Commentary: Why I Applied for the School Board and a Whole Lot More

Thursday will definitely go down as one of the stranger days since I have been covering the news in Davis starting in July 2006.  The upshot: we have a race for school board (sort of), a new appointee, I’m no politician, and my office almost burned down.

When I went to bed on Wednesday, I did so believing that no one had filed for the school board and was prepared that the three candidates would be seated: incumbent Tom Adams and challengers Cindy Pickett and Joe DiNunzio.  But just after 9:00 am, I got a message stating that there was a fourth candidate.

The name: Chris Legal.  His listed profession is “minister” with the description: “retired from ministry, preacher, writer … inspire souls to think about their creator.”  Address: “General Delivery, Davis CA.”

I will go out on a limb and state: I believe that the three winners will be Tom Adams, Cindy Pickett and Joe DiNunzio.  Little did I realize that this would be the least strange thing that happened on Thursday.

I had this brilliant idea, I would apply for the vacant school board seat.  Not that I had any illusions that I would be selected.  Rather I felt there were important issues that needed to be raised.  Plus, while I wouldn’t want to campaign, raise money, and serve for four years, getting appointed and serving for four months seemed okay.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one to think that way.  Seven people applied.  A most impressive list that you would only find in Davis.  Off the top of my head, you had a former DTA President, a former president of the Davis High PTA who served in a statewide capacity, a former principal in other school districts, an educational administrator at the California Department of Education, a retired chief counsel for the state auditor’s office and a soccer mom who served on about every committee you can imagine in the school district.

As I said last night, the board really could not go wrong with any of the possibilities.  But really, in four months, what could one do?

The case I tried to make is that we have great schools, but we are now in funding trouble.  And what we need to do is educate the public on the challenges that lie ahead for this school district.

A key point: we need to think outside of our silo – the problems facing our schools mirror those facing our community.  Right now, things are good, but they won’t remain that way if we do not act soon.

The teacher compensation gap is the canary in the coal mine.  It demonstrates that we face a tough choice now between great programs and great teachers.

We are disadvantaged by the LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula), we face the potential of declining enrollment, and we have basically survived for the last decade by increasing the parcel tax.  Polling now suggests that it is going to be more difficult to pass those parcel taxes.

The problems we face in our schools, as stated above, mirror the problems that we face in this community.  We are facing a very real crisis of quality of life in this community on all fronts, not just school related

We have a tendency to view issues of our schools in one silo and issues of the city in another silo.  Many people who do not have kids in schools do not necessarily follow the district that closely.  But schools are a key to the quality of life in this community.  Schools increase property values – one broker told me by as much as 40 percent.

We talk about thinking outside of the box, but what we really need to do in this community is to think outside of our silo.

The city is struggling too.  Its roads are badly in need of repairs, but its roads tax fell short of the two-thirds we required.  We cannot pay in the city for things like roads, parks, greenbelts, city buildings.

The public sees great schools and a great community, but they don’t see the danger that lurks ahead.

I was under no illusions that this would not be the message that resonated with the school board – but I was hoping to at least raise it.  I will say, I am a little disappointed in the process itself because there was really very little opportunity to raise issues to the board itself.  We filled out a seven-question application, spoke for three minutes and answered less than two minutes of questions.

However, before I even got a chance to deliver my comments, around 6 pm, I am sitting in my office, and suddenly I hear loud voices in the hallway and the sound of a radio.  Before I could wonder what was going on, there were three members of the UC Davis fire department in my office telling me that the building next door is on fire and I need to leave.

Apparently there was a small fire in the kitchen ducting in the not-yet-opened BBQ House restaurant.  There was a lot of smoke, and one firefighter was injured.  It was pretty close to being on the other side of the wall from my office.

That was right before the board meeting.

The voting itself turned into a fiasco.  I was quickly eliminated having only received a vote from Alan Fernandes in the first round.  Eventually there were four candidates who received one vote each – Lea Darrah, Ryan Galles, Joy Klineberg and Donna Neville.  After three rounds of that, they went back to two votes each and were able to get it down to Joy Klineberg and Donna Neville.

