Sunday Commentary: The Problem with Teacher Compensation is Severe, the Options Are Limited


The stories of the struggles of teachers are heartbreaking for anyone who listens.

A bright young teacher is getting married early so she can get on her fiance’s health care plan from the Sacramento School District. Another single mother with a 12-year-old has had to take an outside health care plan with a $6000 deductible because it’s the only plan she can afford on her salary.

And a bright young teacher is getting a master’s at home as he teaches a full day and gets $1000 a month from his parents just to make ends meet.

I am particularly frustrated right now because this problem was solvable a year ago.  While I did not know the depths of the compensation problem at the time, the math coming out of the parcel tax talk did not add up.

Here we were, with the district professing we were at an average funding level and yet were providing above average services.  It didn’t add up then.  To his credit, Alan Fernandes was encouraging the
school board to think big and go up to a $960 parcel tax.  The Vanguard supported that idea.  But the board majority did not want to risk it.

I have no doubt that the district would have had to have done a real campaign – organize on the precinct level and put real money into the effort – but I also have little doubt that they would have prevailed.  Instead, they took the safe way out and passed a much lower parcel tax that does not provide the district with the money it needs to remain competitive.

At the end of the day, we can look for marginal savings.  We can try to find ways to cut $100,000 here, and $200,000 there.  The reality is that some of it will produce real savings and some of that savings may come at a cost.

There is also a cost to implement those changes.  The district only has so much staffing and personnel to explore and put into motion those changes.

There are factors involved in incremental change: (1) the amount of the expected savings, (2) the work needed to produce that change; (3) the impact of the change on the effectiveness of the educational program; and (4) the downside risks and the opportunity costs.

In the end I believe that we have to look at the big ticket items.  One of the biggest areas of additional spending is on the seventh period at the high schools and junior highs.

I looked at the research on the advantages of seventh-period days and found it’s much more mixed and more modest than expected.  The research has found only “limited evidence” that any particular scheduling model has a great impact on student learning than any other.

Studies have founds limited evidence that the seven-period day is any more appropriate for students, or improves instruction any better, than any other scheduling model (Hackmann, Hecht, Harmston, Plisa, Ziomek, 2001).

A study from Washington state found modest gains in reading, writing and math on an assessment test for students in a seven-period block and modified block schedule compared to other models (Baker, Joireman, Clay & Abbott, 2006).

However, those researchers caution that many other factors contribute to student success and suggest that “what really matters . . . is that schools select a schedule that meets their particular needs and that schools provide professional development to support” the model.

With that said, Davis parents, many of whom live in a town that they cannot afford in order to enable their children to attend these schools, are unlikely to support a reduction in the educational choices their children receive – and therefore I would not expect parents will support the district cutting back on classes.

That leaves a potential parcel tax expansion such as the one suggested a year ago.

With all of that being said, I think the district needs to take a measured approach between now and January.  That does not leave a lot of time, but if they wish to put a parcel tax on the ballot they need to decide between June 2018 and November 2018.

The first question will be to determine how much they need.  And I have yet to see an official district analysis of the pay situation.  As I suggested in my response yesterday, this seems like a very large change, however, when you consider both the need for salary increase as well as medical benefit improvement.

On the salary side, anecdotally it is difficult to know how much is accurate, but one of the teachers indicated he gets $2400 take home each month, slightly above the entry level pay.  He said that if he worked at West Sacramento’s school district, he would take home $600 more – that represents about a 25 percent increase in take home pay.  That is rather substantial.

We also understand that the health care benefits are subpar, with the teacher getting married early to get on her husband’s benefits from the Sacramento School District and another employee using outside coverage with a $6000 deductible to avoid the high cost of the current district plan.

While we believe that the bulk of the money is going to have to come from either a parcel tax increase or major programmatic cuts, it probably is still beneficial to see how far one can get by making marginal changes to improve efficiency.

The problem right now is time – we are already into October.  In order to increase next year’s salaries, they would have to put something on the ballot for June, and who knows how feasible it will be to tie that to a contract improvement.

One thing is clear – the district has to act and act quickly or risk undermining community support.

