By Jose J. Granda, PhD
I appreciate the opportunity to have a dialog with your readers about this important issue to our community. It may take this article and perhaps others to fully discuss this issue. I have lived in Davis since 1978 that is 38 years. I love this city and I love the schools because I love teaching which I have done for 34 years. I have volunteered in the classrooms at Birch Lane, North Davis, Willlet and Cesar Chavez when my kids were in school. Regularly I am an invited guest speaker in elementary and high schools. Education and inspiring minds is my call in life, I do it every day. I have paid every single parcel tax since the beginning in 1984. These parcel taxes had merit at some point. I began changing my mind when I attended a school board meeting in 2011 and the Board was discussing Measure A, a “temporary two year” measure. One of the board members said: “public education is not free”. Another asked what is “the maximum amount” we could get (from the taxpayers) and still pass the measure? It was not how much they needed. Then came the bribe to seniors in the famous letter from Mr. Robertson the superintendent who directly asked seniors to vote yes on Measure A while at the same time offering the exemption. Doesn’t that fit the definition of cheating in an election? It is representation without taxation, right? Many Davis residents in good conscience will vote NO on Measure H based on these underhanded tactics.
For those of you who were in Davis at the time I came, you will recall that the Davis schools were just as good then as they are today and we didn’t have parcel taxes. Davis schools were always different from the surrounding cities and always will be because of Davis demographics. It has college educated parents, it has UC Davis a world class university, residents have higher income, etc. Scientific studies conclude that the performance in school and the performance of schools is directly related to these factors. It is not because of parcel taxes. These started as an extra and as an emergency at times. It is actually illegal to treat them as part of the budget. California Code Government Code 50075 and 50079 specifically authorizes these only for specific purposes and not as part of the school district budget.
Does Measure H Have Merit?
Does Measure H have merit or is necessary at this time? According the independent audit of the Davis School District conducted by Crowe Horwarth in 2015, a document that is not subject to manipulation by district officials and that we can rely on, the DJUSD budget in 2013 was $69.6 million, in 2014 it was $71.4 million, and in 2015 it was $76.95 million. In 2015 the district ended up with a surplus of $9.98 million dollars. With the surplus the 2015 budget is $86.93 million. By no means a poor district. According to the Crowe Horwarth audit report, in 2016 the projected budget is $82.50 million and assuming similar surplus would be $92.48 million dollars. This is not pocket change. There is not factual support for those who argue that the district is in desperate need of funds.
If we take out the money for Measure C and Measure E, we get $76.8 million dollars that we the taxpayers paid the district from our property taxes and income taxes. This is reality. It is this $76.8 million what really funds Davis schools and keeps them the way they are, not the parcel taxes. Please see the budget trend in the following chart without even considering the $9.98 million surplus. The actual amounts and trend for the DJUSD budget are clearly spelled out in the chart with the data from the Crowe Horwarth 2015 audit report.
Even with this reality, those involved in the campaign for measure H are disingenuous with the public and they sell it as if the wonderful schools and programs are due to these parcel taxes. Their impact in the overall wellbeing of the schools is minimal as they are spread out thin. As explained above, they cannot be part of the budget but are permitted only for specific purposes. Therefore without the parcel taxes $76.8 million in 2015 and projected $80.50 million in 2016 is a solid financial position.
There should be no catastrophe as proponents want the public to believe if Measure H does not pass. The reason, California Proposition 30. This is an approved Proposition I supported and voted for. It gave Davis schools 10.8 million dollars per year, more money than Measures C and Measure E combined. It mitigated the need of those two measures and in fact the need for Measure H. In other words, the state short falls are over and the “emergency” money from Measure C and E has been restored. Therefore Measure H, is no longer necessary. Notice that proponents of Measure H do not even try to make such an argument as they did for the passage of Measure A and Measure E.