They then had several rounds where it was 2-2.  They even had them answer additional questions, but it was comically still at 2-2 after the question round but two of the voters (Tom Adams and Alan Fernandes) switched their votes.

Finally, in round 10, Joy Klineberg received 3 votes to one for Donna Neville and was seated as the interim board member.

—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. Alan Miller

    Many people who do not have kids in schools – do not necessarily follow the district that closely.

    I resemble that remark.

    But schools are a key to the quality of life in this community.  schools increase property values – one broker told me by as much as 40 percent.

    So, to connect the dots . . . 55% of Davisites rent.  Renters gain from lower property values as it decreases rental rates and makes it easier to buy a home.  Quality schools increase property values . . . therefore, the majority in this town, renters, should unite to destroy the quality of our schools in order to better the lives of the majority.

    Thank you, thank you very much . . . can I get a witness?

    1. Ken A

      It is true that good schools increase the value of “some” real estate, but it is not even close to 40% anywhere (where the “only” difference in two homes is the public school district).   Almost no one cares what the schools are like when buying a Lakefront place in Tahoe and values would not change much if the public schools that pretty much suck in the basin got any better, ($10mm lakefront homes would not start selling for $14mm if the Tahoe schools were not full of the children of cleaning ladies gardeners or stoner snowboarders that don’t speak English very well).  Atherton on the Peninsula sends most kids to the amazing Menlo Park public schools while part of the city sends kids to the “Barrio Schools” in Redwood City. The homes in that part of Atherton are worth a little less but not “millions less” (40% of the median Atherton home price is almost $2 million dollars).  With that said I want to make sure every homeowner in Davis knows that while the school district may waste a lot of money, and  I hate paying more taxes as much as the next guy, but the amount we pay in school parcel taxes will probably turn out to be a good “investment” where you get back more than you paid in a “good school premium” when you sell your home.

      1. Howard P

        Of course a broker will tell you 40%… helps them to justify high asking prices, and the myth, told frequently, increases their commissions by 40%… QED…

        ‘Everyone’ benefits from the myth… DJUSD, as justification for salaries, etc., brokers, sellers, and so on.

        We chose Davis as community, including amenities, with no consideration for the “stellar reputation of Davis schools” (and certainly not for paying a premium for that!), and that this was the location of my employer.

        This property value thing is hyped so often, people have come to believe, “it’s about the reputation of the school district”. Also, then becomes a campaign slogan for any school assessments, being sold as “protect your investment”, for the 45% who own their homes rather than rent…

        Renters have no “investment (monetary) to protect… as Alan points out, the additional assessments just translate into costs, and those spread lightly by DJUSD strategy to get voters to assess the bulk of the charges on ownership units…

        1. H Jackson

          Except that one can find a strong correlation between standardized test scores and parent education level, which in turn, correlates to higher incomes.

          Saying that a community has good schools because of standardized test scores is a soft way of signaling affluence.

        2. Ken A

          There is a strong “correlation” between high home prices and test scores but list a slight “causation”…

          Hillsborough, CA and Atherton, CA have median home prices of ~$4.5mm and high test scores, but that is not the main reason that the median home is MORE than thirty (30x) times higher than Detroit and Baltimore that have low test scores.

          I think that the fact that Hillsborough and Atherton has zero (0) murders last year compared to over six hundred (600) or almost one a day in both Detroit and Baltimore has more to do with home prices than school test scores…

        3. H Jackson

          A more meaningful way to measure how good public schools are would be to demonstrate that it does a good job in promoting social mobility.

          It is on this basis that UC Davis and other UC campuses tend to excel among undergraduate institutions (source, also here, a video summary of similar kind of survey).  If this thinking (promoting social mobility) is part of the UCD community, then it really should be part of the Davis community and DJUSD.

          Problem is that, especially with the latter survey source, it requires years before meaningful feedback is available.

