My View: What If Schools and School Funding Are Outside the Hands of Our School Board?

On Thursday, the school board took time out from its summer recess to hold a meeting that lasted all of 25 minutes.  During that time, Alan Fernandes explained where he stood with his parcel tax, and the board decided to go ahead with a quick appointment process to fill Madhavi Sunder’s seat for the final four months (August to November).

In attendance were the two announced, but not yet filed candidates for board positions, Cindy Pickett and Joe DeNunzio.

For all of the effort going on, it is fair to say that our schools, locally especially, are facing an existential threat.  We have managed to paper over the magnitude of the problem, but the time to have to face reality is coming soon.

The threat is that because of demographics and housing prices in Davis, we no longer have a large pool of local students to fill our schools.  We have managed to paper over this problem in two ways.  First through funding, by having a local parcel tax to fill the gap between what we get from the state and what we need to maintain our high levels of programs.

Second, through inter-district transfers where large numbers of students whose parents work in town but don’t live here are able to attend school here.

The reality is that cracks are appearing.  The loss of Measure I in the city shows an increasing reluctance on the part of voters to approve more parcel taxes.  School parcel tax polling shows that another measure would be right on the margin and Alan Fernandes has decided to think outside of the box by putting a majority ballot measure on the ballot through the initiative process rather than a two-thirds vote by action of the school board.

Funding is more and more critical, with a teacher compensation funding gap straining the resources.

Finally, the otherwise apparent decline of enrollment has largely been masked by the out-of-district transfers.  Is that something that’s about to come to an end?  There have been rumors for some time that districts like Woodland may put a stop to the practice.  After all, that marks a drain of resources from one district to our own.

What is most ironic, then, is that while schools are vital issue in this community, the people running for school district positions may not play a direct hand in saving them at this time.

I am not saying there aren’t policies to be put in place to help things out.  After all, we need creative thinking to generate new ways to fund programs, new ways to better compensate teachers, and new ways to cut existing spending while maintaining our core programs.

But ultimately it might be left to forces outside of the school board to determine the future of the school district.

There are two things that we as a community need to look at long and hard.  The first is what I will call the quality of life decline.  This is a slow burn issue and that makes it difficult to see while you are in the middle of it.  But it is happening and it is going to take this entire community from the place that we have known and loved for the last several decades and threaten its existence.

That’s a dramatic statement, but it is fairly accurate.

We see the signs: the city and school district both lack long-term funding for programs, services and even basic infrastructure.  Take the city: we are facing an $8 million shortfall that is not a typical shortfall – rather it is the gap between what we have coming in and what we need to maintain our basic infrastructure like roads, parks, greenbelts, city buildings, etc.  I would venture to say $8 million is a low estimate.

The biggest problem we have is that we lack per capita revenue from business.  We are accustomed to a high level of city services but, unless something changes, we cannot afford those services or those amenities, and we are going to see a rapid decline in the quality of life.

The problem is that it’s a slow process.  One councilmember I met with recently said it is like we are slowly falling off a cliff and we might be half way down, and our reaction is to say, things are okay right now – but that’s an illusion as we simply haven’t hit the bottom with the big splat.

The schools are headed the same way.  We are going to try to pass a facilities bond to upgrade our 50-year-old facilities.  We lack the resources without a parcel tax to pay for a teacher compensation gap and that has led to concerns about losing quality teachers and the trade off between teachers and programs.

We can create a stopgap measure through a parcel tax, but the biggest problem right now is that we are facing declining enrollment and fewer students living in this community.

The problem that the city and schools face is related.  And the solutions are as well.  We need to figure out a way to do more economic development in order to create tax revenue, new jobs, and wealth for this community.

The other thing we need is to figure out a way to provide affordable housing that will enable more families to live here in Davis and raise their kids.

Neither of these are solutions strictly for the school district – both will require concerted community discussion and planning.

