The school board had a good discussion last week on the prospects for closing the compensation gap. For those who want the board to go outside the box – I don’t see it. I think we are looking at an additional $250 to $300 a year parcel tax, as the district figures that each $100 per year parcel tax will generate about $1.5 million in revenue for the district, and they need probably $4 million to close the gap.
To say that they will look at a new parcel tax does not mean they won’t look at making some cuts – but the budget reality is such that the district does not believe it can do it based on cuts alone.
What was helpful was the discussion which put that $4 million into perspective. Matt Best, Deputy Superintendent of Administrative Services, estimated that came to about 60 FTE (full time equivalent) positions. We have previously talked about the fact that 85 percent of the district general fund budget goes to employee salaries already.
One idea was to cut seventh period, but the numbers really don’t bear that out. Matt Best estimated that it would save about 3 to 3.5 FTE or $180,000 a year to cut seventh period at Davis High School. He estimated another $300,000 if you cut seventh period from the junior highs.
So cutting seventh period would get you less than a one percent pay increase and Mr. Best warned, “Maybe. Because sometimes when you make cuts like that there are actually negative externalities
that reduce your savings,” he said.
Board Member Alan Fernandes would ask “can you cut your way to wage gap and cut your way to better pay?”
Matt Best said, “Theoretical answer is yes. But cutting 100 FTE would not be the district that we know.” He said you would have to close schools, have larger campuses and class sizes. We would have to cut the programs that make this district the district that we know. And, he said, it would take five years to implement.
So the answer: “Theoretically yes, my answer is no.”
Alan Fernandes stated: “It could happen but it would fundamentally change the way our district looks and feels and the quality of education we are able to provide.”
So many have asked why would you continue to run Cadillac programs when you cannot afford the basics like competitive teacher pay? I think the answer is that the board is unwilling to lessen the educational product in order to address the compensation gap. The reality is that, while lack of competitive salaries is hurting the educational product, watering down our top-notch programs would undermine the reason for addressing the compensation gap in the first place.
Can the district look at a mixed approach? The workshop on Thursday only looked at the revenue side, but, clearly, board members like Madhavi Sunder suggested the need to look at the cost side.
Alan Fernandes, who supported the larger parcel tax last year, had a similar thought.
Mr. Fernandes stated, “Before I do a parcel tax, I want to exhaust all our existing remedies.” He said, “Going to the parcel tax option is a serious thing, it’s something we don’t take lightly. It’s going to our community. I for one am not afraid to do it, because I believe we need to do everything we can to close that wage gap.”
He added, “This is one of our best tools – maybe not the only tool. Because tonight’s hearing is not about the cut side, it’s all about the revenue side of the equation.”
He later added, “I think our community supports our teachers and would do it.”
In the end, that’s the bottom line approach – the district believes that the community will support our teachers and I think they are right. Time after time, the voters have stepped up over the last decade to increase the parcel tax.
The original parcel tax renewed in 2007 was just $100 a year. Since then, the voters have moved it upwards to $620 a year.
In 2008, the school board, facing massive cuts, approved a new $120 a year parcel tax for the November ballot even though polling showed that at the $140 level, only 57 percent of the public would back the measure. However, when the November results came in, over 70 percent of the voters ended up backing the parcel tax, which greatly reduced the need to cut teachers and programs.
This is going to be a large ask for the voters – especially if it is an additional $250 to $300 a year, but the budget numbers and the state funding reality suggest that this is the only way that the district is going to remain competitive.
As Mr. Best explained, the basic problem is that state funding through ADA (average daily attendance) and LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) only comes to 87 cents on the dollar. The district then makes up an additional 11 cents through the local parcel tax, but that has left two cents on the dollars as a “short fall” and he says over a 20-year period those numbers add up and partially explain why the district has fallen short on compensation. In addition, the parcel tax money goes to programs rather than teacher compensation increases.
The other problem with the cuts approach is that Matt Best believes it would take probably five to eight years to do the cuts appropriately and be able to realize savings that could go into compensation. That is too late to save the district – and, in fact, he is worried that the funding from the parcel tax would only be available at the earliest in June 2019, which means the district will have to figure out ways to increase compensation before then.
The bottom line is this: the district just doesn’t have the flexibility to cut due to the way that the budget is positioned. They can do it at the margins, but even eliminating the seventh period would only get them about half a million – maybe.
The best tool that the district has is to go to the voters for another parcel tax – it is far from ideal, but is the best way forward at this point.
—David M. Greenwald reporting