Election Day Commentary: Speaking Out of Turn on H


It is Election Day and, to be honest, I have no idea who is going to get elected to the school board.  I think challenger Bob Poppenga has run a very strong race, but both Susan Lovenburg and Alan Fernandes are incumbents, and strong ones at that.

I also believe that Measure H is going to win easily.  In my years of covering local politics, there was only one parcel tax that came close to defeat, and that was Measure A in 2011 – which barely exceeded the two-thirds margin.  That campaign was riddled with some controversies – mostly by the school board and district – and even then the opposition couldn’t get one-third of the voters to support a no position.

This time around, there has been little in the way of controversy.  The usual suspects, like Jose Granda, attempted to make an issue out of the increase (slightly) in the baseline costs and then attempted to double-down by adding up the eight-year costs (subtly noting that the term of this is eight years rather than four years).

I don’t see the argument getting a lot of traction and it’s kind of a bad argument anyway, because people pay their taxes by the year, not in a lump sum.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if there were ever a sophisticated campaign run against a parcel tax – but the fact that there is not is probably telling about where the communities lies.

Given the relative ease of this campaign, I have to again question whether the board was too risk-averse in not pushing the envelope on the parcel tax.  Alan Fernandes had pushed for $960 rather than $620.  Susan Lovenburg would have at least gone for $750.  But the board majority was fearful of pushing the number too high.

There were a lot of reasons given for this.  Some had to do with the overall number being a combination of all parcel taxes.  Some had to do with the impact of the costs on the modest income residents.  We noted at the time that, in 2012, the voters had been willing to go up to $750 or so, should the tax measure at the state level not pass.

The polls clearly showed that going above $620 would be a lift, but I always believed it was possible, with a strong and concerted campaign to bridge the gap – certainly at $750 and probably higher.

But I was told by an experienced observer that there was a weariness in the voters – something that did not show up in district polling and something that has not shown up, at least publicly, in the election.  If it is there, it lies below the surface and is not emerging in letters or comment.  Is that possible?  Sure.  But I think unlikely.

The bottom line is that we need more money, this district is good but not great, and we should be more ambitious.  As I said in the summer, we have rested on our laurels for too long.  I fear the district was too risk-adverse to take advantage of the moment.

What I find interesting is that, when I first started doing this, I was on the outside looking in, having only become a parent in 2009 and only having experience with the school district starting in late 2010.

My experience has been mostly positive. The district has done right by our 13-year-old nephew who came to live with us in late 2010.  My daughter, now at 1st grade at Montgomery, is excelling in the dual-immersion program.

That said, I worry about Montgomery and its ability to educate the high number of English learners and Title One students.  I worry about the inability of the district to close the achievement gap, although I’m pleased with the renewed emphasis on it.

I see a district that does a lot of things well, but, at the same time, has handled a number of situations poorly.  The handling of the AIM issue, I am disappointed in.  I don’t come into this as necessarily a supporter of AIM or a parent of AIM children.  People have often asked me why I appear to support the AIM program – the reality is that I support proper process and fair access, for children of color and low income kids, to all programs.

One of the reasons I opposed the AIM changes other than on private testing was that I was concerned that shrinking the AIM program would reduce the opportunity of kids of color to access that program and, with regard to blacks and Hispanics, my worst fears were realized.

I also think the changes were rushed in.  The issue involving the three strands was poorly handled.  The parents were told there would be three strands, they were given options, and then the district, instead of fulfilling their promise, decided it was better to reduce the number of strands to two.

In my view, that was not the proper way to handle it.  Madhavi Sunder and Alan Fernandes proposed a way forward, but the hardcore block of board members who have driven the changes to the AIM program would not compromise.

Similarly, the district had a screw up in how the AIM testing was administered.  The district could have taken any number of steps to rectify it, but instead chose the most impactful way for the students – a three-hour test.  That’s just not an example of a well-run district.

In the end, there are a lot of great things about this district.  As I have stated many times, my nephew has a chance at a normal life that he likely wouldn’t have had anywhere else.  But that is no reason to gloss over other challenges.