—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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76 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: The Problem with Teacher Compensation is Severe, the Options Are Limited”

  1. Jim Hoch

    “While we believe that the bulk of the money is going to have to come from either a parcel tax increase or major programmatic cuts” Since you already made this decision weeks ago what is the point of comments?

        1. Ingrid Salim

          Jim, I’m very interested in what kinds of activities/services you are thinking of that could generate the savings needed to increase compensation. I don’t think anyone is opposed to it. But DJUSD is a smallish district. I personally don’t see what could be streamlined that isn’t already, and still provide the educational programs we have. Ideas?

        2. Jim Hoch

          There are many. First would to be to explore the consolidation of King and Independent study. King has an ADA of 47 while IS has 120 or so enrolled. Each has a principal and staff and they are across the street from each other.

        3. Jim Hoch

          Second is not a consolidation but to place a new parcel tax measure that eliminates the exemptions. David estimates that it would generate $800K and if it failed we would be in the same position as we are now so there is no downside.

          Third would be to look carefully at the transfers. It would take a lot more granular data than I have available to make a recommendation there but they cost the same but generate a lot less revenue.

        4. H Jackson

          Jim Hoch:   Third would be to look carefully at the transfers. It would take a lot more granular data than I have available to make a recommendation there but they cost the same but generate a lot less revenue.

          It is the rule allowing out of district transfers by employment that allows DJUSD teachers to enroll their kids in the district when they live out of district.  This is a net benefit to the district.  Without it, many good teachers would be even more incentivized to seek employment elsewhere in districts that pay better.  If a teacher feels the product is good enough to enroll their own kids in it when living outside the district, then I think it is a positive endorsement of district.  Plus it adds even more motivation to teachers in their jobs, because they know it has more particular relevance beyond their own paycheck/compensation.

          And it allows better opportunity for more efficient staffing. There isn’t a loss of money to the district to take these transfers.

        5. Howard P

          H Jackson… so, are the children of DJUSD employees the only ‘transfers’?

          I could see making exceptions for them… the value of the in-lieu of parcel tax should be considered as part of the teachers’ compensation, though…

        6. H Jackson

          Howard P.: so, are the children of DJUSD employees the only ‘transfers’?

          No.  A good chunk of them are.  Others work for UCD or other employers.

  2. Cindy Pickett

    And I have yet to see an official district analysis of the pay situation. 

    Yes, indeed. The group, Parents for Equity for Davis Teachers, requested a public forum where they could learn more about the budget and what the various constraints are on generating revenue and cutting particular expenses. The district responded by saying that they plan to update their website.

      1. Cindy Pickett

        Sale of property is also a way to generate revenue, which the district has done in the past. I am not saying that this is a viable option, but many of the parents that I have talked to feel like they are in the dark in terms of understanding what the feasible options are and how much money is associated with those options.

        1. Cindy Pickett

          Yep. But this is exactly my point. We should be hearing from the district about why certain options are or are not feasible for increasing teacher compensation. Hopefully, the FAQ that they plan to put together will be comprehensive and informative, and we won’t have to speculate.

        2. Howard P

          Keith, you are correct.

          However, to the extent that capital costs (direct, or “sinking fund”) are removed from the ‘regular’ budget, it may free up $ for their “general fund”.

          David is also correct, with the nuance that “one time” money, doesn’t need to be ‘one year’… but it is not ‘on-going’ revenue.

        3. Howard P

          Here’s the ‘deal’ Jim… if the district sells Nugget Field (a school ‘site’ that the district knows it never intended to use as a school… the law says they can ‘exact’ from Wildhorse) [they always intended that it be a ‘cash cow’ at the appropriate time], then they could ‘exact’ more land from future subdivisions…

          They also have the “cushion” of the # of students in DJUSD who don’t live in the district.  They are only there on a “space available” basis…

  3. Ingrid Salim

    Good piece, David. A couple of thoughts:  I agree about the efficacy of a 7 period day, but it allows students to add diversity to their schedule, and many jr high students do take advantage of that option. Any change to such program allows means layoffs of teachers (since savings comes from reduced numbers of teachers being paid). And you’re right, it’s now an expectation.

