Alan Fernandes always knew it would be an uphill battle to get a parcel tax on the ballot for November, needing 6000 signatures – even under the best of circumstances. However, there were enough questions lingering about the process that a number of people, who otherwise might have not only signed the petition but also helped to get signatures, simply stayed out of the fray.
Alan Fernandes indicated that he is looking at turning in a petition with 6000 signatures sometime in November or December, with the hopes of a special election in the spring. That means that his plan is to continue to collect signatures on the petition as written.
He has 180 days from June 21 to get the signatures collected, which means the deadline is December 18.
Now that Mr. Fernandes has conceded he will not gain sufficient signatures, let us re-examine some of our concerns that we hope he will reconsider when this comes forward again.
The first problem is that by placing it as a citizens’ initiative, he has to go through the city rather than the school district. This adds all sorts of wrinkles that figure to complicate things.
For example, while most of the voters in the district live within the city limits, a number of people don’t. That means not only do they not get to vote on this measure, but they also do not have to pay for the tax. That of course raises a number of fairness issues. Then again, we have had to deal with that issue for some time with inter-district transfers, and it has been fatal.
The bigger problem is the 25 percent that MUST “be used by the city for hiring an additional school resource peace office and increasing emergency first responders” caused a lot of problems. My biggest objection is to the idea of adding another school resource officer. I lay out a lot of my reasoning in this July 7 commentary, which includes citing a number of studies, but the basic problem is that putting police on campus exposes children – read children of color and at risk children – to law enforcement at a much younger age.
Washington University Law Review found, “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.” The study concluded 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.”
Others expressed concern that as much as $1.5 million in money would be going to relatively highly paid firefighters rather than teachers. Firefighters, they reasoned, are already at the very top of the compensation chart among government employees locally, while teachers are at or near the bottom. Using the lowest level employees to bolster resources for the highest paid strikes many as wrong.
While I can see why getting a majority vote parcel tax on the ballot looks inviting, I would also point out in a way it is fool’s gold. You would basically be doing the same level of work upfront to get the signatures as you would on the back end to get the voters to the polls.
Given that, it is probably better to marshal your forces to attempt to pass a parcel tax, that is the normal two-thirds vote and not vulnerable to challenges and lawsuits, than attempting to circumvent that process and get the signatures needed to qualify it for the ballot.
The district is going to need to deal with several heady issues regardless.
The teacher compensation issue is a huge problem. But to date, teachers have not lined up in support of either a normal parcel tax or this special parcel tax. Alan Fernandes said he was hoping to meet with leaders of the Davis Teachers Association in August, with the goal of getting their support for the proposed parcel tax measure.
It is hard to see a measure getting on the ballot, let alone passing, without teacher support – but to this point, the teachers have been reluctant to back their measures.
Second, there is a general concern that voters might be nearing their threshold for the parcel tax. Voters were given this statement in a poll this February: “Taxes in this area are already high enough; I’ll vote against any additional tax increase, even for Davis schools.”
Thirty-six percent of the voters said they agreed with this statement. As it turned out, in June about 42 percent voted against the city parcel tax for roads. Numbers like those are likely driving Alan Fernandes to seek another way.
Finally, a number of people expressed concerns that the school district, at the same time it is seeking facilities money and suffering teacher compensation gaps, is nevertheless approving salary increases for top administrators – many of whom are making over $200,000 while the typical teacher is making less than $50,000 and in many cases less than $40,000.
Everyone is in a bind locally – both the city and school district, because they do not have revenue needed to maintain current levels of programs or services.
But the solution offered by both is to try to do this piecemeal. We need to have a broad quality of life discussion in this community. The community needs to understand that, while we still have good schools, good parks and nice city amenities, and a high quality of life, we are about to see that decline sharply without an influx of revenue.
This isn’t a call for more taxes necessarily. It is a call for the community to understand where we are and where we are going. There are alternatives available, especially in terms of economic development, that are worth pursuing. But none of this can happen in the current climate and it cannot happen without strong discussions.
—David M. Greenwald reporting