There are those that believe in infinite funding for schools and I will never convince them. However for those who live in the real world, those of us that have paid our dues paying these parcel taxes for 32 years, our own families have needs and priorities too. I believe in quality education and in paying a fair share of taxes to fund schools. I do not believe in the exploitation and taking advantage of the good will of Davis homeowners who trust the money will be used wisely without realizing exactly what the district does. Exorbitant administrative salaries, 3.4% raise to administrators, etc. At some point enough is enough. It is time to vote NO.
Moreover, on the November ballot we will be voting on Proposition 51 to give schools money for facilities, a 9 billion dollar proposition which will bring more money for the Davis schools. We also have Proposition 55 which will continue and reinforce Proposition 30 funding for schools producing 8 billion dollars and would last 12 years. Under these circumstances and with the state shortfalls over it is reasonable to ask: Why does the Davis School district want to impose Measure H? Is it double dipping? Is it how much they need or how much they can get from the taxpayers?
Parcel taxes in Measure H were requested as temporary emergency. It is time for the district to honor the commitment they made that these were “temporary”. It is time to say thank you to Davis taxpayers and stop using them as if they were an ATM machine where money is readily available. Davis schools are and will be in solid funding at least for the next 12 years. Measure H has no merit and is not necessary.
Can You Afford Measure H?
How will Measure H impact you? The price tag for any property owner who votes yes on Measure H is a minimum $4,960 commitment. If you vote YES on Measure H, you are acquiring a variable debt which has a minimum price tag of $4,960 = $620 x 8 years plus an undetermined amount for an automatic cost of living increase every year so the actual amount you will pay in unknown. Measure H is the most expensive parcel tax in Davis history. At a price tag of $4,960 it is too much for too long. It is unreasonable.
The cost of Measure H is exorbitant when compared to all the other measures. We must compare how much is demanded of the taxpayer when they vote yes on a measure. Not how much you pay per year but also how long you pay. Then you will know how much Measure H will cost you. According to the California Education Data Partnership 2015 Report we can examine how much Davis property owners have paid for each parcel tax imposed on them since 1984. See bar chart and data below. It shows the total amount paid for each measure.
At $4,960 Measure H is 27 times more expensive than the first one, Measure K at $180. It is four times more expensive than Measure C (2012, $1,280) and six times more expensive than Measure E (2012, $816). The Davis School Board made a huge mistake in putting on the ballot such expensive and unreasonable proposal which makes it easier for Davis residents to reject and they should reject it overwhelmingly. The following table shows specifically all costs for each measure considering how much we paid and how long they lasted.
One has to consider not only how much you pay per year but for how long. When you buy a car, for example you do not look only at how much is the monthly payment but how much the car costs and how long you will pay. Same here, Measure H demands a financial commitment of $4,960 to be paid by you in 8 years if you vote YES. It is like a self-inflicting variable interest debt. Measure H is a big increase in the taxes instead of just renewing them. It increases your mortgage bill.
Is Measure H Sending The Wrong Message?
What does this analysis tell you? If you vote YES, this will never end and you will send the wrong message to the school board to engage in a never ending demand for higher amounts. They have done it for 32 years and they will continue to do it unless you send the correct message and vote NO on Measure H. The never ending addiction to parcel taxes and mismanaging of resources will not change unless at some point you vote NO. That point has been reached with Measure H. Vote NO.
Is Measure H Fair?
Measure H forces only those who own property to foot the bill for everybody else. Measure H is a free ride for: out of town residents who send students to Davis schools; seniors; temporary residents. If you live in an apartment you are not escaping either. The $4,960 bill of Measure H to be paid in eight years will come to your landlord and he will pass it on to you in the form of raising your rent.
Is it fair and ethical for seniors to take a bribe and get out of paying the taxes and then turn around and vote YES to impose a debt of $4,960 on you? Any senior under those circumstances should refrain from voting or should vote NO so that others be in your same position. If you are a senior and took the exemption and intent to vote YES you need to have a meeting with your conscience. The present Davis School Board has no conscience as giving a bribe to seniors so they can pass the tax. Is that corruption? Isn’t that cheating on the election? Why should you pay $4,960 for the benefit of those who do not pay these taxes and those who do not even live in Davis? One of the candidates, Alan Fernandes, proposed at the forum at Emerson, “to exempt teachers from paying the parcel taxes” in order to attack them. Wow! If offering bribes to a class of the residents to pass the measure is not bad enough, this is offering another bribe to prospective teachers with the taxpayer’s money. This is not ethical either. Cheating is not an American value, unless I am alone in thinking that Davis is a city of ethical principles where fairness and justice are still its values. These are the kind of things that I will not allow if I get elected to the school board.
