While all five board members on the DJUSD School Board were supportive of seeking local funding for teacher compensation increases, the board was not ready to put the matter on the ballot for November 2020 just yet, and instead wants to strategize on how to pitch the issue to the public.
“We have stated as a board that closing the compensation gap is a top priority,” Alan Fernandes, who had this item agendized initially, stated. “This issue is urgent even though anything in government it takes time for it to take effect, revenues to come in. I assure you this is an urgent issue and we ought to be treating it as such.”
He pointed out that in the past, since 1984, “Every parcel tax was a reactionary initiative to prevent a cut from the state” and that here they are trying to go strategic and be proactive rather than reactive.
“Why has there been this perhaps decades long historical situation that we’ve placed ourselves in as a community,” Mr. Fernandes continued. “We can no longer sort of rest on that, given the fact that we’re looking at teacher shortages.
“We’re going to have to become more and more competitive as a district,” he said. “Yes we’re unique. Yes we have every kind of program that you can imagine… We offer and I’m proud as we all are of the educational offerings that we have in this public school system. But I submit to you now, that we need to take proactive action now so that we are in position ten years from now to remain competitive.”
Tom Adams pointed out that we are now back to the level of funding in real dollars that we had just before the recession. But there is a key difference. In 2008, as confirmed by Bruce Colby, the District’s Associate Superintendent of Business Services, the percentage of general fund money going into CalSTRS was just 8 percent. Now it is at 18 percent. That is money that is coming directly out of general fund money.
He said, “One thing that we do have control over is our own local funds.”
For Joe DiNunzio he said that he was fully in favor of moving forward with a significant effort to make this a priority, but he wanted the process over the next few months to look closely at current spending and their options.
“We undervalue education in this country, period,” he said. “We are under-investing in the next generation. It’s terrible.”
Mr. DiNunzio pointed out that, while the governor is prioritizing education, “To expect the state to address this completely is folly.” He added, “It’s also frustrating because so much of our budget is out of our control.”
He agreed with his colleagues that “this is a critical priority for us and we have to address teacher compensation.”
He noted his frustration that “the kinds of increases to compensation that we’re talking about to bring people to or even above average aren’t going to address the bigger economic issues we have with what we pay teachers generally.”
On an average teacher salary, “it’s still going to be near impossible to afford an average home in Davis.” Joe DiNunzio noted, “We do need to grapple with this, but there are bigger issues that candidly we need to have a voice in addressing.”
Finally, he directed the future discussions by stating, “My only debate on this particular document… is having a clear understanding of how we’re spending the money from a budget standpoint today and how that aligns with our stated priorities as a district.”
Cindy Pickett noted that there had been previous debates over whether the district should put its money into programming or teachers. She pointed out that we talk about them as though they’re separate things.
“Frankly it doesn’t make sense to me,” she said, to fund our programs but not do our best to retain our teachers. “I get that these programs are important, but the quality of the program rests on whether we have the best teachers and we’re retaining these qualified teachers and excellent teachers that we have.
“When I think about the proposal, I see teacher compensation as actually being at the center of it and the programs are there because we have those teachers,” Ms. Pickett said.
She said we should also think about it in terms of loss. She said, “If we don’t compensate our teachers fairly and equitably compared to surrounding districts – we are losing them. I think that message – maybe it’s not coming through to the community. It’s hard to see that people aren’t applying (to jobs in the district).”
Bob Poppenga repeated that California is at the bottom of the nation in per pupil funding of education. “I don’t see that changing any time soon,” he said.
“Over the years, we have asked our schools to do more with less,” he said. “I don’t think our teachers are compensated to the degree that it is warranted.”
He pointed out that new teachers are coming out with college debt, and they can’t afford to live in Davis.
“The state’s not going to save us,” he said. “There’s not going to be an increased stream of revenue for public education any time soon.”
Alan Fernandes pointed out that he will not be willing to support another program which ties us to long term cost until the district passes something to address its revenue problems.
He added that more state funding is not going to close the compensation gap – we must do that locally. He sees two ways to do address it – one is with a new source of local revenue and the other is by fundamentally changing the nature of the education we provide.
The board decided not to pass something on Thursday and instead will take it back to a subcommittee of Alan Fernandes and Joe DiNunzio, who will meet publicly to discuss the needs and find a way forward.
—David M. Greenwald reporting