We need to recognize as a community that we are facing the most serious threat to our quality of life in Davis that we have probably ever faced. The fact is that we do not have the current level of revenue or resources to fund the things that this community has become known for.
That is true both at the city level as well as the school level. We have to figure things out or we risk becoming just another community. At the city level, we lag behind other communities in retail and revenue generation. And with our affluence, we lag behind other school districts in state funding, and we are facing crumbling infrastructure and a wide teacher compensation gap.
In a way, the answers for our school district are more limited. The school district has two ways to generate revenue – one is through a facilities bond which will go on the ballot this fall. The other is through a parcel tax to generate general fund revenue.
There are those who believe we have gone to the parcel tax well too much. The polling shows that we are right on the bubble of being able to pass another parcel tax. This a huge driver in why Alan Fernandes has gone the citizens’ initiative route to try to put a majority vote parcel tax on the ballot rather than a standard one.
I think Alan Fernandes should be applauded for attempting to think big and outside of the box. I will remind a lot of people that he was the one who suggested a much larger parcel tax two years ago – and was shot down by his colleagues. I think that was a mistake and we needed to go with the $960 parcel tax – if we had, we would not be in this place right now.
While I applaud his efforts, I think the actual proposal has problems. My biggest concern is adding a School Resource Officer (SRO) on campus. It is something that the chief of police does not support and the research suggests is a bad idea. Others are concerned with adding perhaps $1.5 million for firefighters. Still others are concerned with the fact that the initiative would only cover city residents with a parcel tax, leaving others without having to pay for it.
For these reasons, I think it would be best if Mr. Fernandes pulls his effort and we look into a regular parcel tax that would require a two-thirds vote.
That too has problems.
I have heard from a lot people who are angry about the superintendent and other administrators getting another raise at a time when the district is asking for facilities money and needing more money for teachers.
The reality is, of course, that one thing has nothing to do with another. The amount of money going to administrative raises has nothing to do with facilities money, as the two are entirely separate by state law.
The general fund money is another matter. It looks bad. I question the thinking of the school board. I have heard from members who supported it and have concluded that I disagree with their reasoning. The main reason I disagree is that, just as UC looks bad having tuition hikes while giving out administrative raises, the school board looks bad asking for parcel tax money while giving out administrative raises.
Both sides defend themselves in two ways that might as well be gibberish to the voters. First they argue that retaining quality administrators is difficult and this makes them more competitive. Second, they argue that the amount of money going to administrators is very small compared to what is needed to either avert a tuition increase or effect a teacher compensation increase.
The fact is they are right on both counts – but the optics are bad. Symbols matter. Giving raises to people making $200,000 or more looks horrible when your teachers are forced to have food stamps and Medi-Cal.
I understand the frustration of voters who told me that this will be the first parcel tax that they ever vote no on. But unfortunately we don’t have that luxury. Not anymore.
What we are facing in this community is nothing short of an existential threat. If we want to have great schools, we cannot have them in aging and crumbling buildings that were built in another era, the 1960s. We can argue about the priorities in the facilities bond – I have problems with some of the first wave of funding as well – but the need is clear and severe.
Just as this community is going to go downhill without money for parks, greenbelts, sidewalks and roads, our schools will no longer be great without an influx of capital.
Second, the teacher compensation gap can become a crisis. We have a chance to close that gap, to hold onto more of our great young teachers, and reinvest in the future of this community. But not if we say no to funding.
There is no magic box. As Alan Fernandes pointed out at the meeting a few weeks ago, we can go the cut route to closing the compensation gap, but our programs are not going to resemble this district as we know it.
One of the reasons the board is reluctant to come forward with a parcel tax is it will be a heavy lift. There is no doubt about that. They are afraid that teachers will not do the work to get it passed and, without their support, the community will not back another parcel tax.
I think he’s right on that. But I think it is time for both the teachers and board to put up or shut up. There has been a lot of finger pointing and escalating tensions – especially behind the scenes. I get it.
The stakes are high. The rhetoric is flying.
This is where we need to pull together. It’s for the children right? The teachers are not in this profession to get rich – lord knows. The school board members are not in this for any reason, for the most part, other than to support the school district.
We have a common mission and we have to work together.
In my thinking, if the teachers do not help to get a parcel tax passed and it falls short, that’s on them. It is going to be a lot harder for us as community members who love our teachers to back them if they do not help to get the clearest way to pay equity.
Mistakes have been made by all involved. Now is the time to pull together for the good of this community. I would like to see Mr. Fernandes pull his majority parcel tax and put a regular one on the ballot – if not for November, then for next spring as a special tax, and then let the chips fall where they may.
—David M. Greenwald reporting