My View: School Board Makes Right Call on Not Charging for Inter-district Transfers

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One of the key innovations that the DJUSD School Board has developed is a legislative lobbying agenda.  They take advantage of a board member like Alan Fernandes and his experience working with the legislature on other venues, as well as the idea that the district needs to be proactive in helping to shape state law in ways that could benefit the district and its students.

However, one of the listed goals created some buzz on Thursday night and was ultimately removed from the list: looking at legislation that would allow districts with parcel taxes “to require inter-district transfer students to pay the annual parcel tax to the district.”

This idea came out of the community where many people have argued that the district accepting inter-district transfers without collecting a parcel tax on those students is unfair and fiscally disadvantageous. 

I have pushed back on that notion and I will argue later that this is simply a misconception of the difference between ADA money (average, daily attendance, which is per pupil) and parcel tax money (which is per parcel independent of whether students live there or not).

Greg Brucker, a music teacher in the district, was the first to speak out against the idea of requiring inter-district transfer students to pay the annual parcel tax to the district.

“The basis of our public education system is that it’s a free and equal education,” he said.  “No one should be charged to go into the system.”

He said that this would “become a deterrent to people who want to go here.”  Overall, he said he believes that opening up our schools to more people is a positive and it advantages the district fiscally.

“I look at this through a lens of privilege,” he said.  “How do we expect families from our whole population to be able to say, I want to do something like this.”  He argued that this would preclude people of lesser means from being able to come to the district.

“I think it runs a risk of creating a sense of segregation for who comes into the district,” he added.  “As a community, we always have to be very careful about our privilege and imposing that on others.”

Tom Adams stated, “I’m surprised to see (this) here because I thought we flatly rejected it last year.  I think it contradicts our position of we all belong in the district and I think it sends the wrong signal… public schools are about accepting everyone.”

Alan Fernandes explained that he wanted to throw this out there, but also acknowledged, “practically speaking, I don’t think there is support to do this legislatively.”

Mr. Fernandes pointed out that a lot of people ask, “Why am I paying the parcel tax and another student isn’t?”

But this is where I think those perceptions are wrong.  A key point that was not raised on Thursday is the difference between ADA money, which is in fact per student, and a parcel tax, which is a tax that is completely independent of the presence of students.

As I have pointed out in discussions on the Vanguard with respect to whether the district should even do inter-district transfers, the notion that the district is disadvantaged by such transfers because it gets less per pupil is misplaced.

The problem is that we are mis-formulizing how parcel taxes work.

ADA is connected on a one to one basis with the number of students the district takes.  Each student added creates x-amount in ADA.  So when the district takes on new students from outside of the district – it adds to the amount of ADA received from the state.

HOWEVER, the parcel tax has no connection to students. None.  That is true whether those students move into the district, whether they move to ownership housing, whether they move to rental housing.

I think it is important to understand just how disconnected students are from the parcel tax.  We can see that clearly in several formulations.

First, property owners in town pay taxes regardless of whether they have kids.  That means if you own a house in Davis, you pay a parcel tax unless you are a senior who has opted out. 

Second, property owners pay the same amount if they have one kid or five.  This is really important.  Because unless you are a property owner in town with exactly one kid, the district is actually not maximizing its take anyway.  Each additional kid you have, actually dilutes your parcel tax to student contribution.

In addition, something you might not consider: the district’s per pupil take declines any time a family with children move into a home previously occupied by a childless owner, in addition to any time a family adds children.

The bottom line here: if you have ownership housing in Davis you pay the same parcel tax if you have zero kids, if you have one kid, and if you have five kids.  So if we wanted to put a provision on people coming from outside of the district, we have no way to equalize the contributions coming from inside the district.

Then we have the issue of renters.  Under current rules, apartments buildings now count as a single parcel.  So, in effect, renters do not pay the parcel tax.  Any renter with kids will simply contribute ADA from the state but they do not add to a parcel tax.

Therefore, adding a child from an apartment is no different from adding a child to the district from Woodland, in terms of the parcel tax contribution.

Finally, people in affordable housing also do not pay the parcel tax.  The same basic factor is at play.

We therefore need to stop thinking of the parcel tax on a per student basis.  We have basically two separate pots of money.  The first pot is ADA which adds incrementally based on each additional student.  The second pot is parcel tax, which is based on the number of parcels.

Any additional student to the district is going to increase ADA money while decreasing the per student impact of the parcel tax.  That is true whether they come from inside or outside of the district.

The school board’s statements on Thursday were pretty clear cut and unanimous.  This is simply not going to be a consideration and the issue is not likely to be revisited by future school boards.

—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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