We have choices, as Davis is changing.  Do we wish for Davis to become even more of a community for an aging core and college students, or can we find ways – creative and innovative – to bring in housing that people with children can afford?

That is the challenge ahead of us for the next two years, four years, and beyond.

—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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48 Comments

  1. Jim Hoch

    David, in another post you indicate you were traveling yesterday. Not sure where you went though from this article I presume you went to hang out with Chicken Little.

    I am unconvinced that the sky is falling. We have a reasonable amount of revenue per student. If we have fewer transfer students then revenue per student will rise.

    The worst case scenario is that we close an elementary school and perhaps a middle school. Given the age of our infrastructure that would not necessarily be a bad thing.

    1. David Greenwald

      I would suggest you arrange to meet with administration, probably Matt Best, and he can walk you through the numbers as to why your assertion about the transfer students is incorrect.

      The larger picture is this: we are disadvantaged greatly in the LCFF system, the parcel tax brings us to average (slightly below average still).  If enrollment continues to decline, we will continue to have a shrinking pot of resources. That leaves us with the trade off of programs versus compensation that we are grappling with at the moment.

      1. Jim Hoch

        This is a fourth grade math problem. Total revenue generated by the parcel tax divided by number of student equals revenue per student.

        Central administration justifies their salary demands based on the number of students in the district. If we reduced the student population then that would put downward pressure on their compensation.

        The sky is not falling and be skeptical of the claims of empire building administrators.

        1. David Greenwald

          The problem is that you have what I will call “Google” knowledge.  You can look stuff up but there are practical limitations to how much you can.  The district for example calculated how much money they could expect to save from closing a school when they did it a decade ago.  I think it was $500,000.  The amount they get in ADA is a lot more from the transfer students.  That’s problem one.  Problem two is that just because you eliminate students, doesn’t mean you can easily reduce staff.  It’s not like the transfers are clustered in a grade and a school.  Like I said, if you take the time to learn the practical problems, you’ll see that the savings isn’t there.

          But again, you’re focused on a smaller problem.  The bigger problem is fourth grade math – LCFF plus Parcel Tax = 93 percent.  Even if you tweak the numbers slightly, you still end up with at best slightly below average funding in a system that is likely to lose students in the next ten to twenty years.  That’s not a formula that is going to lead to improved schools and resources.

          It reminds me of the people in the 1980s denying Climate Change, now it’s probably too late.

        2. Don Shor

          Central administration justifies their salary demands based on the number of students in the district. If we reduced the student population then that would put downward pressure on their compensation.

          I don’t think either sentence is true.

        3. Jim Hoch

          David,

          “The district for example calculated how much money they could expect to save from closing a school when they did it a decade ago.  I think it was $500,000.”

          That is complete BS which is why I warned you to “be skeptical of the claims of empire building administrators” I principal + 2 admins + 1 janitor = >$500K To say nothing of the other savings. Google it if you don’t believe it.

        4. Jim Hoch

          I’m sure you are right, the The School Superintendents Association has no idea how school administrator compensation is calculated. I should have asked a blogger…

        5. David Greenwald

          Google knowledge is a dangerous thing.  You can Google lots of things, but if you have no understanding how the practical things work, it produces odd results.

          Who are the other two administrators at an elementary school?  Remember it is a net savings.

          I found the back of the envelope calculations for eliminating the 700 inter-district transfers…

          700 is roughly 53 students grade

          that’s 6 per grade per site

          two kids per class

          District gets 700 * 8000 or $5.6 million for those transfers

          The district would realize the savings of 25 sections or $1.6 million

          They don’t believe they could close an actual school without a ton of upheaval but if they could that would be another $500,000 guesstimate.

          The marginal parcel tax differential that you’re talking about is about $420,000

          I’m not going to debate these further, the numbers come from Matt Best.  If you wish to have a discussion with him, please do.

