For much of the past year, at least, I have operated on a simple thesis – Davis is going to run into a quality of life wall, if you will. My basic point is this – while this community remains a nice place to live and we continue to have good schools today, if we do not act proactively both on the city and school front that will not be the case as we approach 2030.
The reason for the problem is basically the same – we lack the ability to generate additional revenue to fund our city programs and fund our school programs.
As much as I appreciate the proactive approach of the school board and in particular Alan Fernandes and Joe DiNunzio who sit on the parcel tax subcommittee – I really disagree with them on the notion that they can somehow permanently solve this problem. I view the parcel tax as a stopgap measure – not a solution.
But it is one we have to do. Secondly, I appreciate the systematic approach that Joe DiNunzio has brought to this process.
One of my favorite teachers in school growing up had a simple technique that worked well. He would get to a math problem and tell the students, I don’t know how to solve this – can you help me? He once told us that he adapted it from a day when he was thrust into an algebra class and, in fact, he really didn’t know how to do the problem and really did need the students to help solve it.
Joe DiNunzio has taken a similar approach – he has stated that he doesn’t really know the budget as well as his colleagues, and so he has asked a series of questions that he needs to know in order to get up to speed. The reality is, the questions he is asking have been the questions I always hear from community members when they don’t understand why Davis schools could have as much as a 10 percent salary gap.
The truth is Joe DiNunzio is asking key questions that the community needs to better understand in order to get behind a parcel tax.
As he pointed out last week at the subcommittee meeting, he wants to put out options even though they may well decide to reject them and go forward with a revenue measure.
He further wants to understand what revenue categories are out of sync with other benchmark districts and understand why that is the case. Once again he would like to explore possibilities for restructuring the revenue.
On teacher salary he wants to understand what the delta looks like, between Davis and other regional districts. How much additional spending is it going to take to take it to the regional average? Above average?
Finally, he said he would like to explore several potential ways to get us there. The first would be an increase in class size. The second would be a cut in teachers and program. Finally they could look at ways to save, and then at revenue enhancements.
Once again, he argued he does not foresee supporting cuts to programs or class sizes but he wants to understand – and by extension – the community to understand the economic programmatic tradeoffs.
Listening to a public comment from a community member on Tuesday was a good reminder of additional issues that should be addressed.
The citizen agreed that in order to support the continued quality of education in Davis, we must be able to recruit and retain good teachers and that a 10 percent compensation gap for Davis teachers is unacceptable.
But he raised a few points that have not been raised.
First, that the superintendent’s salary is 10 percent higher than in other districts, while the teacher pay is 10 percent lower.
Second, that we need to know where all of the money is going and what he recommends is a citizen’s advisory body to look at the 2019-20 budget to find out.
Third, he suggests a line-by-line review of the budget.
Fourth, he believes before we can put a parcel tax on the ballot, we should complete this review.
The superintendent issue, which we can extend to the upper administrative staff, is a big problem here. When this salary increase was announced last year there were a lot of complaints in the community that I heard. What I heard from the board at that time were two points. First, we have a revolving door at superintendent level and the value that a good superintendent provides helps to set the stage for a more effective district.
Second, and just as important, this is symbolic money. Even though the upper administration is paid a lot – their salaries and salary increases are not making the difference in terms of salaries for teachers.
While these points are correct, they are also tone-deaf to the importance of optics. When people see the raw salary numbers and salary increases it creates a perspective. Budgets are a demonstration of values and setting low teacher salaries and high administrative salaries sends the message that teachers are under-valued and administrators are over-valued.
Bottom line: deal with the optics head on. This is an important issue for gaining public support for a harder than usual to swallow tax increase.
There is a widespread belief that government is inefficient and if we look thoroughly we can find cost-savings. The reality is that I don’t think that’s really true. But the public believes that.
That’s why I think what Joe DiNunzio has laid out is helpful – why is Davis so far behind on what we are paying teachers when we are effectively at 97 percent spending compared to other districts?
I think the questions he lays out are important.
Should we do a line by line? Why not? Be transparent. If you don’t think there are cost savings, why not prove it to the skeptical public?
Also show the public – as Mr. DiNunzio suggested – what the trade off is. What do we have to give up to fund the gap closure? He doesn’t believe it will be palatable for the public – I tend to agree. All the more reason to do the work.
Finally, there is the idea of a citizens commission. Again I say – why not? I understand it will take some time. I also think that the idea sounds better than it is – but again, hide nothing.
The biggest thing that the district and board can do over the next 12 to 18 months is (A) go hyper-transparent – put everything out there; (B) do real outreach and not just to PTA and parent groups, but actually get into the community by going to service clubs, religious organizations, and other political groups; and (C) ask tough questions, answer all questions and think outside of your silo.
By doing this legwork in advance you can answer these questions by reasonable people who really do value a good education in this community.
At the end of the day the findings should only reinforce our existing belief – we have great schools but in the next decade without a lot of help, the quality of local education will decline. Moreover, the state is not going to save us – so we have to.
—David M. Greenwald reporting