On Thursday, the Davis Joint Unified School Board had an informational item ahead of a potential June vote to place a parcel tax on a 2020 ballot. Associate Superintendent Matt Best calculated that the compensation gap was between $2.8 and $3.2 million – whereby the district needed to either cut costs and/or raise revenues in order to close the teacher compensation gap.
On the cost side, options include: reduce or eliminate school programs, increase class size, close a school and reduce non-employee budgets.
On the revenue side, options are fairly limited: seek a parcel tax, increase enrollment, increase ADA and seek changes to state funding.
While the district could reduce major programs – Matt Best pointed out that while programs like libraries, sit support services, 7th period, and counseling could provide the type of cost savings the district is looking for – each of those are funded by the parcel tax, which would require the district to go back to the voters and remove those programs from the parcel tax and replace them with teacher compensation.
The district could save some money by increasing class size. For example, raising class size by one student could save 10 FTE (full time equivalent positions) and up to $700 – although some of that is also funded through a parcel tax.
Closing a school could also save money. Closing an elementary school saves a little over half-million, while going to two junior highs would save $700,000.
Mr. Best pointed out that the district was not recommending any of these things for reduction – the exercise was meant to be illustrative.
He told the board, “Cost reductions will impact the quality and amount of educational programs and services.” He added, “If you want to maintain the quality while raising revenue, it needs to be revenue based.”
He pointed out that “cost reductions will limit budget flexibility in the face of an economic downturn or unexpected changes.”
The options to raise local revenue are fairly limited. Currently the district uses a local parcel tax. As we know, such a tax will require a two-thirds vote. The district is polling the community, but is well aware this will be a heavy lift this time.
Other options include the increase of the attendance rate (ADA). He notes that for each 1 percent increase in ADA, they can raise another $700,000. DJUSD is currently at 96% attendance, which is roughly the state average.
However, he noted, “We have put significant effort into growing ADA with limited results to date.” The problem is that kids get sick and there is not much they can do about short-term absences.
More fruitful might be growing the enrollment. He notes that each out-of-district student added to the district contributes about $9000 to DJUSD revenue. He argued, “An additional 120 students would not change the basic structure of the school district, with a net revenue increase of approximately $1.0 Million.”
When asked by Cindy Pickett, what’s our ability to get 120 more students in the district, Matt Best said that he believes this would be a realistic number that they could get to.
“I think 120 is probably reasonable,” he said.
They could also advocate for “Full and Fair Funding” for DJUSD and all districts which could generate $15 million, they could seek mandated cost reimbursement which could add half to a full million, or changes to ADA which could result in an additional $700,000.
He tended to downplay these efforts as a way to close the compensation gap, as they would occur across districts. He noted, “Changes in state funding are outside of local control and subject to many other budget demands for limited funds.”
To go the parcel tax route, however, while probably the most realistic and sure way of raising revenue, is not without its drawback. Again, it would require two-thirds vote.
Matt Best explained, “It is unusual across the state to do a parcel tax for compensation increases.” But, as we have learned with this process, the level of parcel tax support at DJUSD is unusual regardless.
Another factor in this is the state of the teaching profession. As Mr. Best noted, “There are not enough teachers to meet demand across the state, and we anticipate significant retirements in DJUSD over the next 3-7 years.”
He told the board, “This is the worst educational shortage that our state has ever seen.”
While DJUSD has been filling its ranks with professionals in mid-career, this will likely lead to “less experienced” teachers who are “low on our salary schedules,” and the problem then will be that those are the people most impacted by the compensation gap at DJUSD. The lowest levels of pay are where DJUSD is furthest behind.
Joe DiNunzio reiterated, “We’re not suggesting any of these things – we want to have a comprehensive look at what our options are.” He stated, “This was done in the interest of putting everything out on the table.”
Tom Adams noted that the long term cost of cuts is measurable in terms of student achievement.
Matt Best explained that they have some data that shows just how much student achievement was impacted by the cuts needed during the Great Recession, for example.
Tom Adams stated, “Good teachers – once you have them you want to hold onto them – it’s not like replacing a widget.”
Alan Fernandes noted, “The take away for me continues to be that while we may not necessarily feel the acuteness of the problem now – the number one priority continues to be the compensation gap.”
He said, “This issue is going to get more dire for our district.”
He asked Matt Best about cutting 7th period – even if they could work it with parcel tax funding.
Matt Best explained that, right now, the state funds six period days. For the most part there are about five required courses, which means in a six-period day, the typical student would get one elective. For example, right now they could do both language and art, but in a six-period day they would only have one option.
But it’s worse that than. Because of diminished demands, the district would likely cut way back on offerings like language, art, music, etc.
“The 7th period day allows for a breadth of programming that most schools don’t have,” Matt Best explained, noting that a key difference between Davis and Rocklin was that Davis had about 1/7th more offerings of electives because of the 7th period.
Alan Fernandes explained, “That means we’re cutting music and our foreign language offerings and we’re cutting art.”
Alan Fernandes: “In order to get to a place where we’re closing the compensation gap in a meaningful long term way, to do it based on this list, is to fundamentally change what our district is which is to say that we’ll now become what other districts are and look like in order to pay them.”
While no one stated it explicitly, the implication from the trustees was that the cuts list was a non-starter and that they would be looking at the parcel tax. That discussion should come up perhaps within the next month.
—David M. Greenwald reporting