My View: Board Pulls Back on Name Change; Toughest Challenges Lie Ahead

Alan Fernandes offers his apologies on Thursday

There would be no easing the new school board members – Cindy Pickett and Joe DiNunzio – into their roles on Thursday night.  Even the Davis City Council usually has a light night before throwing them into the fire, fully baked.  No such soft landing on Thursday.  A late night and a fire that they didn’t light to put out.

The Board on Thursday did the right thing – they admitted mistakes, they fell on their swords, they acknowledged that Mary Ellen Dolcini was worthy of honor, but they also recognized that the current school – students, teachers, and parents were attached to the name and the identity.

I came away impressed with how the school board handled what could have been a far more volatile situation.

“We nearly made a mistake as a board in our last meeting,” Mr. Fernandes acknowledged.  “The mistake was just not remembering how important process was.”

Mr. Fernandes really hit the nail on the head here.  Sometimes I think the complaint about process is overrated and an excuse to attack an unpopular proposal, but in this case, this was a process issue.  The board needed to check in with stakeholders before considering a proposal like this.

If they had, they probably would have recognized it was a non-starter and figured out a different way to honor Dr. Dolcini.

What is also more clear than ever to me is that as much as I think more should have been done to involve the current school in the early discussions, Janice Bridge was clearly right about one thing: “We believe that Dr. Dolcini’s legacy is being lost.”

I suspect that she is not the only one whose legacy has been lost and that is most unfortunate.  I knew her a little bit late in her life, but I had no idea the history there.

Ms. Bridge talked about the legacy of Ms. Dolcini and noted that some of the great traditions at North Davis elementary, “These things did not begin because the school was named North.  These things began with the work, guidance, the leadership of Dr. Mary Ellen Dolcini.”

Ms. Bridge noted that in 1978, Dr. Dolcini was Associate Superintendent and applied to the open Superintendent position.  That position went to another person even though in Ms. Bridge’s opinion, she was most qualified, “because no woman could be superintendent of the Davis Joint Unified School District.”

“Despite a number of people telling her to be quiet and go home, she decided to persevere.  She appealed to the federal courts.  All of her appeals were upheld by the courts.  The court recommended that she reach an agreement with the district – the agreement was negotiated.  The non-disclosure agreement was signed.  She was told she could have any job in the district except superintendent.  Dr. Dolcini chose North Davis.”

That’s a pretty incredible story and one we should all cherish and honor.  But not this way.  I am hopeful that the ad hoc committee finds creative and appropriate ways to honor the legacy of Dr. Dolcini as well as many other people who have made the great system of education in Davis possible.

One of the things that I like about how the board walked this back is that they did not prolong the agony.  They had this discussion first – before public comment – we still had 19 people come and speak, it still lasted late into the evening, and it took up valuable time that could have gone to more substantive measures.

And that is really what I worry about.  This is a great district and many people live in Davis – myself included because we want our kids to attend the great Davis public schools.

But I worry about the future – and the future is coming now.  On Thursday night, there was agendized a discussion of the next parcel tax which could go on the ballot in November 2020 – it seems far away, but it will be here before we know it.

That discussion was wisely pushed off until the next meeting – to be taken up early in the evening.

Just as I see cracks in the foundation of the Davis community and the quality of life in the city of Davis, I see the problems just over the horizon that we will face as a school district as well.

One of the things I have pushed for is a joint discussion between the city and school district to engage the public on the notion that while we have a great community and great schools, we are sitting right on the edge of an inflection point – a point that can take us in one of two ways.

The city has gotten to the point where we do not have the resources to maintain the status quo.  In the future we will have to cut back on city services – that means possibly parks, greenbelts, bike paths, the things that make Davis – Davis to us all. Or we will have to find new revenue sources whether through additional taxes or economic development.

For our schools, we may be in even larger danger as our revenue raising ability is quite limited.  Already we face a tough decision – we have survived to this point on parcel taxes now totally $620.  Because of the limitations of the LCFF for Davis, that means we have with the parcel tax revenues, less than average funding.

We have maintained our programs, but we have fallen behind in terms of teacher compensation.  One of the things that we will contemplate is whether to increase the parcel tax by another $300 or so – nearly a 50 percent increase in order to fund teacher compensation increases.

It doesn’t take incredible foresight to realize that we are at or about to get to the end of the line.  And a recession and economic downturn are coming.  Structural deficits are likely, revenues are likely to decline, and even without a recession, the current path is no sustainable.

We have literally not had this dire conversation – not as a community and not as a school district.  Someone has to start the tough conversation – no one seems to want to.  12:30 in the morning was not the time to have it, but we must have it soon before it becomes too late.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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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2 thoughts on “My View: Board Pulls Back on Name Change; Toughest Challenges Lie Ahead”

  1. Jim Hoch

    Then why are our state representatives not taking on the LCFF? The 55% cutoff is designed to send large amounts of money to certain districts for political, not educational reasons.


    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Have you asked them? I’ll point out three things however: (1) our state reps represent local school districts advantaged and disadvantaged by LCFF, (2) we needed a parcel tax long before LCFF existed; (3) even if our state rep took it, the majority of the state benefits from it.

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