By Nicholas von Wettberg
At the Davis board of education special meeting on Wednesday, the public hearing on the approval of the school parcel tax called for comment.
Only one person inside the Community Chambers made a comment to the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) school board on the agenda action item, and that was Ron Glick.
“How many millions of dollars are on the line, and I’m the only one here?” Glick asked, in reference to the economic impact of the parcel tax renewal (combining Measures C & E), which at $9.5 million works out to roughly 12 percent of the district budget.
“That’s amazing,” he said with his voice trailing off.
Glick told the board that he watched the special meeting, from the day before, in which after a three-hour discussion on the topic trustees had agreed unanimously on a November ballot measure of $620 annually for eight years.
And, while declaring his support for the amount, Glick did feel there might have been unnecessary time and resources spent, as part of the decision-making process.
“You polled it,” he said, in another reference – this to a pair of telephone surveys conducted on the interest level of Davis voters in April and May. “And I was watching last night and there was all this discussion about people thinking they know that the community will step up. Well, if you know that why bother hiring the poll? Why take the poll? So you took the poll and the poll came back that said ‘this is the optimum amount,’ and rightfully you settled on it.”
Discussions on the measure from the past handful of meetings have revolved around whether the board should ask for a higher amount than the $620, which, as it is, would be used to maintain existing programs and services.
Trustees were obligated to explore the possibility of a higher amount, and, while the final decision was consistent with the recommendation given to them by EMC Research, the additional information the district received via the surveys, on issues such as school climate, proved invaluable.
For now, the board’s hands are tied because of the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). As long as it is set up the way it is, the district will remain at the mercy of the additional source of funds the school parcel tax provides.
Without it, there would be an ugly round of teacher layoffs, not to mention a noticeable gap in learning and enrichment opportunities for students.
So the thinking was that any extra funding the DJUSD could get from taxpayers – via a measure with an increased amount, at $750 or even $950 – would be used for improvements, on a number of levels, but also put into district coffers.
As Trustee Alan Fernandes reasoned months ago when the discussion was centered on the results of the first survey, settling for the $620 amount would be playing it much too safe – the football equivalent of “punting the ball on third and two.”
Fernandes pumped the higher amount concept throughout the process, touting the virtues of having something to go to during foreseeable hard times.
“The Governor has started a rainy-day fund,” Glick said. “I don’t think we need a second one. I agree with Tom (Adams) that if you have this pot of money sitting there’s the temptation for someone to put their hand in the cookie jar…to try and hold it (funds) back, you know somebody’s kid needs some service and there’s this pile of money and you’re like ‘no, we’re saving that for a rainy day’…I don’t think it’s wise.”
Davis voters clearly care about education, indicated by the high percentage of residents with degrees, and the area has long been a destination for parents because of the public school system.
The relationship between Davis voters and school parcel taxes dates back to 1984.
Following the public hearing portion, Board President Madhavi Sunder brought to action the approval of Resolution No. 59-16 Calling an Election, Establishing Specification of the Election Order, and Requesting Consolidation of Election.
Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby, who presented the item, said there had been a workshop on Tuesday afternoon with staff and legal counsel (Attorney Lisa Allred), working under direction for the language/legality of the resolution and ballot text.
Earlier on Wednesday, the board was presented with a final draft of the resolution, which would be the official version trustees voted for later that evening.
A copy is posted on the district website.
Exemptions in the measure are for seniors and those with disabilities. There is also a CPI (Consumer Price Index) inflation factor included.
Fernandes thanked the work of the parcel tax sub-committee, calling the process a very challenging and difficult task.
“And I think the sub-committee, with my colleagues over here, trustees (Barbara) Archer and Adams, did an outstanding job, not only with regard to the polling that was done but bringing in all of the issues, the outreach that they had us do, the branding that really shows what the parcel tax does,” he said.
Under the watch of Sunder, which began at the beginning of the calendar year, the board has made two things its priority.
The first is continuing their persistent efforts at closing the achievement gap. The second, having a school parcel tax on the November ballot.
“Stewarding those to completion as we are here tonight is quite a task and I think you did a good job with that and I want to thank you,” he said to Sunder.
The board is off for the month and will return on Thursday, August 4.
A campaign to educate voters on the measure will begin perhaps sometime next month.
It was a bittersweet moment for the trustees, and for the remaining few DJUSD staff members in attendance – the meeting on Wednesday was the final one under the leadership of interim superintendent Kevin French, who came to the rescue, so to speak, after the abrupt departure of former Superintendent Winfred Roberson.
The new superintendent, Dr. John Bowes, took over control on July 1.