Analysis: Parcel Tax Would Fund Not Only Teacher Compensation, but Also Police and Fire

The teacher compensation gap has emerged as one of the key issues in our community.  The Vanguard and others are concerned that the wage level for teachers has fallen well below that of neighboring and comparable school districts.

Moreover, given the affluence of the community, it is frankly embarrassing that our teachers are having to live on food stamps in some cases, and utilize Medi-Cal and the equivalent because school district health care programs are inadequate and not cost effective.

While Alan Fernandes deserves credit for thinking outside of the box in putting a citizen’s initiative on the ballot that could, if it qualifies, allow the district to close much if not most of that compensation gap, the chances of it even getting to the ballot are small and the measure itself is bogged down with extraneous issues that may make it hard for some to ultimately support a parcel tax.

The ballot measure would charge $365 per parcel per year, with standard school district exemptions for seniors in addition to some disabled individuals.

To get to the ballot, Mr. Fernandes recognizes it would take a “Herculean effort.”  It needs 6000 signatures, but it cleared one hurdle last week when the legislature cut a deal that would eliminate the possibility of a soda tax in order to allow some local ballot measures to remain majority vote rather than two-thirds vote measures.

In order to get on the ballot as a majority vote parcel tax, it cannot have been placed on the ballot by the governing agency.  Instead, it has to be a  citizen initiative and gain enough signatures to qualify for the ballot that way, per the Supreme Court ruling in Upland from 2017.  That’s a tall task to be sure.

According to the text of the measure, as distributed to the Vanguard, 75 percent of the funding would be earmarked for “raising pay and increasing compensation” for teachers.

One stipulation is that the measure would prohibit the use “of these funds to pay top-level contracted administrators and prohibits redirection of these tax funds by the state.”

That sounds good, but realistically it might not have that much teeth.  As we saw last week, the school district agreed to raise compensation for teachers earlier this year retroactive to July 1.  To do so, the district faces as much as a $1 million deficit that they will have to close, either through revenue or cuts.  But that didn’t prevent the school board from approving a 2 percent one-time bonus and a 3.5 percent ongoing pay increase, also retroactive to July 1, 2017.

That means that the superintendent’s salary goes to $228,000 a year even though a starting teacher is making less than $40,000.

Our point here: there is nothing to prevent the school district from using other money to backfill for administrative pay increases under their pay equity system.  They just can’t use parcel tax money to do so.

Of that 75 percent allocation, 10 percent must be deposited in a DJUSD Budget Stabilization Account.

But it is the other 25 percent that should get some attention.  Twenty-five percent “of the annualized proceeds must be used by the City for hiring an additional school resource peace officer and increasing emergency first responders consistent with Chapter 13 of the City’s Municipal Code,” the measure stipulates.

That means, in addition to an additional school resource police officer, it would go to pay for police and fire.

The Vanguard has consistently been opposed to hiring school resource officers (SROs).  The research there shows very little value in terms of law enforcement and safety impacts, but a great deal of impact in getting students, particularly students of color, into earlier interactions with law enforcement – generally to their detriment.

A Washington University Law Review found that, since the shootings at Sandy Hook and elsewhere, ” lawmakers and school officials continue to deliberate over new laws and policies to keep students safe, including putting more police officers in schools.”

However, they found that “these decisionmakers have not given enough attention to the potential negative consequences that such laws and policies may have, such as creating a pathway from school to prison for many students.”

Traditionally, only educators, not law enforcement, handled certain lower-level offenses that students committed, such as fighting or making threats without using a weapon.

The study found “that a police officer’s regular presence at a school is predictive of greater odds that school officials refer students to law enforcement for committing various offenses, including these lower-level offenses.”

The authors conclude: “The consequences of involving students in the criminal justice system are severe, especially for students of color, and may negatively affect the trajectory of students’ lives. Therefore, lawmakers and school officials should consider alternative methods to create safer learning environments.”

But wait, there is more.  It seems possible that the initiative would give about 25 percent of the revenue from this tax measure, minus the total compensation of an SRO of maybe $100,000, to the firefighters.  If this measure generates a total of $6 million, that could mean $1.5 million a year from an initiative that is supposed to close the compensation gap for underpaid teachers.

