On Thursday night, dozens of teachers and others packed the school board meeting to complain about lower levels of salary and compensation for teachers in Davis Joint Unified School District compared to elsewhere.
There has been growing concern about the number of teachers leaving the district due to the pay discrepancy at DJUSD versus other fields and other districts. That dissent has been brewing even as it has been stifled over time by budget shortfalls and the need to raise parcel taxes, but it all came boiling out on Thursday.
Part of the problem that Davis faces, as John Bowes wrote in a June op-ed, even “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.”
The problem that the district has and that Superintendent Bowes failed to acknowledge is that, while the district is average in funding, it is below average in compensation. This means that the district has prioritized other spending over compensation. That might good for students and perhaps administrators, but teachers have a legitimate beef.
An article from August 2016 in the local paper shows that Davis salaries continue to lag compared with other districts. The article says, now, “for years, the Davis school district has lagged behind other districts in salary offerings, which has contributed to a teacher shortage in Davis.”
On Thursday, Superintendent Bowes, reading from a prepared statement, continued to play the role of the apologist, stating, “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.”
But if the district is pushed to average status by the parcel tax, the district should be able to offer average compensation.
The comments went over like a lead balloon with the teachers. DTA President Dianna Huculak basically argued that teachers “are experiencing a completely different reality” from what the superintendent described.
She added that teachers are working “120 percent,” meaning that they are going beyond the duties of a full-time position.
She said, “As school trustees, is it your position that having teachers, and in some cases entire departments, work 120 percent is an ‘educational best practice’? Do you maintain that it is beneficial for students to have even less meaningful access to their teachers? … Class size and caseload limits exist for a reason.”
We have seen references to the fact that teachers are paying out of pocket for their health care. In the August 2016 article for instance, a first year teacher is paying a huge percent of their gross monthly for health care. In one case cited in the article, that’s $12K a year on a $38,811 starting salary. That’s 32.75 percent of their salary.
Davis’ starting salary was $38,811 and maximum was $86,253 (that’s a 25-year teacher with a master’s degree). In Elk Grove the starting salary is $43,546 and goes up to $90,983 (in just 19 years).
Consider the cost of living in Davis and you get a sense for the depths of the crisis.
Here is the problem that the district faces.
First, clearly the district is disadvantaged by the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). That means that the district gets less in the way of funding than other districts.
But, as the superintendent pointed out in June, “the key takeaway for DJUSD is that the Local Control Funding Formula will never fund the type of schools and programs that Davis families have come to enjoy and expect.”
He continued, saying that “to achieve a sustainable fiscal framework where we can chart our own course, DJUSD must either identify additional local solutions to enhance revenue sources or find ways to reprioritize spending and programming. By eliminating our structural budget deficit, we will be able to then fully focus our attention and resources on the tackling the additional challenges described below.”
However, what seems to have happened is, over the last decade and probably even before, DJUSD has maintained its level of commitment to programs at the expense of teacher compensation. To some degree that makes sense, but it comes with serious downside risks.
If your pay gap is sizable enough teachers will leave the district. Or you will have problems recruiting new and qualified teachers who can go elsewhere and make a sizable amount more in salary and benefits.
That means that Davis, which prides itself on the quality of its schools, is not drawing perhaps on the best and most in-demand teachers.
The comments made by Teacher Karl Ronning were fairly telling as well. He indicated that he was “extremely offended” that the superintendent had gone on a listening touring speaking with students and also community leaders – but not teachers.
The Vanguard last week complained about transparency in the school system and the superintendent refused to turn over the list of people he had met with in the community to gain the feedback.
Mr. Ronning and many other teachers who spoke on Thursday called into question how many teachers left the district and why.
Many feel pressure to leave – after all, they can receive thousands of dollars more in salary and improved benefits. Many younger teachers are going elsewhere because they have to find a way to pay back their student loans.
This is rapidly becoming a crisis and, if it is one that is not solved, it will impact the district’s ability to pass the next parcel tax. They have a few years for that, but it seems likely that the community backs the relatively low-wage teachers over the high-wage administrators.
—David M. Greenwald reporting