I don’t believe we can fix these problems by cutting funding – in fact, I think that would make things worse.  While there seems to be strong support for the parcel tax, the frustration that many feel is real and is not far below the surface.

Hopefully, with eight years of parcel tax locked into place, the district will have the comfort level to be introspective and attack these problems more aggressively.  Stay tuned.

—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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  1. JosephBiello

    David,  nice summary of this issue.

    Having sat through the Achievement Gap (AG) discussion at the board meeting and looked at the (somewhat confusingly presented) numbers, I am convinced that this is a problem we can solve in the district.  We’re talking about 1% of the district falls into an AG category.    I respect teachers as professionals in their field and I don’t think that “more teacher training” is the way to solve this problem.   Kids at risk of AG need some targeted support and those classrooms need some help.     I think we are in a “roll up our sleeves as a community and get this problem solved” situation – creatively.    I thought the staff’s recommendation of community support, etc, was a great start – but it was a little vague due to the time constraints.

    Can you imagine if, in 4-5 years we can show that there is no achievement gap for Long Term English Learners (LTEL) identified students?  That would be awesome.  Of course, my bias is to engage UC Davis programs and students to help solve this problem (which I am working on now) – but I don’t have a horse in the race of how we solve it, I am simply convinced that we can solve it.




    1. wdf1

      JosephBiello:  We’re talking about 1% of the district falls into an AG category.

      The percentage of students who fall into an achievement gap category is definitely higher than that.  You are probably referring to Long Term English Learners (LTEL), which is one segment of focus in the achievement gap.

      1. JosephBiello

        @wdf1 – yes, you are absolutely correct.  I wrote AG at the top and meant AG for LTEL (as I wrote at the bottom).  My point was really one about this specific subgroup,  that definitely didn’t come through in my comment.

        But now I’m really fired up because I think we can do something about this.




        1. wdf1

          I think what you are doing is taking a reductionist view of the problem — if we could get just the right kind of explanation for these math problems, then the students would understand perfectly, and then their standardized test scores would rise.  Yours is similar to the kind of enthusiasm that heralded the passage of No Child Left Behind in 2001.  NCLB uniformly failed to deliver.

          The problem with that is that students are not uniformly motivated by a desire to learn math concepts the way that you are.  They lack a larger context for knowing why it might be worthwhile to pay attention and strive to master those concepts.  That larger context is associated with “social-emotional” growth, and questions of “who am I,” “what is my identity,” “what do I want to do with my life,” “what personal skills do I need to get there.”  Those are questions youth are usually grappling with in secondary grades.  I think that’s why you see scores decline after elementary grades.

          I saw that part of the school board meeting, and that latter part of the equation was substantially lacking from board discussion.  They touched on it in discussing the climate survey and extra-curricular participation, but they didn’t really go far enough to begin to make a difference, IMO.

        2. JosephBiello

          WDF1, well, we can talk about this until the cows come home, I’ll just try to implement a solution – you can keep talking about NLCB.   I don’t think it is about “math” in any fundamental way – it is about helping teachers.     This goes back to the whole question that arose with AIM – if a classroom is too diverse in its ability level, then it is extremely hard for a teacher to serve the whole class.   If we can reduce pressure on that classroom we can help that teacher help all of the students.

          I think you misunderstand what I’m trying to do.

          As for grappling with “who am I”, knowing “what I like to do” takes people a long way to “who am I”.     A person who is successful in what they do becomes emotionally strong and self-confident in the social sphere.  A person who has attained success by their own hand gains empathy for others.   It is our job to guide children to these kinds of success.

          At the moment there are thousands of student at the university – many of whom are placed in the schools while learning to become teachers.  Currently, the location of placement happens because of some non systematic choice.  I am simply suggesting targeting these students to at risk classrooms with UC students who are currently in the MAST program (and others) who can help take some pressure off of the teachers.