As one person pointed out this week – under the guise of closing the wage gap for one of the least well-paid public servant groups in the area, we would be subsidizing the pay for the best-paid public servant group in the area.

Or, calculated on a per capita basis, the fire department will be getting about 10 times the money per firefighter that the school district is going to get per employee.

That’s a nice deal.  We agree with Mr. Fernandes that Davis is unlikely to get additional funding from the state.  However, if the district needs to close the compensation get, it would probably be better to put it directly on the ballot so that teachers get all of the revenue from the tax, and money doesn’t go for alternative purposes.

That would require a two-thirds vote for sure, and polling shows that a two-thirds vote may be dicey in terms of getting community support for teacher compensation.

That would require a robust political operation and selling the public on the need to close that funding gap.

—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. Jim Hoch

    This one is clearly “sausage”. Too many different parts to be viable. Did you go to Alan’s event on Tuesday? I was working and had to miss.

    The chance of this passing are near zero, as it should be.

        1. Matt Williams

          Even if it doesn’t make it to the ballot, the community discussion of what is clearly a “noteworthy” approach will raise voter awareness of the issue.

          I believe we have to accept the fact that for the most part our voting populace is really quite complacent, and as a result they do not take the time to inform themselves on the issues our community faces … and than they go to the ballot box and cast a “default” no vote.

          We learned from the defeat of Measure I that there are enough default no votes to imperil any tax that needs a 2/3s plurality.

          The City did an excellent job with voter outreach/education in March 2013 with the Water Measure I process. There were a whole series of community meetings at fire stations and junior high schools.  As a member of the Water Advisory Committee (WAC) I attended every one of them.  For reasons that bewilder me, the City has gotten away from that kind of proactive approach in recent elections.

        2. Howard P

          For reasons that bewilder me, the City has gotten away from that kind of proactive approach in recent elections.

          For many reasons, the City cannot be “proactive”… they are confined to “information”…

          I think they did it well, short of “promotion”, which they are required to eschew… folk were voting “their pocketbook”, short-sightedly, in my opinion [pay me now or pay much more later, applies]…

          Also have heard from several sources, that word was spread in the community, that if “I” passed, it would jeopardize the much larger levy (now, two) for “the kids” (or their teachers, facilities)…

        3. David Greenwald

          Jim: He’s doing it because he doesn’t believe a two-thirds school parcel tax will pass and he believes the district needs the funding to close the fund gap.

        4. Jim Hoch

          David, I actively supported Alan in his re-election bid so I am not bagging on him. However this is very much out of character for him as he has never, in my experience, proposed major initiatives. If he wants to fund the teachers why not just do that? Why this pork sausage of a bill? None of his outreach has sought input on the right thing to do. it’s just a fully formed proposal emerging from the waves like Botticelli’s Venus, if Venus was made of scrapple.

          1. David Greenwald

            Talking to him, he wanted the city to get some benefit from the money because the money would flow through the city. Why he didn’t work it out with them on what, I don’t know. I know the Chief doesn’t want an SRO.

        5. Jim Hoch

          “Why he didn’t work it out with them on what, I don’t know

          Because someone else wrote it and convinced Alan to front it? I had not read the actual text previously and presumed the SRO money was excessive even for the stated purpose. However if your reading is correct and it is designed to allocate money for the City FF Union then Alan’s FB post “huge thanks and appreciation to (redacted) as well as to the Davis Firefighters for the food and support” makes a lot more sense. 

          Smells like a put-up job by the firefighters to extract even more cash from the taxpayers.

        6. Cindy Pickett

          Alan was operating under the assumption that November would be the only shot at getting a citizens initiative on the ballot (under the 50% + 1 rule), which created a time crunch, which I believe contributed to curtailing the community input/education process. I agree with Matt that community discussion and awareness are valuable and Alan and his team are getting an earful now judging from Tuesday’s Q&A event.

          I personally would like to see the pause button pushed on this current effort so that the ballot language can be redrafted in a way that addresses the community’s concerns.


        7. Mark West

          “I personally would like to see the pause button pushed on this current effort so that the ballot language can be redrafted in a way that addresses the community’s concerns.”

          I do not believe a rewrite will solve the problem as it is now an issue of personal integrity and the poor representation of the community’s interests.

