Monday Morning Thoughts: How Did DJUSD Get into This Problem?

John Bowes

One thing that has always troubled me with regard to the school district – it has never been the “right time” to ask tough questions.  The attitude has always seemed to be that we need the parcel tax, and without the parcel tax we’ll have more problems than we have now.

Last summer of course, as the school district pondered over the size of the parcel tax, there was little appetite on the part of the district, other than Alan Fernandes, to attempt to “go big.”  When it was pointed out that the district largely had average funding, the view was that the public wasn’t going to go much higher and that they were already taking a bit of a chance by putting the parcel taxes together and putting a “large number” on the ballot and for six years.

So, now that the parcel tax is safely locked away for the next five years, it is time to ask some tough questions and challenge some assumptions.

The most vexing problem of the complaint about teacher compensation is that it is not a new issue.  There has been surface talk about teacher retention, teacher recruiting, teacher compensation – but for the most part those complaints have been pushed down.  After all, it was the wrong time to address these things during the Great Recession.  Then it was the wrong time to address these things during the continued structural deficit and during the last parcel tax.   And now the issue has blown up, or so it would seem.

Superintendent John Bowes acknowledged, “We are aware that there is a wage gap with some of our surrounding communities” but, at the same time, “we are committed to work to find ways be at or near the regional compensation average.”

He continued arguing that all parties need to agree “to the real facts on the ground, and work together to find real solutions.” He said, “In a district that is below the average state-funded level for school districts, we need to come up with creative ways to raise revenues and/or re-prioritize spending.”

As John Bowes explained in a June column, “The Davis Joint Unified School District is extremely fortunate to have benefited from three decades of community-funded parcel taxes that provide a host of value-added programs and services for our students. These additional local revenues have kept our school district programs whole.

“However, after adding in parcel tax revenue, DJUSD is still just an average-funded school district. If there were no local parcel taxes, DJUSD would be funded well below the state average.”

But there is a parcel tax and that means that we are an average-funded school district.

Let us start asking the questions – not that we really expect answers from the district on this or really anything else at this point.

How is it that the district can be about average in terms of funding once we pass a parcel tax, but teachers can be below average in compensation?

That seems like a pretty important question.  It leads to questions about whether funds are being mismanaged, administrative compensation is too high, or whether there are too many special programs.

Another important question would be the senior exemption: (1) how much money is the district foregoing through that? (2) would eliminating it put seniors out of their homes? and (3) could the district pass a parcel tax eliminating the senior exemption?

Only a guess, but we may not be talking about enough money to make much of a difference, and yet eliminating the senior exemption could cause severe hardships for those who are on a fixed income.

A key point raised by parents at the meeting is that, while the district has clearly sacrificed compensation with breadth of programs, underpaying Davis teachers is not in the best interest of students.

Teacher quality is an important variable for performance of students and the inability to attract and retain quality teachers is detrimental to education.

The question is how to fix this.  And the answer may not be so simple.  Superintendent Bowes in his comments made vague reference to needing to “come up with creative ways to raise revenues” or to “re-prioritize spending.”  On the other hand, he seemed rather defensive in much of his comments, in arguing that things weren’t as bad as some suggested.

It is a difficult position to be in, and the superintendent only beginning his second school year did not cause this problem, but he along with the school board will be asked to figure out a way to fix it.

It is thus important to understand the nature of the problem – is this a spending problem (we are spending in the wrong areas), a resource problem, or a priority problem?  Once we figure out that answer, it will be easier to get to the bottom of the problem and hopefully come up with an answer.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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47 thoughts on “Monday Morning Thoughts: How Did DJUSD Get into This Problem?”

  1. Jim Hoch

    Good article David

    Why do you assume that the parcel tax is harder for seniors on fixed income that for non-seniors on fixed income? It would surprise me if senior homeowners in Davis had less resources than people in their 40s and 50s due to the fact they generally have a lower cost basis for their homes and higher equity.

    I am interested to learn how much is on the table.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “Why do you assume that the parcel tax is harder for seniors on fixed income that for non-seniors on fixed income?”

      I don’t assume that at all – necessarily. Although we are probably getting to a point where the only people who bought homes at much below current market value are probably seniors. However, the problem is that parcel tax is bad public policy in general for a lot of reasons – you have one tax level regardless of size or home value and you have only very limited exemptions. It’s not fair, the question is always which system is least unfair and still gets you the needed revenue.