          It was nice talking to you until you tried to pin the NCLB label on me.  Have fun trying to deflate everyone’s enthusiasm while getting nothing done.   I’ll try to get something done.







        3. JosephBiello

          WDF1, I was frustrated that you tried to pin NLCB on me – a program which I never supported and was clearly flawed.

          Ultimately, math and reading scores below grade level are the canary in the coalmine.     I’m not interested in mathematics scores, per se – but rather the fact that being at grade level (not a particularly high standard, mind you) in math and reading has a lot to say about the success of a student in later life.

          What I want to do is to find a win/win in the  university’s need to educate teachers, the university’s expertise in ESL,  and the district’s desire to solve the AG problem among LTEL.

          And I’m done.



        4. wdf1

          JosephBiello:  It was nice talking to you until you tried to pin the NCLB label on me.  Have fun trying to deflate everyone’s enthusiasm while getting nothing done.   I’ll try to get something done.

          Wow.  I touched a nerve.  Sorry about that.

          But do you wonder, “If this were so easy and obvious, why didn’t someone figure this out long ago?”  That is my point.   I think that improving the content specific pedagogy will only get you so far.  Much of the effort at closing the achievement gap over the past 15 years has focused on curricular interventions.  The math textbooks, IMO, have improved on offering various alternative approaches to concepts (and I am referring to the CPM series that your senior colleague, Tom Sallee, played a big role in initiating), and I think the quality of math teaching in the district has improved over the past 10-15 years among teachers who personally strive to get better in their craft.  The math instruction in Davis schools, especially at higher levels (algebra +), is better than what I had in grade school.  I still think that there are some math teachers, mostly newer, who tend to flounder and not always get assistance and professional feedback to be more effective.

          Also, I don’t think LTEL describes a discrete enough group that one strategy or set of strategies will quite nail it.  I think there is more variation in background than was fully discussed in that meeting.

          JB:  …while getting nothing done.

          In fact I do regular volunteer tutoring of students in the Davis schools, most of whom would be identified as achievement gap students.

          If you have a passion to tackle this issue, don’t let me be the one to dampen your enthusiasm.  But I think these issues are worth discussing so as to not re-invent the wheel.

  2. Chamber Fan

    Joseph: I’m struck by your comments, but they don’t seem to square with a district that is as poorly run as this one seems to be.  This district can’t seem to get out of its own way.  The only reason it has performed well is the high concentrated of highly educated families in this community.

    1. JosephBiello

      @Chamber Fan – my comments are early morning comments with a lot of excitement in my mind.   And as WDF1 pointed out, my excitement is that I have become convinced that we (as a district, collaborating with the University) can do something (not necessarily massive) to make real progress on the LTEL AG problem.

      I didn’t see the data on the AG issue in general, so I don’t want to even pretend to have an idea there.

      Also, I mostly agree with you, but I don’t know WHY we “can’t seem to get out of [our] own way”.  Maybe we can… maybe soon we will.    I’m just going to do what I can to help out.









    2. wdf1

      Chamber Fan:  This district can’t seem to get out of its own way.

      With respect to the achievement gap, I don’t think it’s specifically a district problem as much as it is a state/federal-imposed remedy that doesn’t work.  See my comment here.  I don’t think other districts on the whole have done a very good job in addressing the achievement gap.

    1. JosephBiello

      To everybody thinking about voting no on H remember the following.   You are being asked to spend $1.78 per day to keep your school district funded at the AVERAGE level of a California school district  – which is still well below the national average.

      The cost of trash collection is  $1.20 per day.  What about the costs for a ccf of water to water your lawns?

      The difference between the cost of your morning coffee if you buy it at a coffee shop versus making it at home is more than $1.78 per day.

      Measure H is 12% of the district’s budget.   Can you imagine the cuts the district would face?






        1. wdf1

          You can spend money now preparing students to be more productive in the future, or instead you can plan for greater expenditures in the future because adults are less productive, and possibly a greater drag on society.

          Don’t you think more students would be better off if they had a good pre-school experience?  …or do you think pre-school is irrelevant to future success?

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