Yesterday I found myself at an IEP (Individualized Education Program) for my nephew, whom we have raised since birth, at Marguerite Montgomery Elementary School. Eight people were in the room – several from Valley Oak where he attended pre-school this year, and several more from Montgomery where he will go to transitional kindergarten in two and a half months.
Yesterday’s experience was reminiscent of my first experience in this district, nearly six years ago when – days after my older nephew moved in with us and started first grade – we were confronted with some harsh realities, but we were surrounded by dedicated professionals whose job it was to make sure my nephew had a chance at life.
My nephew is about to enter seventh grade this year, he has made tremendous progress and there is no doubt in my mind it is because the greatness of our local schools.
For people like me and my family, we have stayed in Davis in large part because of the schools and the academic culture of this community.
Unfortunately for much of the last decade, we have been hit by economic hardship. We have been forced to make tough choices. But the community has also stepped up time and time again to support its schools.
However, we also have to face reality. Our per pupil take from the state is less than a lot of districts. Unlike the district that I grew up in, we are not a basic aid district. And on top of that, we are disadvantaged in the LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) process.
So if we want our schools to be great, it has to come from the community. I know a lot of people disagree with this but, to be great, we have to have the money to hire the professionals to teach our kids, the resources to bring into the classroom, and that costs money.
On Thursday, the school board was divided as to how to go forward. Polling shows that they can pass a $620 parcel tax in their sleep. Eighty percent would support it. That’s basically what we are spending now.
The board was divided 3-2 on whether to go up to $750, with Barbara Archer and Tom Adams on the dissenting side. Tom Adams was willing to go up to $700. The difference between $620 and $750 is a little over $10 a month.
I think we should go at least to $750, but I really agree with Alan Fernandes that we should go to $960. Crazy, I know. But hear me out for a second.
We keep passing what we think we can pass. We have never had a real professional campaign, like we saw on the water issue a few years ago and Measure A now, where you have a campaign consultant, a field team and you make the case to the community.
In 2012, it was Richard Harris who challenged the board as he was on his way out to pass a big parcel tax that would fund everything that we needed. He didn’t get that, but, by pushing the issue, the board put another $200 or so parcel tax on the ballot for that November with a contingency to fund the district if Proposition 30 hadn’t passed.
Had Prop. 30 not passed, our parcel tax right now would be over $800 a year. So we were willing to do it at that point, but not now?
I think Barbara Archer raised some important points. Moreover, I agree with those who believe that the parcel tax is a horrible system. It is regressive. It taxes the $2 million mansion at the same rate as the $100,000 townhouse. We need to change that system. But we don’t have that luxury here.
We have to work within the given system and we can either accept the status quo in terms of funding or we can push for greatness.
While I respect Barbara Archer’s concern, I have to believe that for the most part there aren’t a lot of people in that boat that will be irreparably harmed by the parcel tax. With the legal challenge, apartments are taxed at the flat rate for the entire parcel. So even if landlords pass along the tax to their tenants, they are getting the $960 split x-number of ways.
Perhaps rental homes will have their tax passed on to the tenants, but again, most renters are students and will have that rent increase split several ways.
Then you have homeowners. But remember, seniors have an exemption. So any senior who cannot afford the parcel tax, already can opt out.
That leaves homeowners who make sufficiently low income that an extra $10 to $30 a month will harm them. I just do not believe that there is a huge number of people in that camp. I could be wrong, but, given the cost of housing, I don’t think there are a lot of non-senior homeowners who are in the modest income category.
I would also point out that lower income people, and I would include myself in that category for most of my tenure here, even if we end up paying more in rent due to this parcel tax, our benefits in terms of the education for our kids will far outweigh the hardship.
I firmly believe that, if we challenge the community on the $960 – and we need to be fully transparent about the costs, our needs, and where this money will go and why we need it – that this community will step up.
In fact, the polling on this is far from discouraging. Sixty-one percent of the voters in the poll said they would support a parcel tax at $960. That is without a campaign. And while that falls short of the threshold, that is why we need campaign to fight for our children and their future.
I believe we can do this and we can win. We need to argue that this is for bringing greatness to schools, our children and our future.
—David M. Greenwald reporting