      1. Jim Hoch

        State law does does not give a lot of lee-way in school taxation and certainly the parcel tax is regressive. My question, as always in state matters, is where are our state reps in this?

        BTW I look at school funding and allocation as a foreshadowing of what Davis can expect under single payer healthcare.

      2. Howard P

        I’d add another factor to the equation of how funding should be structured in an ideal world… although it is true we all benefit from good schools, those of child-bearing age derive a significantly higher benefit…

        1. Howard P

          Please read entire sentence…

          although it is true we all benefit from good schools, those of child-bearing age derive a significantly higher benefit…

          Yet, perhaps with a low comprehension level, you riposte,

          Howard, latest studies have shown that 100% of seniors were formerly children who were invested in by society. 


          You should also note that I have not said word ONE about the senior exemption, EXCEPT in opposition to it… now that you are going here, I will consider, just to spite your BS, taking advantage of it… when eligible… GYHOOYA…


        2. Howard P

          I believe, Jim, you have no idea of the meaning of the initials I used… “do” (sic) to your penchant for reading things into things (and ignoring things you don’t want to have an adult discussion about), perhaps I inadvertently used a shorthand that has a meaning to you or others that was not intended… will have to look it up now, to see what you thought I said… am not a big “texter”…

          Just looked it,up… had that been what I intended, would not have hit the send button…

        3. Keith O

          Howard, I’m pretty sure we all know what you meant by writing “GYHOOYA” but if you have another explanation for the initials I’m all ears.  This should be good.

        4. Howard P

          Tu parle francais?  It was actually ‘franglish’… am not fluent in french mais je connais some, en peu, and I see no need to drift further… you and Jim seem to avoid actual issues, and focus on minutiae… if I did an inadvertent ‘bad’, I apologize… make you feel better?

          Back to Jim’s thought about revenue streams… if we all agree that there shouldn’t be senior exemption (I opposed the exemption, for several reasons), is it not reasonable to consider, in an ideal, if not fully practical way, to have income, # of kids in school, childbearing age, etc. being a part of the ‘formula’ for a revenue measure?

        5. Jim Hoch

          “Jim, your 7:51 post was “catty” and based on untrue assumptions,” I believe it was somewhat “snarky” but not “catty”. What untrue assumptions are you referring to? That all seniors are former children?

  2. Howard P

    Let’s take the “senior exemption” off the table… whatever it takes to obliterate it, let’s do it… “pricing seniors out of their homes” is and always was, nonsense.  Worst case scenario, ‘reverse mortgage’…

    What also bothered me was to ‘bribe’ a group of voters, who tend to have higher turnout rates, to give an affirmative vote to something they would not have to pay for, by special exemption.

    That said, a formula I’d support for increased revenues would ideally include other factors… income, child-bearing age, # of kids in the system… but we are not in the ‘ideal plane’…

    I’d support increased school parcel taxes, IF it did not effectively preclude passage of taxes for City needs… and, if those who support school taxes and oppose City taxes used the same metrics as to how the money was used, and what was expected as to reduction/control of costs… neither have been in evidence…

    1. Dave Hart

      David, you asked a question that the new Vanguard 6 have (largely) shied away from attempting to answer:

      How is it that the district can be about average in terms of funding once we pass a parcel tax, but teachers can be below average in compensation?

      A close source of impeccable reliability offers this tidbit:  Federal money for low-income students as measured by the number of children enrolled in the free or reduced cost school lunch program.  The DJUSD knows about this but they have chosen not to make a big deal out of it.

      But if you look at the demographics of the surrounding cities, the question is plainly answered.  Davis doesn’t have the wide swaths of poverty evident in our neighboring cities, and therefore fewer kids bringing in the federal money from the various pots.

      Plus, we Davisites are notoriously cheap.  That’s why really high end restaurants can’t make it here.  We all secretly drive to Costco and Walmart to buy cheap crap.

      Our attitude has always been thus with our teachers:  They are the spouses of University professors so they don’t really need to work, are on their spouses’ health plan and we can get them cheap!

