believed it is what they want “to see out of our schools.”
He said that it would be the necessary amount for Davis to be more than just a “good” district and gave an example of the community’s willingness to extend over the $620 amount, referencing the trigger mechanism built in to Measure E, from 2012.
Trustee Barbara Archer held the same ground she had for the past few weeks of discussion, sticking with the lower amount of $620.
“I’m still in my cautious place and I’ll kind of reiterate why,” Archer said. “We started doing parcel tax outreach a number of months ago to the community. Everyone was fine on term. Again, this was my experience, my colleagues might be different but everyone that I spoke with…the formal outreach at the PTAs, and site councils and also my discussions with people in the community, everyone is cautious about the rate so we don’t overreach.”