Board Approves Polling, Moves Forward in Parcel Tax Consideration Process

Joe DiNunzio makes a point as Bob Poppenga (left) and Tom Adams (right) listen

On Thursday night, the Davis School Board approved the next step in their consideration process – polling to determine levels of public support for a potential parcel tax that would fund teacher compensation increases.

The board received a long staff presentation by Associate Superintendent Matt Best that laid out some comparative metrics about where this school district is in terms of personnel and compensation compared to other districts.

Among the more important findings in their analysis was the heavy skew toward the more experienced and more expensive end of the salary scale by teachers.  This suggests that, even though there is a large compensation gap at early levels of the step and column system, most of Davis’ teachers are not entry-level teachers.

One graphic in Matt Best’s presentation shows, “The vast majority of FTE’s in DJUSD have at least a BA+60 credit hours of experience,” and “The majority of FTE’s hold a BA+90/MA+30.”

More importantly, “The vast majority of FTE’s in DJUSD have 25+ years of experience.”  DJUSD, he explained, “is not hiring many less-experienced staff.”

The district is therefore bringing in more veteran teachers.  As he explained, “We don’t get beginning teachers because our pay for beginning teachers is second lowest in the region.”

This also explains why the Davis Teachers Association (DTA) pushed so hard last year for equity across the pay scale for compensation increases – even though it was quite obvious that beginning teachers were severely disadvantaged compared to other districts, while more senior teachers were only modestly disadvantaged.

Furthermore, despite stories that the district was hearing last year, probably from mainly younger teachers, teacher retention is not as big an issue at DJUD.

Matt Best pointed out that for the education profession, which is broader than just teachers, the national attrition percentage is 15 percent.

“In 17-18, our attrition when you factor out retirements or folks that we asked not to return, that attrition for teachers is about five percent,” he said.  “We believe that percentage is relatively small.”

He also said, “Generally we’re replacing that five percent with more veteran teachers than our comparative counterparts.”

This is not necessarily a good thing.  Matt Best argued the need for a balance, with more veteran teachers perhaps lacking new and innovative approaches to teaching.

“Having a distribution, I think, is the healthiest.”  He added, “We’re not getting them right out of college, our lowest salaries don’t compete.”

One of the key questions is what if the school board does not go with a parcel tax – what are the alternatives?  One of the points raised over and over again by Matt Best was that “people are the programs.”

Most of the district’s expenditures goes to teachers and personnel, and so the only way to cut back on costs are to hire fewer teachers, hire less experienced teachers, and hire teachers with less in the way of education.

Alan Fernandes asked Matt Best to explain “what are the levers” that would allow us to spend less money.

“You can move money around,” Matt Best said.  “In other words, don’t spend money on one thing, spend it on something else.

“Eighty-four percent of the stuff we spend money on is people,” he said.  “People are the programs.  Reduce people… you’re going to have fewer programs.  That’s just the way it works.

“The other way you do it is you spend less on this stuff,” he said.  “We’re already spending less than our comparative set.  You need to spend less on people and programs in order to spend more on expenditures.”

To bear this out, Matt Best looked at average salary per ADA.  Davis has a high average salary for its teachers – paying $72,258 in 2017-18, and only Rocklin paid more.  When they factored average salary per ADA, they found that Davis was paying $4167 basically per ADA (which is average daily attendance, or another way to measure per pupil spending on teachers).

Davis paid more than everyone per ADA except Woodland among the comparative schools that included Dixon, Natomas, Rocklin, Vacaville, Washington (West Sac) and Woodland.  Davis also had the second highest FTE per 100 ADA – meaning a high percentage of Davis’ spending was on teachers.  Again, Woodland was first here.

The problem for Davis, of course, is the pay gap.  Davis has the second greatest average pay gap between low and high experience FTE’s – in other words, the gap between the new teachers and experienced teachers is driving much of the perception about the compensation gap.

Along these lines, Davis has the second lowest bottom teacher salary.  However, curiously enough, it also has the second lowest top teacher salary.

In the meantime, the board seemed supportive of the notion of polling.

Alan Fernandez said, “The importance of the poll in many ways is…  I view it as one mechanism for getting input about our public schools that’s broader than what we’re traditionally hearing from.  For that reason I am supportive of polling.”

“I see polling as a tool for information gathering and a tool for community engagement,” Cindy Pickett explained.  “It’s a way for us to know.”

She added, “We hear anecdotes but that’s not comprehensive.  If we’re going to do our due diligence and make an informed decision, we have to do as much outreach as we can.  I don’t see it as ‘hey we have a solution, buy into a solution.’  It’s more, ‘hey, we need to know where you stand on this before we can proceed on the next steps.’”

Bob Poppenga said, “I also support polls, it informs our decisions.”  He noted that he thinks “they actually help them save money in the long run.”

The board voted unanimously to move forward with the consulting contract for polling.  There will be an evening outreach session next Wednesday starting at 6 pm to get more community feedback.

—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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    1. Hiram Jackson

      “I suspect we are spending a lot more on para-educators than comparable districts.”

      If you followed Thursday’s meeting, that conclusion was addressed.  The reason is that the Davis district has a stronger philosophy of ‘inclusion’ or ‘mainstreaming’ special ed students in the regular classroom than many other districts.  This requires extra para-educator support to pull off.  The district won an award for its program recently.  There is a lot of support for this approach in the Davis community.

      1. Jim Hoch

        That approach is certainly in the best interest of my children. Many other districts use differentiated teaching where each class has multiple cohorts progressing at different rates. DJU uses a single cohort strategy where even one or two students in a class can significantly slow the group. They have been talking about differentiated teaching for years but I have not seen any evidence of it.

        My neighbor recently moved to UNC Chapel Hill only to discover his daughter, despite being in CC 2/3 math here has way behind the 7th grade there.

        It’s a moot point. My kids are leaving DJU next month.

  1. Ron Glick

    One solution to bring up pay at the bottom of the scale is give everyone the same dollar amount instead of the same percentage. Also you can do a hybrid where everyone gets a flat rate plus a percentage as long as the percentage is small enough and the flat rate is large enough.

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