        4. Cindy Pickett

          Yep, there are a gazillion variables correlated with test scores, but economists rarely care about that. Their point was that buyers are willing to pay more for homes in districts with higher test scores — regardless of why those test scores are higher (race, SES, parental education, etc). So, yes, it’s hard to interpret the actual causation.


        5. Ken A

          As H Jackson points out a large number of people that rent in Davis send their kids to the public schools (that is just getting larger as the rapid increase in Davis home prices makes it harder and harder for most young parents with school age kids to buy a home in town). I want to remind Cindy that only “some” buyers will pay more for a home in a district with higher test scores since the Piedmont family buying a home for their son near his fraternity, the Cupertino family that bought a 3×2 to convert in to a 6×3 “mini-dorm” the Vacaville family that moved to be closer to Jesuit in Sac or the Mountain View family that moved to be closer to their “empty nester” kids as they enter their mid 80’s all don’t care about the public school test scores in Davis…


        6. H Jackson

          “As H Jackson points out a large number of people that rent in Davis send their kids to the public schools…”

          A caveat.  I never claimed how many renters send kids to Davis schools (I have no idea of numbers), only that I am certain that renters as a whole are not excluded from direct interest in DJUSD.

        7. Ken A

          Sorry if I made it sound like H Jackson estimated the “number” of renters that send their kids to DJUSD schools.  I was making the point that “many” of the people I know with kids rent in town.  I’m pretty sure David (as a renter who sends his kids to DJUSD schools and often posts about the “many” low SES students in the district) will agree with me since there are not only “many” low SES renters but “many” higher than average SES families that rent (because Davis home prices have been increasing faster than most people can save for the past five years) and send their kids to DJUSD schools…

        8. Cindy Pickett

          Ken  A – One of the studies that I skimmed showed exactly that. The capitalization of school quality on home prices varied depending on whether the residence could house a family and how close it was to the schools. So, families with kids are willing to pay more to be close to a “good” school. But because of how comps work etc, that should drive up the price of homes in the district more generally, so everyone actually pays more.

  2. Howard P

    The voting process was, at best, silly.

    Perhaps “ranked choice voting” should have been used… my guess it would have taken a lot fewer iterations… maybe even only one.

    Also, found it kinda’ stupid that candidates were given one minute to answer a question that at times took longer for the questioner to frame.

    The round-by round votes, showing who voted for who each time, is arguably a public record.  It should be made available, perhaps on the DJUSD website.

    David survived to the second round… thought it was interesting that one candidate got zero votes after 12 were cast in the first round.

  3. Howard P

    Cindy’s postulation that it’s 4%/, means the broker cited is of the belief than DJUSD is 10 standard deviations above others… fascinating…

    1. Ken A

      It is important to remember that real estate brokers are “salespeople” and like “politicians” the old rule that if their lips are moving they are probably lying is usually true…

      1. Don Shor

        if their lips are moving they are probably lying is usually true…

        And remind us what it is you do for a living? All the real estate brokers I’ve used have been honest, normal people.

        1. Ken A

          Just like Robb Davis is an honest politician Don may have found some of the few honest real estate brokers, sadly most (but not all) successful politicians lie a lot (The two people the Republican and Democrat party picked to run for president are both known liars and one is married to a guy that lied about having sex with an intern and the other guy is the Dad of a guy that lied to his wife while fooling around with the ex wife of our future governor who he cheated on)…

          P.S. A good test to see if a real estate broker is honest is to call them and ask “is is a good time to buy” then have a friend call them and ask “is it a good time to sell”.  It is (almost) never a good time to buy “and” sell but 90%+ of people that make a living as a real estate agent (actually support themselves as a real estate agent buying and selling homes vs. a tax attorney, soccer mom or property manager that just happens to have a real estate license) will try and get one person to buy and another person so sell on the same day since they don’t care at all “if is is a good time” since they get paid EVERY time someone buys or sells…

  4. Alan Miller

    >  It is true that good schools increase the value of “some” real estate, but it is not even close to 40% anywhere

    It must be true:  someone who told DG that said it.

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