For months (at the very least) I have been talking about the fact that we live in a community that has nice amenities and services, but, without an influx of revenue, we will not be able to maintain our quality of life.
Already, our revenues fall at least $8 million short of what we need and we cannot fund road repairs, parks maintenance or other infrastructures improvement.
At the same time, we face a housing shortage, not just for students, but for families and working folks. We lack affordable housing and our land use policies make it increasingly more difficult to build it. The result is that each day a huge number of people commute into Davis to work – they have jobs here, but are unable to afford to live in this community.
At the same time, our lack of housing-jobs balance means that we have many residents who were able to find and afford places to live in Davis, but they work out of town.
When we talk about our schools, however, we tend to focus on school funding formulas. We have noted that the LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) disadvantages the schools in Davis, and we end up with less money than surrounding districts. For years we have made up for that gap through parcel taxes.
We now face the probability that the voters will not pass additional parcel taxes. Already voters failed to support the roads tax at the required two-thirds vote and polling shows that, for any additional parcel tax, support is right on the bubble.
In the future, the schools face problems that mirror the problems in our community. Declining enrollment is brought in part because families can no longer afford to move into Davis. That means there are fewer students likely to come into the district in the next decade.
The dilemma we now face is quite serious and in part brought to light by the teacher compensation gap. With LCFF and parcel taxes, we are just slightly below average for the state in funding. We have over the last decade had to slowly ramp up the parcel tax. When I first covered the parcel tax in 2007, we were talking about a $100 renewal. In 2016, it was raised to over $600, and even back then, we were arguing it needed to be more like $960.
Alan Fernandes, who is currently pushing for the citizen’s initiative, argued at the time that we needed $960, and points out that if had we gone there, we would have enough money in place to greatly close the compensation gap.
But we didn’t go there, and even if we had pushed it forward, there is nothing to assure us that it would have passed at that level.
What we know is that teachers in Davis make considerably less than what they make elsewhere. Couple that with teachers having to pay out of pocket to cover the gap between the cost of health insurance and what the district provides and we have a scenario where many teachers are paying several hundred to as much as $1000 each month for health insurance, even as they have to afford high costs of housing in Davis and they make a modest salary.
We are facing an unfortunate choice, where we may have to choose between maintaining our great programs and retaining our great teachers.
I view this as an extension of the quality of life challenge facing the entire community.
The reality is that the same challenges which face our community are facing our schools.
We have a tendency to view issues of our schools in one silo and issues of the city in another silo. 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.
My suggestion to the city and school district is that we have a community conversation so that people understand the real problems that we face.
Here are a few:
- In the city we are facing ongoing large deficits between the revenues we have and the ongoing costs to maintain our infrastructure. The best example is we need $8 million a year for road maintenance, and we have about $3 million of that right now.
- Taxes are the logical short-time bandage for what we need, both with the community and the schools. But every time the city passes a tax, that takes from the same pool as the school district. The voters by a large margin agreed to renew the parks tax which was basically a status quo tax, but only 57 percent supported the roads tax.
- The schools will seek to pass a facilities bond to repair and upgrade what is at times 50-year-old infrastructure. The bond needs 55 percent and no one filed an opposition argument on the ballot.
- The schools will need a parcel tax on the order of $300 a year to fund the teachers’ 3.5 percent pay increase. That doesn’t solve the compensation gap, but it does close it slightly. Currently there is no proposal on the ballot for a parcel tax.
- Without a parcel tax, where do the schools get additional funding?
- The city has better long term fixes for funding, but that requires economic development on a much larger scale.
- Housing is a key shared problem. At the city level, we have a student housing shortfall but we also lack affordable housing for families and working folks.
- The housing crisis is a double whammy for the district. On the one hand it means that families are not moving to Davis, leading to the possibility of declining enrollment. On the other hand, it means that teachers who work in Davis either have to pay through the roof for housing or live outside the community and commute. That further disadvantages our compensation. One of the big reasons someone might want to teach in Davis is that they live in this community – if they cannot afford that, that inducement is gone.
- Both the city and schools are facing a shortfall on money to maintain and upgrade infrastructure and facilities. In the schools, we have aging facilities that need upgrade and repair. We designed our schools, many of them in the 1960s, and we live in a different world than 50 years ago. In the city we cannot pay for things like roads, parks, greenbelts, or city buildings.
The problem that we face is that we are on the bubble, both in the city and the school district. Things aren’t bad – yet. The public sees great schools and a great community, but they don’t see the danger that lurks ahead.
That’s where the community conversation has to start – what are our challenges, how can we think outside of the box and, more importantly, think outside of our silos to resolve those challenges?
—David M. Greenwald reporting