Monday Morning Thoughts: Parcel Tax Likely to Be a Non-Issue this Election

Parcel-Tax-Chalk

The parcel tax might have been a more interesting question had the school board chosen to take a different path – one that the Vanguard supported and at least two of the candidates (incumbents Alan Fernandes and Susan Lovenburg) back, which is increasing the rate of the parcel tax.  As it stands now, the parcel tax is basically at the same rate as was passed in 2012, with polling showing very strong support at that level.

The problem that Jose Granda, who has opposed the parcel taxes going back at least to 2011, is going to have is that, while he can certainly show the burden on the taxpayers, DJUSD with the parcel taxes is an averagely funded school district.  Without the parcel taxes, it is significantly below being an averagely funded district.

In his press release, Granda stated, “I am not against taxes for education, in fact I voted for Proposition 30 to fund schools.”

Instead, he argues, “I want to be the voice of efficiency in education and of the 9,253 Davis residents who voted with me against the last parcel tax measure and those that will vote NO on Measure H in November. It is unnecessary, too much for too long.  We need to have a constructive, thoughtful and realistic debate about this measure.”

But nowhere in his message does he point out the fact that the district is simply using parcel taxes now to close the gap between what DJUSD gets and what other school districts get.  The problem is not waste and inefficiency on the part of DJUSD – the problem is that state funding formulas now severely disadvantage our district and, for whatever reason, our state property tax take is significantly lower than that of other districts.

So, does Mr. Granda wish for the district to operate at a disadvantage?

In past elections, Mr. Granda has explained that he does not like parcel taxes and would prefer a more fair tax.  I think most people would agree with him.  Parcel taxes are about as bad a tax as we have.  First, only homeowners pay them.  Second, the tax is assessed on a per parcel basis with a flat rate, regardless of the value of the property – so the person with a $200,000 home pays the same as the person with the $1 million home and pays the same as the owner of an apartment complex.

That is not a good system – but, unfortunately, unless state law is passed it is the only way for school districts to raise their revenue through taxes.

Ironically, Mr. Granda has made the situation locally worse than it was back in 2012.  He filed a lawsuit against the school district and, based on another case out of Alameda County, the district decided to settle rather than challenge.

The Alameda tax charged different rates based on parcel type and the courts ruled that was against the constitution.  As a result, the district changed its formula from $20 per apartment unit to a flat rate that everyone else pays.

At the time, Mr. Granda stated, “We basically have prevailed in the case and we made our point…  We provided a public service by making the district comply with the law.”

But what that decision did was greatly reduce the amount of money that apartment owners had to pay.  So now an apartment owner pays the same flat rate as everyone else.  That means small apartment complexes pay more than they were paying, but the larger ones pay less – far less.

That means the lawsuit actually makes the parcel tax less equitable, not more equitable, and there is a kicker – the district is now raising the parcel tax rate to account for the gap between what Measure E was supposed to generate and what the lawsuit reduced the amount to.

In essence, the lawsuit will result in less equitable rates – and higher ones.

Mr. Granda is, of course, running on a platform of technology and teachers, but both of those take money – money that the loss of a parcel tax would preclude.

With polling showing strong support for the parcel tax, the election is more likely to be about issues like AIM and the achievement gap, and perhaps LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan), than parcel taxes.  But stay tuned, as this figures to be a more interesting than usual election.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 Comments

  1. skeptical

     
    “…the district is simply using parcel taxes now to close the gap between what DJUSD gets and what other school districts get.”
     
    This is NOT true.  All districts receive the same base per pupil funding.  Each district then receives supplemental funding based on the number of foster, low income, or English learning students (presuming their educational needs are more costly). 
     
    DJUSD solicits parcel taxes to supplement its regular program not to meet the needs of students targeted by the State’s supplemental funding.
     
    “The problem is not waste and inefficiency on the part of DJUSD – the problem is that state funding formulas now severely disadvantage our district.” 
     
    Per above, this is just NOT true.  DJUSD receives the same base per pupil funding as all other districts.  This requires more efficiency and better management for a basic funded district.  Whether the current operations are wasteful is a value judgment, but the parcel tax provides a funding buffer that allows for greater waste and mismanagement. 
     
    There is no question the district could be operated much more efficiently.  Currently, there is excess facility capacity, underuse of facilities (which could be generating revenue for DJUSD), and excessive overhead throughout the organization.
     
    “Parcel taxes are about as bad a tax as we have.” 
     
    Parcel taxes are not the problem.  The problem is the way the district chooses to craft the tax and the way the district chooses to spend the funds—largely, in ways parcel taxes were not intended. There are plenty of ways to design parcel taxes, so far there has been no creativity from DJUSD.  That is the fault of the district, NOT Mr. Granda. 
     
