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