Are Davis Residents Tired Of Paying Parcel Taxes?
In the past, like many of you, when one of these measures was on the ballot, I never questioned it and voted yes thinking is for only temporary for four or two years and is an extra money for schools. I did not even think how it will be used. When my kids were in Davis schools I gladly paid these parcel taxes and have done so even after. Well the school board in a disingenuous act with the public now wants to consider the parcel taxes as part of their budget for ever, something that it is illegal because the law allows these taxes only for specific purposes and not to be part of their budget. They have no conscience in promoting Measure H that way and in having taken advantage of Davis taxpayers for 32 years. Those of us that have paid these parcel taxes for 32 years are tired of this. I know for sure I am not alone on this. We made our contribution, it is time for the parents who have children in schools to do it, not just the property owners while everybody else gets a free ride. It is time to vote NO on Measure H.
Don’t our own families have needs too? For those of you who have sons and daughters in college you are up against major tuition money and for you voting NO on Measure H is a no-brainer.
My View Of Funding Schools
I do not pretend to have all the answers nor a magic wand but I believe in funding the schools the right way. This means with everyone’s contribution, not by exploiting just one class of Davis residents. In principle this means through our income taxes and property taxes which come to the schools through the State of California. Opportunities to fund schools are Proposition 30 (already approved), I voted for that. It is bringing $10.8 million to Davis Schools. This restored the money of the short falls which Measure E and C were covering, making these and Measure H no longer necessary. Restoring funding for schools was the right way of doing it. However receiving $10.8 million, more than the two propositions combined and wanting to keep what was supposed to be temporary, is “double dipping” and that is not right either. Measure H is double dipping. Now we have another opportunity to fund schools the right way. On the November ballot we will vote on Proposition 51, a 9 billion proposition that will give DJUSD funding for school. We will also have Proposition 55 which will continue Proposition 30 and stabilize the funding for schools, an 8 billion proposal which no doubt will bring a lot of money for the Davis School District for the next 12 years. Under these circumstances of new sources of funding and having restored the funding needed from Measure A, C and E, Measure H is not necessary and no negative effect should happen to this district if it does not pass. It will be a positive step and will force the School Board to behave responsibly towards the taxpayers and use the resources efficiently with the right goals in concentrating the investment on the students rather on the political special interest groups that fund their campaigns. I don’t have these political commitments and if elected my commitment is to the best interest of the students and the taxpayers.
Besides these sources of funding I am for more money for schools the right way. I have proposed the establishment of a grant writing department in DJUSD. This will be a self-funded department dedicated exclusively to write grants for the district and do it consistently and professionally coordinated with similar efforts at each school. I am really happy to know that someone else, Bob Poppenga agrees with me on this. He was very clear at the Vanguard forum and I believe this is the way to go. The parcel tax money would look small compared to what you can do this way. Another idea is to coordinate the fund raising efforts that the PTA’s have now. If there would be a coordinated effort and assistance from the district to help the PTA’s in fund raising both, the district and the specific schools will benefit. Besides these sources of funding, no one is stopping anyone from voluntarily contributing to the funding of schools unless the idea is voting on a good idea to pass Measure H thinking someone else will pay the bill.
When you go into that ballot box, ask yourself, am I willing to make the $4,960 commitment that Measure H demands from any property owner that votes yes? Or am I voting yes to make someone else pay? If you are convinced, you can afford and you are going to pay it, it is your money, then vote yes, otherwise vote NO.
As we continue the dialog there will be more we can discuss, but I hope I have given clear and honest reasons to vote NO on Measure H and also to consider voting for me. Whatever you decision is in the end, I am glad we had this dialog.