        6. Jim Hoch

          David and Matt decide to raise funds for DJU.  They will collect watermelons from all the surrounding farms, pay the farmers 50 cents per melon, and then sell them at the farmer’s market.

          They rent a truck, drive out to several farms and load up the truck with the watermelons they purchase.

          Next, they drive to Davis. At the market, they sell the melons, 2 for $1.

          It doesn’t take long for them to sell the entire truckload.

          On the way home David says to Matt, “You know, we really didn’t make too much money.  How do you figure it?”

          Matt says, “We gotta get a bigger truck.”

        7. Ken A

          David seems to forget the millions the district could get leasing a site like MME after closing the school to an apartment developer for 20-30 years.

          Anyone who has driven down Sand Hill Road to the Stanford Mall has passed the Oak Creek Apartments that (Cal Grad) Gerson Bakar built on land he leased from Stanford.

          The DJUSD could make a fortune leasing the MME site to a big developer who would build student apartments on the site.

           

  2. Tia Will

    “Do we wish for Davis to become even more of a community for an aging core and college students, or can we find ways – creative and innovative – to bring in housing that people with children can afford?”

    Where is that invisible hand of the “free market” when you need it?  Some will doubtless say that it will work fine if the government would just get out of the way. Others would say that we are a government of the people, and the people are having their say.

    I actually think Jim may have this one right. We chose to build an elementary school when we thought we would have more students than proved to be the case. Would it be such a tragedy to downsize as indicated by the demographics instead of trying to fill the overcapacity we built?

     

    1. David Greenwald

      When I met with Matt Best back in January, he showed me the limitations of trying to save money through downsizing.  Remember, you are really only saving money on the margins that way anyway because fundings is LCFF plus Parcel Tax, and you’re taking away LCFF while redistributing Parcel Tax.  Think of it this way, let’s say you end up losing one or two students in each class across the district.  How many teachers do you think you could save?  Maybe a few if you are lucky, but you’ve lost the funding for everyone of those students.  Generally speaking, losing students loses money without a real ability to cut costs.

    1. David Greenwald

      Weird comment.  I’m not sure I ever supported the system.  But regardless, it is rather obvious at this point there should be some tweaks in the formula.

        1. Jeff M

          You don’t support ICE?

          If so, did you not support ICE when you voted for those politicians that supported ICE?

          Unless you did not change your mind about ICE after Trump was elected, it seems that this is not a good analogy.

          Interesting that you are an open borders person.

          Interesting too that this has a drastic impact on California education system costs.

          1. Don Shor

            You don’t support ICE?

            If so, did you not support ICE when you voted for those politicians that supported ICE?

            Unless you did not change your mind about ICE after Trump was elected, it seems that this is not a good analogy.

            Interesting that you are an open borders person.

            Interesting too that this has a drastic impact on California education system costs.

            Interesting to note that not a single state senator voted against the bill that established the Local Control Funding Formula (AB97 2013). Only a handful of assembly members voted against it. I recall that opposition at the time largely came from some wealthy suburban school districts that objected to receiving less of a funding increase than the urban districts did.

  3. Jeff M

    Total State expenditures for 2017–18 from all sources is projected to be $183.3 billion, with total GF expenditures of $125.1 billion and a Rainy Day Fund balance of nearly $8.5 billion. When all funding sources are accounted for (federal, state, and local), the Governor’s Budget includes $92.5 billion for K–12 education programs, with total per-pupil spending of $15,521 in 2017–18, compared to $14,898 in 2016–17.

    So, education in CA eats up 50.5% of the total state budget.  Per student spending continues to climb. yet the CA teachers union continues to cry that teachers are underpaid and we need to keep increasing taxes to feed the beast.

    No, what we need is to recognize that the system is broken.   It is no longer a sustainable model.  The model must change.  It needs to be reformed from the top-down and bottom-up.

    Instead of the trend of constantly doing less with more, we need the opposite.

