Sunday Commentary: District Begins Discussion of Possible Parcel Tax to Close Teacher Compensation Gap


On Thursday, the school board took the first step in what figures to be a long two-year process to obtain the funding needed to close the teacher compensation gap.  The school board agreed to formally schedule an item on the agenda for the December 20 meeting to discuss the issue of a new parcel tax.  If approved, however, the measure would not be voted on until November of 2020 – nearly two years away.

Leading the way on this has been Alan Fernandes.  He told his colleagues on Thursday, “In embarking on a year long study session, I for one have become pretty resolute that in order to meaningfully close the compensation gap once and for all, do it with some degree of ‘nowness’  because this is an issue that we need to start working on now.”

He made it clear: “We need a local source of revenue.”  Mr. Fernandes said that relying on the state is “never going to allow us as a district to catch up, particularly in light of the way LCFF [Local Control Funding Formula] is structured.”

This push comes on the heels of voters approving a school bond measure by a wide margin – 72-28 in an election that required 55 percent of the vote – that will fund badly needed facilities upgrades.  But the district cannot use a school bond measure to fund instruction costs such as teacher compensation.

Give Alan Fernandes some credit – he has attempted to think outside of the box in order to find ways to pass a parcel tax.

Right now, the district has made a move earlier this year which will close some of the compensation gap, but it is largely financed through one-time monies and the only ways to get ongoing money to fund the gap is to find a way to raise local revenue.

Alan Fernandes explained: “One of the most efficient and best ways to close the gap once and for all to get a local source of revenue.  There are really only two ways under California Law that a district can get a local source of revenue and that’s a school bond which is limited in its use to just facilities and a parcel tax measure.”

The district is disadvantaged by the LCFF system, and as a result the district only receives about 77 cents on the dollar from the state.  A portion of that is made up by local parcel taxes, but that has proven insufficient in order to increase compensation for teachers, many of whom are strongly disadvantaged in their compensation as compared to the compensation paid in other school districts.

Alan Fernandes originally attempted a citizen-based parcel tax.  While the idea seemed intriguing, it has run into all sorts of legal roadblocks.  Mr. Fernandes acknowledged on Thursday that the legality of whether a school district could do this was in dispute – though he believes they can.  Moreover, the citizens would place this on the ballot through the city, and thus the parcel tax would not be completely contiguous with the school district as the city of Davis does not include the voters from unincorporated sections of Yolo County that are nonetheless in the school district.

They need to gather a large number of signatures.  This initially began last June, but it was quickly acknowledged that it would not have sufficient votes to qualify for the November 2018 ballot.  They then put the effort on hold in September to focus on the passage of Measure M, the $150 million school facilities bond.

On Thursday, he acknowledged that the effort would be unsuccessful and thus would not qualify.

While I was intrigued by the notion of the citizen’s based parcel tax, I believe going the formal route of doing it through the school district itself is the better way to proceed.  For one thing, it is cleaner.  There is no question about non-contiguous boundaries.  There is no question about money going for non-educational purposes like first responders or school resource officers.  It allows the voters to make a decision – is education worth spending about $200 to $300 a year on a parcel tax?

And it forces the school district, the parents, the PTA, and the teachers to make their case to the community.  Do we need a parcel tax?  If so, why?

I like the fact that Alan Feranndes is pushing this now, two years in advance so we can have that conversation.

For whatever reason the teachers have been a bit reluctant to get on board this train.  Back last spring, the teachers pressed the district for pay increases and to close the compensation gap, but at the same time, they gave signals that they were less than 100 percent behind a parcel tax.

A key question was why that was the case.  There was speculation that teachers may have seen asking for a tax to fund their own salaries as unseemly.  They also might have been fearful it would open them to criticism and scrutiny, and even the possibility of rejection.

This community has repeatedly, however, stepped up to support more local funding for K-12 education.  It has approved numerous parcel taxes to increase that funding, many of them by a more than 70 percent level of support and, in the case Measure M, the school bond measure received 72 percent of the vote and had no real opposition.

Davis Teachers Association made it clear that, while they have not adopted an official position regarding a parcel tax for employee compensation, they are not opposed to it.  Last week, they did vote to support a citizen-based parcel tax for employee compensation.

DTA President Frank Thomson said on Thursday, “The DTA in no way opposes this.”