    My understanding is that the bulk of that program IS paid for by the parcel tax -and those current funds can’t be co-opted for salary increases. There are some district funds supporting it, though.


    Just a clarification on health benefits. We have access to a wide range of benefit plans through CalPERS, which are broken by cost regionally. These are good plans, and that’s part of the problem-CalPERS doesn’t offer a ‘minimalist’ plan (you can find them all online). The difference between districts lies in how much the district pays toward the plan vs. how much the individual, couple or family pays. In Davis, the amount the district can afford to pay is small.

    David is right that while the district can and should look for cost savings within, there will be trade-offs for most of those which have opponents.  The only substantial option for increasing compensation is to increase outside revenue.

    David, were you thinking that an additional amount could have been added to the last parcel tax and used for compensation?

    For those informally discussing a parcel tax, there are serious logistic issues on how you would craft it, and it would, in fairness, need to encompass our classified union as well  There is also a question about longevity, as maintaining such compensation would require ongoing revenue.



      1. Ingrid Salim

        I do see that, but it’s not an option teachers can or will support. Cutting our numbers (the most recently hired, by the way, and the ones we say we are trying to recruit and retrain) in order for those who are left to have higher compensation….just not a tenable proposition. And for a campaign to get the community to fund a parcel tax for compensation, you need the teachers.

        1. Keith O

          If you’re running a business you have to stay within your budget.  Sometimes that involves making cuts.  When homeowners are asked to pony up for another parcel tax in a lot of cases (maybe most?) they will have to make cuts too.

        2. Jim Hoch

          “It’s an investment in the future of our community and our nation”  So you believe that King students are worth 5X the investment compared to my children?

          1. Don Shor

            “It’s an investment in the future of our community and our nation” So you believe that King students are worth 5X the investment compared to my children?

            I don’t accept your numbers, but the answer would be that, yes, we do spend more on different groups of students depending on their needs. For example, educating students with disabilities (special ed) cost 2.3x what a mainstream student costs. It’s also worth noting the difference between CBEDS data (official census enrollment) and the Alternative School Accountability Model (# of students who took state tests in continuation schools): 116,551 took tests vs. 68,371 officially on census, a difference of 70% in numbers served. In other words, as I’ve noted before, continuation schools churn a lot more students than do the regular schools.
            If your children ever need this model, I hope it’s there for them at whatever funding level education experts think is appropriate. It would be the very last program I would ever cut in DJUSD.

        3. Howard P

          Yes… the union argument/ploy… another “it’s for the kid’s”[newer teachers] play…

          What Ingrid doesn’t say is if the there is a new teacher, strong in math/sciences, they’ll go, and someone from the union who is longer in the tooth will cover math and science, even though they are humanities teachers… gotta’ protect the ‘union’…

          “It’s for the elders”, would be more apt…

        4. Jim Hoch

          ” For example, educating students with disabilities (special ed) cost 2.3x what a mainstream student costs” With King we are at at 5X at least. I’ll compromise with you on 2.3x. Deal?

        5. Jim Hoch

          You don’t have to accept anything. Either you agree that 2.3x is an appropriate ceiling or you don’t. Please note that my kids do not get an open checkbook. I have already said I will agree to 2.3x.

        6. H Jackson

          Jim Hoch: “It’s an investment in the future of our community and our nation” So you believe that King students are worth 5X the investment compared to my children?

          Given the advantages of having an education vs. not, it is actually worth it many times over to make sure they finish high school.  Someone without a high school diploma is less productive in society, pays less in taxes (maybe even none at all), is likelier to end up in prison or in one of a variety of other less desirable outcomes.  If they have kids, their kids are less likely to perform well in school (remember previous comments about standardized test score performance being strongly reflected in parent education level?) and are in turn likelier going to be more expensive to educate.

    1. David Greenwald


      To be clear I’m not in favor of cutting 7th period, but I do think it should be on the table if we are looking at cuts because it’s probably the only optional piece big enough by itself to make a difference.