        8. Jim Hoch

          Mark, I agree completely ” it is now an issue of personal integrity” and this gets back to my earlier question “why is Alan doing this”.

          Thanks to The Vanguard I now understand the benefit to the firefighters. Why does Alan want to ingratiate himself with the fire fighters?  David’s response “he wanted the city to get some benefit from the money” does not pas the smell test. if he wants to help the city then just give them the money and let them do what they think best. Why does a school board trustee want to direct money to a particular city department?

  2. Todd Edelman

    Use the 1.5 million (or whatever) to run a school bus system to complement our great cycling and walking programs and our school choice program with the goal of significantly reducing “drop off” car traffic. This is proven to prevent injuries and deaths to students (and others) during school commute hours, and sports/regional events. Grants are available for purchasing solar-charged buses. Rather than a new system, it should be added to e.g. the Woodland school district’s in order to save money on top level salaries, and to speed up implementation. Possibly Unitrans drivers could be used, as it would be a good fit for part-time work.

    1. Jim Hoch

      Todd, please add that to Alan’s parcel tax to ensure it dies.

      From a statistical POV, if there are 0 deaths now how can it “prevent” deaths?

      1. Jim Hoch

        Preferable to who? My kids bike to school. Parents I know who drive are not about to send their kids on a bus. There are no large groups of kids going from one location to another with the possible exception of Holmes students who may take a class at DJU.


        1. Todd Edelman

          walking, biking should be the goal…

          Absolutely, my brother! But an 8-year old from El Macero… should they be expected to ride their bike to Cesar Chavez?

          Parents I know who drive are not about to send their kids on a bus.

          Nice people, I am sure. With a bit of education and dis-incentives, they might perform differently.

          no large groups of kids 

          Reliable sources tell me that about about 60% of Cesar Chavez students and an average of 40% of other elementary students do not attend schools in their own neighborhoods. And for example, keep in mind that there is also no elementary school north of Covell. Elementary school walk/bike modal share is quite a bit lower than it it is for junior highs, even though travel distances to the latter is higher.


    2. Cindy Pickett

      Todd – What are the barriers in terms of working with Unitrans to help transport kids to school using their buses?

      I had heard that one issue is being able to properly supervise the children, but it seems like paying people to chaperone certain lines at certain times of the day would cost a lot less than buying buses.

      1. Todd Edelman

        Hi, Cindy. General Manager Jeff Flynn from Unitrans has told me that they’ve not always had good experiences with carrying 4th or 5th graders or lower on their normal routes (nothing bad, just kids get off at the wrong stop, etc.).
        The chaperone idea is interesting but do you have any examples of this working well? Keep in mind students who live in the county and those sports events. Cost savings seems obvious but how many parents would be adverse to putting their kids on public buses, how chaperones would deal with groups of kids not sitting together? And to coordinate the chaperones?


  3. Jeff M

    With all the 50-something retired educators in this town, I think we should expect them to spend more of their copious free time assisting the K-12 education business instead of spending it campaigning to defeat growth measures and elect union-friendly politicians.

    1. H Jackson

      Jeff M:

      With all the 50-something retired educators in this town,

      Really??  I’ve never seen that.  On the other hand, I’ve seen several 60-something retired educators in this town.  I know of some educators who are teaching into their early 70’s.

      1. Howard P

        I have… fairly rare… usually, when it happens, there is a hefty “primary” income in the household…

        Of those I know who were educators and retired in their 50’s,  I personally know not of 1 “guilty” of

        spending it campaigning to defeat growth measures and elect union-friendly politicians.

  4. Howard P

    Someone can correct me, but can not a citizen referendum apply to a district?

    Bugs me that the tax, benefiting the schools, only applies within City limits, not district limits…

      1. Ken A

        Does anyone know if Alan is still working as a lobbyist for the firefighters and/or still the spokesman for the Davis “friends of the firefighters union”?

        1. Ken A


          Thanks to the link to the 2013 article.  Rich Rifkin and that growth issue guy always added a lot to the Vanguard it is too bad they don’t post anymore…


          P.S. It seems like the way things are going in CA we will soon have almost every politician supported by “both” unions and big business (like Bill Dodd) who work with their union and big business supporters to extract as much cash as possible from taxpayers and make it harder and harder for any small business that don’t pay off/donate money to the politicians to stay in business…


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