    “…the election is more likely to be about issues like AIM and the achievement gap, and perhaps LCAP (Local Control and Accountability Plan), than parcel taxes.”
     
    I disagree.  AIM affects very few voters, even fewer have any idea what LCAP is about (or how it is supposed to be tied to the LCFF), but all voters understand a $620 parcel tax.  When it comes to a school election, I believe most voters focus on what they think is good for students.  If voters believe the parcel tax will be good for students, it will be approved.  The district, however, would be wise not to be presumptuous or complacent on the parcel tax. Susan Lovenburg has burned a lot of community goodwill. 
     

    1. Chamber Fan

      Roberson: “It is true that we do not have the same per pupil spending power as neighboring districts but the DJUSD Board of Trustees and administration are committed to invest increased revenue into the program and professional employees that serve our students.”

    2. Sulla

      Extra State money goes to those School Districts which have over 50% of  students who qualify for “Free or reduced [price for] Lunch.”  But does the Davis Parcel Tax  focus on the those students, or does it fund the programs for those identified as “gifted” or “talented”?

      1. wdf1

        Sulla:  But does the Davis Parcel Tax  focus on the those students [free/reduced lunch], or does it fund the programs for those identified as “gifted” or “talented”?

        It’s not an either or proposition.   School parcel tax funds programs that generally serve all students.  Elementary science program serves all students.  7th period options in the secondary grades serve all students.  Library services serve all students.  Class size reduction serves all students.  Elementary music is accessible to all students.

      2. quielo

        In districts such as LAUSD it has been used to fund raises for employees and full employment for consultants. Little has gone into additional instruction for students. The “LC” part of LCFF was code for “have a party with the money”

      3. Tia Will

        Sulla

        But does the Davis Parcel Tax  focus on the those students, or does it fund the programs for those identified as “gifted” or “talented”?”

        As someone who does not have a child in the public schools and thus no vested interest, I see this as a very pertinent question. Not because there is a clear either or answer as pointed out by wdf1 but because there is a wide gap in the community in how the program is viewed. One side points out that the Gate/Aim program is not substantially more costly and is a needed program. The other side emphasizes that it diverts funds from other programs. Both statements are probably true as written but tend to ignore the values of those who value either Gate/Aim or another program more highly because of the particular needs of their child. I believe that some genuinely feel that Gate/Aim was being overemphasized to the detriment of other programs.

        1. DavisAnon

          Tia, please justify your statement about AIM costs as I think it misleads the public. As far as I can tell, although serving a large number of students, the cost of  the AIM program used to be a 0.4 FTE (no benefits) administrator, now not even that as she was fired.

          The AIM program diverted no funds from other students. Parcel taxes are not used for AIM. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. Tia Will

    quielo

     Little has gone into additional instruction for students. The “LC” part of LCFF was code for “have a party with the money””

    This is a genuine question since I have not followed educational expenditures. Can you provide actual numbers to support this statement or can you direct me to where such numbers exist ? This seems to be a fairly subjective use of the word “little” and a fairly derogatory comment to be allowed to pass without substantiation.

    1. quielo

      Here is the Edsource article.

       

       

      EdSource

       

      Torlakson reinterprets department’s stance on teacher raises

       

      By John Fensterwald | June 15, 2015 | 29 Comments

       

      CREDIT: LILLIAN MONGEAU/EDSOURCE TODAY

      Tom Torlakson

      Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has softened clear-cut guidance his department issued in a memo regarding the use of money intended for underserved students to fund across-the-board pay raises for teachers.

       

      Torlakson changed the tone and backed off some of the restrictions of the earlier memo in a June 10 letter to county and district superintendents and charter school administrators. It came two weeks after EdSource Today published an April letter from Jeff Breshears, an administrator in the California Department of Education, to Jim Yovino, superintendent of the Fresno County Office of Education. Breshears’ letter was a response to Yovino’s inquiry.

       

      The letters address a critical issue that has created tension between school boards and teachers unions: how to interpret the rules governing the extra dollars earmarked for “high-needs” students – low-income children, English learners and foster youth – through the Local Control Funding Formula. The funding formula grants districts broad authority over spending decisions. But it also states that the “supplemental and concentration” dollars for high-needs students must be used to increase and improve services for those students. After years of state cuts in education, many districts are now flush with money and are bargaining over how to strike the balance between expanding programs and granting long-deferred pay raises.

       

      Breshears’ letter, which had been reviewed by lawyers for the department, said only in “some limited circumstances” could supplemental and concentration dollars fund unrestricted pay raises for teachers. The “burden” districts face in approving the raises would be “very heavy,” Breshears wrote. In omitting Breshears’ unambiguous wording, Torlakson’s explanation appears to signal that districts have more latitude in deciding what’s permissible. Torlakson wrote that his memo clarifies and supersedes Breshears’ letter, which “may have created some misunderstandings.”