He added: “Might this also be emblematic and symptomatic of the value the district places on certificated employees (teachers)? Should they not be prioritized in the district’s general fund, so that we do not need to pursue additional parcel taxes? And if we close the compensation gap with a parcel tax, will there be an effort to keep it closed, year after year?”

There will be those who will argue that we are going too high with the taxes.  That we should look at other ways to support compensation increases.  The good thing about this approach is that we get to have two years of discussion on those very points.  Put everything on the table, let’s debate and discuss, and then ultimately make the decision about what is best for this community.

—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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14 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: District Begins Discussion of Possible Parcel Tax to Close Teacher Compensation Gap”

      1. Keith O

        Road taxes lost and since then another $300 has been added to everyone’s parcel taxes due to Measure M.  It’s getting mighty expensive to own a home in Davis.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          42 percent is still a minority and the fact remains that’s the highest level of opposition a tax has received in the last two decades. School support is at least 12-15 percent higher it seems. It’s expensive to own a home in Davis – no shirt shillock. Adding or subtracting $300 a year in taxes (less than $30 a month) isn’t going to change that calculation that much.

        2. Keith O

          Your other piece today seems to contradict what you’re saying here.

           Is the Cost of Labor Peace Too High For Davis?
          Our current situation is not sustainable.

          So as you say, no shirt shillock.


          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Except I wasn’t referring to the possibility of taxes, I was referring to our revenue base which I don’t believe is sustainable without finding ways to improve economic development. This again gets back to my point from earlier this week – if you believe you are taxed too much, why aren’t you supporting an innovation center with housing?

        3. Keith O

          Adding or subtracting $300 a year in taxes (less than $30 a month) isn’t going to change that calculation that much.

          Looking at one of my property tax bills, with the addition of Measure M and a future $300 teacher comp parcel tax would put just local taxes up to approx. $2800 per year.


        4. Howard P

          Keith… not disagreeing, but if you had made clearer, that it is the local ‘taxes’ that rise to that level (CFD’s are technically an assessment/fee and IRS has opined that they may not be deductible as as property taxes)[and, with new fed tax laws there is a ceiling on deductible state/local taxes…] your point would have been more clear, and ‘spot on’… nuance, to be sure… and, recall that a portion of your regular prop tax goes to the state, who then launders the money to give to schools, your point is even more ‘right arm’…

        5. Keith O

          Howard, read again what I wrote:

          Looking at one of my property tax bills, with the addition of Measure M and a future $300 teacher comp parcel tax would put just local taxes up to approx. $2800 per year.


        6. Howard P

          Keith… “local” was ambiguous… I’d have cited the specific ones making the total… was just offering a suggestion… excuuuuuuse me ( per Steve Martin)…

          Will try to not affirm anything you post, moving forward…

          43 days to Anonygeddon…

    1. Howard P

      If you mean the originally proposed “sharing of revenue” with Davis PS (Fire and Police) you may well be either correct, or it could be that he “wanted to be all things to all people” to get the votes needed… you’ll have to ask him and the other organizers… I just don’t know…

      I do know that the tax/assessment needs to apply to all properties in the District boundaries, in order for me to consider voting in favor…

      I do know there can be no “senior” or needs-based exemptions to the assessment, in order for me to consider voting in favor… gotta’ pay to play…

      I do know that it has to be clear what it is going for, unlike previous measures that “hid” employee compensation, by asserting ‘other needs’, which was a ‘shell game’… an accounting gimmick… freeing up monies for one purpose, to expend on another… in order for me to consider voting in favor…

      I do know that the amount doesn’t matter as much as the ‘transparency’… no gimmicks… and, there needs to be an understanding that the manner in which it is proposed should be assumed to be a direct cost… the new Fed income tax system limits deductions for State/local taxes… not a huge “biggie” as it only ‘saves’ your “marginal taxes”… it’s not a “tax credit”… so, if you can ‘deduct it’ at all, you spend the amount, less your marginal tax rate.

      Many folk believe that “deductible” means “credit against taxes”… zero sum… NOT!!! Transparency by DJUSD should clearly acknowledge that… in order for me to consider voting in favor…

      We’ll see… we have nearly two years to have the discussion…

      Yes, “it’s for the kids!” will be in play as a talking point…  but, an honest presentation would be “it’s for DJUSD employees, but the effect on the kids might be beneficial”.

      Doubt that will happen… might be wrong… we’ll see…

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