Commentary: Both City and School District Should Be Concerned with Parcel Tax Poll

The Davis School District is looking toward a parcel tax as a way to fund increases to teacher compensation.  To achieve that, they are looking at potentially a $198 parcel tax measure for the fall.

The polling, however, indicates that such a proposal is right on the bubble of being able to pass.  The pollsters conclude: “Although most indicate that maintaining the quality of schools and increasing teacher salaries are worth raising taxes for, fewer than two-thirds see a need for additional funding for local schools.”

Indeed, the survey found, “Initial support for a parcel tax measure is just shy of the two-thirds threshold in this poll.”  However, “Once voters have heard how additional revenue will benefit local schools and students, total support increases.”

However, the pollsters warn that “a measure could be vulnerable to opposition.”

Digging into the findings, the district has some serious cause for concern.  But so too does the city.

Anytime you poll with less than the threshold needed for election that is a matter of concern.  But the good news for the district is it is close.  Support for the parcel tax is right below the bubble.  They find initially around 62 percent support with another 3 percent lean.  With information, that number increases to 67 percent with 70 percent total with leans.

Once they introduce information and the opposition messages, that number drops to 59 percent with another three percent lean.

It is good news that a positive messaging can swing an additional five percent of support, but even with that messaging the solid support only rises to a bare bones 67 percent with another three percent perhaps leaning as a yes.  However, the opposition drops as low as 29 percent, which is basically good news.

The pollsters believe that the measure is susceptible to a negative campaign – and it probably is.  But is a real negative campaign likely to emerge against a parcel tax aimed at teachers?

For reasons I will explain at the conclusion, it seems to me that the district should go ahead with this parcel tax measure, despite it being on the bubble.

A second area of concern for the district is, while it continues to have broad support and the perception by the public that the district is doing a good job, there is a softening of some of the peripheral numbers.

I would frankly be a bit alarmed that the percentage of people believing the district is on the right track has fallen from 75 percent in 2008 down to 64 percent now.  In 2008, we were right on the verge of the great recession, but the district was actually in trouble before that – in the spring of 2008, they were talking school closures and teacher layoffs.  Given that environment, the fact that fewer think the district is on the right track now is alarming.

Second, the overall job satisfaction is at 71 percent.  On the surface, this seems good, but is more than ten points lower than the other scores and represents a drop from 80 percent just two years ago.

Then there is the trust issue rearing its head again.  The good news, 81 percent of the public believes “maintaining the quality of our schools should be a top priority, even if it means raising taxes.”

Also, 78 percent believe that increasing pay for local teachers and other educations should be a top priority, again “even if it means raising taxes.”

But scoring in at just 64 percent is the statement, “I trust the Davis Joint Unified School District to properly manage tax dollars.”  Is this a holdover from four years ago with the Nancy Peterson scandal?  Is this an extension of those frustrated over the demise of the AIM program?  Is it a manifestation of the fact that some believe that the district would rather raise taxes than make the tough choices?

Look, 64 percent is not low by most measures, but it is less than the two-thirds threshold and it does represent a drop from 73 percent just two years ago.

For the last four years we have heard discussions of the trust issue, former Superintendent Winfred Roberson used to say we “move at the speed of trust.”  Well, here is the issue again and I don’t think the district can or should ignore what those numbers are telling us.

Finally, I think the most concerning data impacts not just DJUSD but the city as well.

In 2016, they asked whether people agree with this statement: “Taxes in this area are already high enough; I’ll vote against any additional tax increase, even for Davis schools.”  In 2016, that number was polled at 34 percent.  Now it is 36 percent.  The difference is right inside the margin of error, so it is hard to distinguish from noise.

But in a lot ways that puts this measure right on the bubble.  Two years ago, the parcel tax that was passed with around 71 percent of the vote was largely seen as a status quo measure, not one that raised taxes in real terms (although it in fact did raise that baseline number).

Now you have 36 percent of population saying they will vote against any additional tax increase.  That would cause not only DJUSD’s measure but also the city of Davis’ two parcel tax measures to fail.

Here is the real bottom line: is there going to be a strong campaign in the city on the part of their parks and roads tax to make sure that the message gets to the voters?  I think if I were a city councilmember – especially the three who will be on the council come July this year – I would be extremely worried.

However, despite these concerns, the district should go ahead with the parcel tax measure.  That does not preclude them from looking at ways to cut costs or maximize current revenues.  The biggest advantage that the district has over the city is that they have the teachers union active and organized, with a vested interest in campaigning and getting the message out to the voters, so that they should be able to get this measure off the bubble.

But the city is going to need to do something to prevent their measures from going down if this polling is at all accurate.

—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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  1. David Greenwald

    Emailed comments to me…

    I have two comments on today’s “Commentary: Both City and School District Should Be Concerned with Parcel Tax Poll”
    Re: percentage of people believing the district is “on the right track” in 2008
    Why I felt DJUSD was on the right track in 2008.  In 2005, the newly elected school board members started to get DJUSD’s fiscal house in order, which they were still doing in 2008.  I do not remember his name, but DJUSD’s chief financial person had been running a consulting business on the side and using DJUSD resources to support his personal business, including staff time (he hired away a number of staff after he left DJUSD, too; they must have been equally unprincipled.).  He was also an expert at moving money around so that it looked like DJUSD had more money that it actually had.  As we moved into the recession, the Board appeared to be transparent regarding fiscal issues and that was a priority.  My support dropped for the District waned after that, when I thought we were in a good place to move on to pedagogical issues and it went political.
    Re: why I am on the fence regarding a DJUSD parcel tax
    My children attended DJUSD 2000-2015 and I am in my 50’s. I cannot figure out how to communicate with the teachers union, but I flat-out do not believe them about so many things, including that higher salaries would make a whit of difference by any metric for students, teachers, or the institution.  DJUSD hires a large number of temporary teachers to keep costs down.  I don’t think that would change.  I don’t think DJUSD would provide tenure to more talented young teachers, if salaries were higher.  I expect tenured teachers, who already own their own homes and have protected pensions that will pay out until they die, to disproportionately benefit from any raises and, frankly, they don’t have the greatest need.  Older tenured teachers aren’t the ones who we are trying to “attract and keep.”  Further, they at least share responsibility for keeping the younger teachers out and, as a group, do not lift a finger to contribute to the long-term sustainability of their profession.  I don’t approve and I don’t want to vote for them.  If I vote yes, it will be on general principles and ideals, plugging my nose, and praying that someday DJUSD lives up to the promise of public education.
    1. Howard P

       I do not remember his name, but DJUSD’s chief financial person had been running a consulting business on the side and using DJUSD resources to support his personal business, including staff time (he hired away a number of staff after he left DJUSD, too;

      I remember his name… and his approach to dealing with City staff (abetted by the then superintendent)…  Tahir Ahad…

      I also remember the names of those complicit…

      One was also actually pretty high up in the Families First food chain at one point…

      Any names look familiar?   I see two, (beyond Tahir’s that are)… another appears to have retired…


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