    Basically we need a system that delivers better education systems with fewer education system employees.  Fewer administrators.  Fewer teachers.  More technology.  More part-time tutors.

    The tools and practices for making this happen are there.  They exist.  Reforms can begin.  But the politicians that would need to make it happen are bought and paid for by the system defending the status quo.

    So we are stuck in this stalemate of the education system demanding more and the taxed-out people saying no.  It is only a matter of time before the entire system collapses because it is unsustainable.  The sooner that happens the sooner we can rebuild a reformed system that takes better care of the kids.

    1. David Greenwald

      “Basically we need a system that delivers better education systems with fewer education system employees.  Fewer administrators.  Fewer teachers.  More technology.  More part-time tutors.”

      Hard to argue against that in theory.

    2. Howard P

      I’d rather,

      rebuild a reformed system that takes better care of the kids.

      before we get to the ‘crash and burn’, or “big splat” things…

      Without agreeing with specifics, I agree that there are major problems with the status quo, and the unions and the ‘educational network’ of admin folk are more into “it’s for the money” (aka, it’s for us), not “it’s for the kids”… the latter is a convenient smokescreen for the former… some good teachers don’t realize how they are ‘being played’ by the system…

      In aggregate, the students are the pawns…

      1. Don Shor

        Why would we “crash and burn” a system when most people are satisfied with the schools their kids attend?

        At least two-thirds of U.S. parents have been satisfied with their own child’s education since Gallup began asking this question in 1999. Satisfaction levels have grown since 2013 — when 67% said they were satisfied with their own child’s school — reaching 79% this year.

        https://news.gallup.com/poll/216611/americans-satisfaction-schools-edges-2016.aspx

        1. Howard P

          That’s why I wrote “BEFORE”… should I have written “LONG BEFORE”?…

          Yeah, see where I’m on the s-list… like David, you seem to focus on the rebuttal, instead of the original statement…

          So we are stuck in this stalemate of the education system demanding more and the taxed-out people saying no.  It is only a matter of time before the entire system collapses because it is unsustainable.  The sooner that happens the sooner we can rebuild a reformed system that takes better care of the kids.

          Not mine… fine… yet, you responded to my ‘rebuttal’ as to not wanting things to get to that point…

          Sure seems like you and David are not willing to challenge Jeff and Ron, and prefer to challenge me… especially when I fully/partially rebut them… your prerogative… whatever…

          Since I’m on the s-list anyway, DJUSD, it’s programs, teachers, and senior admin staff are not, by any means, stellar… that’s a legend in your collective minds, based on our experiences…

  4. Alan Miller

    A (chicken) little rearranging:

    Question:

    can we find ways – creative and innovative – to bring in housing that people with children can afford?

    Answer:

    that’s an illusion as we simply haven’t hit the bottom with the big splat.

     

        1. Howard P

          No land cost… basic utilities in place… lower peak hour traffic than currently… usually on transit routes… where is the risk?

          Sterling seems to be feasible (including affordable)… why not another ‘school’ site?  You seem to dissemble/divert…

          It’s worth consideration, because “it is for the kids”, and the parents that gave them life…

      1. Ken A

        There is housing that “people with children can afford” but as that housing keeps getting more expensive the number of people with kids that can afford it will continue to drop (along with the number of kids per well educated affluent family) …

  5. Howard P

    School closures… other opportunities… re-purposing as either college student or currently homeless dorms… re-purposing as to development of medium to high density MF housing by razing an old site.

    Utilities already in place.

    Property should be a freebie from the district… a sunk cost, already paid for by developers or taxpayers… relief from maintenance and liability costs…

  6. Ron

    Couple of related/recent articles (including one from the “allegedly-irrelevant” Enterprise).  Both of these articles discuss school district pension debt, which certainly has a familiar ring to it.

