Board Discusses Alternatives to Parcel Tax

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

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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. Ron Oertel

    There is of course, another alternative (which I’m only pointing out, and not necessarily advocating):

    Don’t try to close the compensation gap. Teachers that are interested in higher pay may have already left for other districts.

    As is often overlooked on here, Davis isn’t the only district with funding challenges. I wonder what happened in Sacramento, regarding the potential state takeover of the school system.

    1. Ron Oertel

      So, I take it that teachers aren’t leaving for positions in Sacramento, at least. Quotes from article, below:

      “Second, there will be exodus of students. Parents who can afford to will remove their kids from the district and enroll them in charter schools.”

      “Since enrollment is tied to revenue, it will drop even further and even more cuts will have to be made.”

    2. Craig Ross

      ‘Don’t try to close the compensation gap. Teachers that are interested in higher pay may have already left for other districts.“

      Sure if you want a worse educational system.

        1. Alan Miller

          What actual evidence is there that the system will become worse?

          All my life we’ve been voting more money for schools, and look at how perfect they are now — and the lottery was the cherry on top — when that went in we got world class schools and California went to #1 — remember the motto:  “our schools win too!”.  More taxes, more money, better schools!  Rah Rah Cis Boom Bah.

          1. David Greenwald

            And yet despite doing this all your life, schools get less in real dollars than they did when you were in school.

        2. Hiram Jackson

          “What actual evidence is there that the system will become worse?”

          If money is not a factor in the quality of education, then do you think we would have a desirable or even just okay education system if we were to decide that all teachers and staff volunteer their time?

        3. Ron Oertel

          Hiram:  No.  I think they need to get paid. I never suggested otherwise.

          The question (according to the article) is whether or not providing a raise will ensure that the system is maintained.  I theorized that the teachers who are interested in higher pay might have already moved on. I also suspect that providing a raise won’t make much difference one way or another, regarding maintaining the current system.

          Again, I think the hypothesis in the article is the wrong one in the first place.  I also don’t think it’s a winning political argument. It borders on fear-mongering, not unlike some of the other articles/topics on the Vanguard.

          A better (and more honest) argument might be that teachers deserve/need a raise. I’m not putting forth an opinion, regarding that.

        4. Ron Oertel

          To support what’s written in the article, there’d probably have to be unfilled vacancies (or vacancies filled with “unqualified” teachers).

          Again, it’s a “declining industry” (regarding need), in Davis. There are towns in the region where it’s still a “growth industry”, at this point at least. (Probably Roseville, Elk Grove, the Natomas area, etc.)

      1. Ron Oertel

        Those without a “stake” in the system might be viewed as those who don’t have to pay parcel taxes. In any case, I’m not sure if you’re arguing against the fact that the actual need is shrinking.

        I suspect that a more effective and honest argument is that teachers might “deserve” a raise, rather than putting forth arguments which don’t wash.

        Again, I’m not necessarily arguing against it.

        1. Craig Ross

          Those with kids don’t pay a parcel tax?  I’m not sure that’s empirically grounded.  But this is about you not wanting to pay a tax at the end of the day and as Bill said before his post disappeared, your vision for population growth control.

        2. Ron Oertel

          I really wish you wouldn’t tell me what I think – especially when it’s nowhere near what I stated.

          I suspect that most who read this blog know who pays parcel taxes, and how they’re disproportionately applied to single-family dwellings in Davis. It’s been discussed multiple times, by multiple commenters.

    1. Hiram Jackson

      ‘One other thing to note is that education of minors in Davis is a “shrinking industry”’

      Maybe.  But also of note in today’s Enterprise:

      Davis population up 1 percent

      The population of Davis continues to tick up annually — at a faster rate than Woodland and West Sacramento — according to the latest population estimates for cities and counties by the California Department of Finance, which released the new statistics on May 1.


      1. Ron Oertel

        I just posted a link to that article, in reference to another topic on the Vanguard.  However, this doesn’t mean that the number of school-age children is increasing.

        In fact, the number of school-age children in Davis is expected to continue to decline, as noted in the link to the article that I posted, above (and below):


  2. Ron Oertel

    Although teachers may indeed deserve a raise, perhaps the priority should be focused on addressing the city’s unfunded needs, first.  There is likely only a limited number/amount of parcel taxes that taxpayers will approve.

    I agree with David’s earlier comments, that the school district likely missed an opportunity to include some amount for raises when renewing the existing parcel tax.

  3. Ron Glick

    “Although teachers may indeed deserve a raise, perhaps the priority should be focused on addressing the city’s unfunded needs, first.”

    Different people have different priorities.

    1. Ron Oertel

      That is true.  But only one of the issues impacts the entire city.

      Then again, much like school district funding shortfalls are an issue throughout the state, so are city funding issues.

      Seems like public entities consistently end up being under-funded (or overly-costly, depending upon one’s view).

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