      1. David Greenwald

        I now have the figure, there are 471 (roughly) full time equivalent positions for teachers and counselors, but that figure doesn’t include psychologists and specialists.

        1. Keith O

          So let’s say 500 positions in total.

          You take that $800,000 divided by 500 employees = $1600/per employee

          If the average teacher salary is around $50,000 that $1600 would represent a

          3.2% raise.  In today’s economy a 3.2% raise isn’t bad.

      1. Keith O

        Of which probably 300 need the exemption and the other 1,000 are displaying sociopathic behavior.


        I don’t know about that, how many people pay taxes that they aren’t required to?

      2. Dave Hart

        My 300 number is a charitable and unscientific guess.  Like one of my neighbors who is 91 and attempting to live on less than $2,000 a month.  Or a another person I know who has a debilitating disease and lives on about the same amount.  They both own their own homes.  I don’t think either of them should have to do a reverse mortgage or enter into greater indebtedness (and increase the stress of uncertainty and vulnerability) to pay additional school parcel taxes.

        And I will shock you with the admission that I have no argument with anyone out there who can find a way to cheat the federal government without ending up in prison.

        But state, county and city taxes fund services and our budgets have to be balanced.  We all need to pay what we can even if it hurts a little.  When you avoid paying a one of these local agency taxes you are cheating your neighbors.  The senior exemption is for people who not only have a limited fixed income, but also do not have the potential to grow their income over time.  Yes, there is a difference.

        1. Jim Hoch

          Dave, there are people in the same situation who are younger and are not getting any love. It would be best if you could opt out and pay when the house was sold, with interest. But there is little flexibility as I understand it.

        1. Jim Hoch

          What risk? There is some cost involved but I don’t see any risk. And it would go some way towards validating or otherwise the perception that there needs to be a bribe for for “greedy geezers” in order to pass.

        2. Howard P

          Wish you’d state it clearly and honestly… that ‘we’ may need to “buy votes” from a class of folk to ensure school measures pass.  Fundamentally, representation without taxation…

  3. Tia Will

    we need to come up with creative ways to raise revenues and/or re-prioritize spending.”

    I would find this a much more compelling statement if Superintendent Bowes had included some examples of what he considers “creative options”, or “appropriate re-prioritizations”. He is, after all  in a leadership position.

  4. Dave Hart

    I’ll admit that I have largely been willing to take it on faith that our elected school Board members are not lying to us.  I don’t believe they are lying to us now.  But it seems that if the community is being asked to pony up more money or we are asking the District to pare back expenses (at some cost to our children), we should have a clear picture of what is different for our District and why it needs to be financed by additional parcel taxes.

    What I wish for is a side-by-side comparison with other Districts that are on a par in size (number of students) to DJUSD in terms of income and expenses to judge whether we are truly in need of relying on parcel taxes.  The very fact that we continually have this discussion means that none of us has a clear picture and that leaves the door open to the conspiracy theorists regarding “waste”, bloated salaries and all the other unproven but theoretically possible sources of financial stress.  Our no- or reduced-tax brothers and sisters are very good at playing the indignant and injured cuckolds, but in the absence of good communication from the Board or District staff, or even good public reporting, they command a hearing and pull support and votes from parcel tax elections.

    1. Dave Hart

      Jim, you’re a gem.  What a link.  I do love data.  As I mentioned earlier, (and none bothered to respond), we have to look no further than our neighbor to north, Woodland.  Just looking at one parameter, “Free and Reduced-Price Meals” for which a school district is eligible for all kinds of extra federal funds, shows the difference in our communities and how our Districts are funded.  In Woodland, there are loosely 7,000 students qualifying for “Free and Reduced-Price Meals” out of a total enrollment of about 9,600 students or about 75% of all students K-12.  In Davis, there are about 1,600 students qualifying for “Free and Reduced-Price Meals” out of a total enrollment of about 7,800 students or about 21% of all students K-12. That may not be the entire story, but if you look at total income for Woodland’s Schools and Davis’ Schools, you will see a huge difference in the source of funds.

      We are “fortunate” to have to pay more, wouldn’t you agree?  The alternative is higher rates of poverty so us homeowners can keep our money and spend it at Costco in Woodland.  Personally, I’d rather have to pay the extra parcel taxes.  I learned something today.

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