      In terms of the parcel tax, yes, I felt last year that there needed to be an additional amount added to the parcel tax and we missed that opportunity.  Now I think there will have to be an additional parcel tax.

      I’d still like to see what it would cost the district to get teachers compensation on par with other districts and how much we would have to raise the parcel tax to do it.

      Right now we’re really flying blind because we don’t have real numbers.

  4. Ron

    I wouldn’t necessarily count on approval of a parcel tax increase.  Factors include the fact that many property owners don’t have school-age children, single-family dwellings are charged the same amount as entire apartment complexes, the district allows kids to attend from outside Davis (whose families aren’t subject to the parcel tax), and the city itself has its own financial needs.

    And then, there’s significant Mello-Roos fees that many property owners are paying (including the new residents at The Cannery).

    Just sayin’.

      1. Ron

        The exemptions (e.g., for seniors) should be eliminated.  However, that would increase the percentage of voters who don’t have school-aged children (and may be more likely to vote against an increased parcel tax).

        I see a more fundamental problem, in which those who benefit from a tax increase are not necessarily the same as those who pay for it (and have the power to approve it).

        Vague arguments regarding the “benefit” of increased housing prices (and that it’s “good for society”) may not cut it, at some point.

        Despite my statements above, I’m not personally advocating a position, one way or another at this point. I’m just noting some concerns.

        1. Jim Hoch

          You don’t have to increase it, keep it the same with no exemptions. David calculates $800K in extra revenue and I see no reason to dispute that. Since it’s not an increase for the vast majority then you have room for another city tax.

        2. Jim Hoch

          “I also calculated $800,000 as a 2% across the board increase, that’s not going to get us there” Of course not. Though we have to define the “board” While the teachers are agitating you have mentioned before all district employees so a definition of scope is important.

        3. David Greenwald

          In general you’re not going to be able to give teachers a pay increase without giving classified employees also a similar one.  Hence the 2 percent estimate.

      2. Ron

        Correction:  Eliminating the senior exemption does not necessarily impact the number of voters.  However, I suspect that it would increase the percentage voting against an increase in the parcel tax.

        I’m guessing that seniors are the “least likely of all” groups to support a tax increase for schools. Make them pay for it, and the chances of approval go down.

        1. Jim Hoch

          “I’m guessing that seniors are the “least likely of all” groups to support a tax increase for schools” That is a widely shared assumption though this is the chance to find out.

        2. Ron

          Jim:  Maybe so.  In a sense, there’s nothing to lose from trying.

          Regarding an increase, the time to try that has already passed, in my opinion.  It’s a pretty tough sell to go back to the voters, so soon after the last school district parcel tax was renewed.

          Parcel taxes are not my “preferred” method of funding schools.  But, my thoughts regarding that may not be particularly popular, and can start drifting into a broader discussion.  And then, the next thing you know, Howard will come after me!  🙂

          I’d rather save my energy for growth/development battles. (Something that I care more about, than this issue.)

        3. David Greenwald

          “That is a widely shared assumption though this is the chance to find out.”

          It’s more than an assumption, they have consistent years of polling data to back it up.

        4. Jim Hoch

          ” polling data” Ask President HRC about that. Anyway there is little downside in trying it and finding out. People have been surprised before. In general seniors are the biggest beneficiaries of a good school system.

        5. Howard P

          Actually, Ron, the big majority of voters for school parcel taxes are students/others, living in apartments, where the increment they ‘see’ is almost zero.  DJUSD did the belt/suspenders thing… based it on ‘parcels’ (whether SF house or 200 unit)  apartments/exempt seniors (no financial test needed)… they played it well…

        6. Howard P

          Jim …

           In general seniors are the biggest beneficiaries of a good school system.

          Can you elaborate?  Not intuitively obvious to me.

          No kids in the schools, not financially dependent on their children… how are seniors the biggest ‘beneficiaries’?

        7. Jim Hoch


          Seniors are the most likely to have bought before the value of the schools was factored in and therefore have the biggest gain from the desirability of the schools. Likely somewhere between 10-15% of the value of Davis property derives from the local schools. It may be higher.