    The first article includes this quote:

    CALMatters computed what percentage of school district budgets go to salaries. In the Sacramento region, Davis ranked highest, No. 12, spending 63 percent on teacher pay.”

    https://www.sacbee.com/opinion/editorials/article215571200.html

    The second article also discusses pension debt:
    https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/schools-news/pension-debt-swamps-school-budgets/

    I suppose it’s arguable, regarding whether or not an average pension of $55,000 (in addition to whatever other benefits they receive) for California teachers is “modest” – as described. (Probably so, when comparing it to police/fire at least.)

     

     

    1. Howard P

      Are you saying DJUSD teachers are at/above local compensation levels for the area?  That public employees should not have pensions?  That they are too high?  That the pensions cost too much?

      Four questions… await a response from you on all four, just as you seem to expect from others…

      [Moderator… expect a missive that I am engaging in a personal attack… yet, I’m just asking questions…]

      1. Ron

        Howard:  I’m not pointing out anything, other than what’s in the articles.  I recall that you’ve noted such issues, yourself.

        Regarding questions that I’ve asked of David (e.g., in the article regarding the mediation effort), some of David’s statements/positions seem to contradict his advocacy, regarding his concerns related to the fiscal health of the city.  (He still hasn’t acknowledged this, or responded.)

        In any case, note the following quote, from the second article above:

        “Over the next three years, schools may need to use well over half of all the new money they’re projected to receive to cover their growing pension obligations, leaving little extra for classrooms, state Department of Finance and Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates show.”

        https://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/schools-news/pension-debt-swamps-school-budgets/

         

        1. Howard P

          K…

          Two cites, same thrust… no “pointing out there”…

          And you ignored the four direct questions…  remember that when folk don’t respond to yours… just saying…

          Je suis finis avec toi sur this…

        2. Ron

          Howard:  The act of not putting forth an opinion is an entirely different matter than advocating contradictory goals (and failing to acknowledge that), by a political blogger.

          In any case, there is a problem when school districts throughout California may need to spend “well-over half” of the new money received, to cover pensions. (That’s a fact and an opinion that I would agree with.)

      2. David Greenwald

        Howard: that stat is believe it or a not a good thing.  You want a high percentage of money going to teachers, because the alternative is it goes to administrators.

        1. Howard P

          What stat?  I provided none…

          DJUSD top admin staff are way over-compensated… it should be frozen (or diminished) for the next 5-10 years…  I’ve known many of them over the last 20+ years… many of the senior positions are useless, at best (no pun intended)… DJUSD upper admin needs not just a haircut, but a ‘crew cut’, in my opinion… I mean elimination of positions that are not needed

          That could free up resources for those with boots on the ground for the core mission…

        2. David Greenwald

          Ron provided the stat.  You asked a question.  I responded. DJUSD admins are not overcompensated when compared to other district and as a result, even though our teachers are undercompensated, the vast majority of district instructional money goes to teachers. That part is good.  Other parts are not so good.

        3. Howard P

          Yet, David, your response was seemingly directed to me… witness…

          Howard: that stat is believe it or a not a good thing. 

          Better to chastise/question me rather than Ron, right?

          Reminds me of an old Smothers Brothers running joke… as to “who was loved best…”

           

        4. Ron

          Howard:  No “chastising” is needed for anyone, regarding that citation.  In this case, David was simply clarifying what it meant (which I already understood).

          Regardless, the citation provides perspective, when comparing the Davis school district with others throughout the region.

          I’m more concerned about the other citation, which describes how pension costs are seriously impacting school districts throughout California.

          P.S. – In reference to your comment, I think that David “loves you best”, out of the two of us. But, I’m not sure it’s a competition that I want to “win”. 🙂

        5. Ron

          It might, however, be interesting to know how much of the Davis school district budget is being used to cover pensions, and how that figure/percentage compares to other districts.

          For example, if Davis has a higher percentage of retirees than other districts, than that might impact the results (and would create more funding challenges in classrooms).

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