       

      Bill Ainsworth, director of communications for the Department of Education, said that Torlakson was unavailable for an interview but that the letter speaks for itself. Ainsworth said that Torlakson had not read Breshears’ memo before it went out and decided to take a “more thorough look” at the issue after receiving questions regarding Breshears’ interpretation. He did not say what those questions were or who was asking them.

       

      Torlakson’s perspective is closer to the view of the California Teachers Association, which objected to Breshears’ interpretation of the law. Torlakson, a high school science and history teacher before turning to politics, has been a close ally of the CTA during his 14 years in the Legislature and two terms as state superintendent. In the most expensive statewide race last year, the CTA spent more than $13 million to help re-elect Torlakson. In 2006, Torlakson authored the Quality Education Investment Act, a $3 billion program that resulted from an out-of-court settlement between the state and the CTA that lowered class sizes and put additional counselors in low-performing schools.

       

      In criticizing Breshears’ letter, Claudia Briggs, communications assistant manager for the CTA, said the funding law gives maximum flexibility to school districts to decide how money should be spent, and that includes raising salaries to attract and keep teachers. Briggs said in an email last week that Torlakson’s letter “looks like it’s more in line with the law over which CDE (the Department of Education) has no purview anyway.”

       

      Breshears’ and Torlakson’s letters differ in tone and emphasis, but both conclude, after analyzing the funding law and State Board of Education regulations implementing it, that the extra money for high-needs students can be used for across-the-board teacher raises under some conditions. Both said that difficulties in recruiting, hiring and retaining teachers that have adversely affected students’ academic progress could justify a district’s use of that money. (Torlakson noted that this was just one example and wasn’t intended to be the only one.) Both agreed that the district must document why it needs to use that money for raises in the district’s annual academic plan, known as the Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP.

       

      But Breshears emphasizes the hurdles that the regulations impose while Torlakson gives districts more latitude. Breshears’ letter advises that a district must establish that its teacher salaries are low “in comparison with other districts in its labor market.” Torlakson is silent on this aspect.

       

      Breshears said that a district also “must” cite a goal for improving academic improvement that higher pay would accomplish. County offices of education, which review districts’ LCAPs, would require a district to stop using the supplemental and concentration dollars for those raises “within a reasonable time” if the goal isn’t achieved. Torlakson’s letter says the district “might” include an academic achievement goal and does not mention consequences if there’s no improvement.

       

      The funding law says that districts can use supplemental and concentration funding for districtwide purposes that are “effective” in meeting goals of high-needs students. In those districts in which high-needs children make up less than 55 percent of enrollment, districts must show that the spending is “the most effective” choice. Breshears’ letter elaborated, calling this additional requirement “extremely” difficult “if not impossible to meet.”

       

      GOING DEEPER

      April memo by Jeff Breshears to Fresno County Superintendent Jim Yovino

      June 10 memo by State Superintendent Tom Torlakson

      May 28 EdSource Today article on the Breshears memo

      Local Control Funding Formula regulations adopted by State Board of Education, November 2014

      Civil rights groups, including the legal firm Public Advocates and the advocacy organization Children Now, had praised Breshears’ letter but had varying reactions to Torlakson’s response. “We are shocked at the reversal,” wrote Samantha Tran, senior managing director of education for Children Now. She said she failed to see how simply paying more for the same level of services complies with the funding law and regulations.

    2. wdf1

      Davis Enterprise, 23 August 2016:  Teachers in high demand, but Davis salaries lag:

      Last year, Angela Chu was a promising student-teacher in Davis High School’s math department, teaching three classes for James Johnson and Dan Gonzales. Johnson, head of the math department, thought the 29-year-old was a prime candidate for a full-time position.

      “She was an excellent student-teacher and I was begging her to apply here,” Johnson said. “And she said, ‘No way am I going to apply here. Why would I come to Davis when I could make $8,000 a year more in Elk Grove to start with, and they have all these better benefits?’ ”

      Chu, now a full-time teacher at Katherine L. Albiani Middle School in the Elk Grove Unified School District, said the idea of teaching in Davis “didn’t even cross (my) mind.”

      “A big influence was the pay and what the district was giving,” Chu explained. “Because as a first-year teacher, we’re on the low end of the pay scale, and there was a drastic difference between some districts over others.”

      Chu is not alone in her decision — for years, the Davis school district has lagged behind other districts in salary offerings, which has contributed to a teacher shortage in Davis.

      DJUSD health care benefits, though top-notch, take a big bite out of monthly paychecks — another deterrent to teachers looking for higher pay.

  3. Marina Kalugin

    really….. says who???  oh yeah the DV>>>   do they even have a clue??? not likely ..

    so far, since I showed up on the DV on April 27th,….they have  been on many of the wrong sides…

    obviously they haven’t  been listening….

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