  5. Howard P

    H Jackson… your 5:42 post…

    So, DJUSD teachers and UCD and other employees, who live outside the district, can enroll their children in the Davis schools, with no contribution for the parcel taxes that pay for the schools, and those that live and are employed in Davis, whether they have children in the schools or not, pay the parcel taxes… sounds mighty fair to me…. righteous, even… after all, “it’s for the kids…”

      1. Howard P

        Sounds like something I’d expect from a DJUSD employee, living outside the district… actually, not ‘cute’ but more like “I’ve got mine, and ain’t going to give it up without a fight…”

      2. H Jackson

        Howard P: Sounds like something I’d expect from a DJUSD employee, living outside the district… actually, not ‘cute’ but more like “I’ve got mine, and ain’t going to give it up without a fight…”

        Neither of those is true.  I live in the school district (and I own a home and pay taxes), and I’m not a district employee.  So what’s your point, absent those assumptions?

  6. Roberta Millstein

    I find it very sad how many of these arguments are couched in self-interest.  Educating the next generation well is the right thing to do, and it won’t happen unless we pay teachers a salary that allows them to live where they work.  I say this as someone who is child free by choice.  I have always voted in favor of whatever school taxes were on the ballot, and I have donated additonal money to the schools to boot.  I’m not saying this to say “wow, look how great I am.”  I’m saying this because I suspect I am not in the least bit unique and because I suspect there are many others like me.  The view of the world that assumes everyone is only acting in their own self-interest is both very sad and completely unsubstantiated.

    1. Jim Hoch

      Roberta, what I have noticed in school politics as in other areas is that people who are getting big fat pieces of the pie claim to be only interested in the betterment of the community while those who have the smallest pieces are often accused by people who have the big pieces of being selfish.

      1. Roberta Millstein

        Jim, what I have noticed is that people from all economic strata tend to be cynical about their fellow human beings.  I don’t want to be excessively rosy, because people certainly can be selfish at times.  But I think when we start from an assumption that others are selfish we lose half the battle and sell each other short.  Better to start from the assumption that people will rise to the occasion and do the right thing — and make that expectation clear.  Let’s proclaim boldly that we are a community that values education and supports the next generation’s right to a good one.  Maybe you think my piece of the pie is too fat to be proclaiming that, but since I’ve got nothing personal to gain by proclaiming that I’m not sure exactly what your point is.

        1. Ron


          I admittedly didn’t read the study you cited, but it seems to me that some (who are truly at the top) are quite generous (e.g., Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Warren Buffet, possibly the “Google” guys . . .).

          My “personal” hero – one of the Rockefellers, who helped create Grand Teton National Park at his own expense.  (Don’t know much about him, besides that.)  In any case, I’m sure there’s others, as well.  (Some donate to land trusts, during their lifetime and upon passing away.)

          In any case, it’s pretty difficult to retain wealth/ownership of anything, beyond this lifetime.  Some try to pass it on to their children.  Some try to have it buried with them (e.g., Egyptian Royalty).  (I doubt the “effectiveness” of the latter approach.)


        2. Ron

          Of course, those who take such actions are not always wealthy or famous enough to be household names. But, they are out there, at least some.

          I read about donations that occur upon passing away, in the newsletters of some organizations. (Some organizations, such as PBS encourage it, from what I recall.)

        3. Ron

          Hmm.  Took a quick look at the study, and found Salt Lake City at the top, geographically.

          Might there be an “organization” headquartered in that city which essentially “requires” donations from members?  (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that“, to quote the Senifeld show.)

          (I believe that some of that money goes toward the “organization” for expenses, while some is used for charitable purposes.) Not sure how that fits into the study you cited.

          O.K. – getting off track, I guess.



    1. Ron

      You made a “contribution” to that drift, as well! (And, managed to make some general implication that’s not understandable, to boot. And, did so right after making an incorrect assumption regarding another commenter, which you acknowledged.) Not the first time, nor will it be the last, I suspect.

      That’s o.k. – I suspect that few are reading this, at this point.  Stick a fork in this post – it’s done.

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