Monday Morning Thoughts: What Should the District Do?

The school board has a tough call to make.  The polling that came back is right in the gray area, as we have noted in previous commentaries.  On the one hand, right now, 65 percent of likely voters indicate support for the parcel tax – and 65 percent is an optimistic number as it includes leaners.  Traditionally the polling has proven accurate in 2016, when they pulled support for the parcel tax at 74 percent and it ended up being 72 percent, right in the margin of error.

The pollsters called the numbers “feasible though challenging.”  The district voters show 79 percent support for maintaining the quality of schools, but not only is a two-thirds bar challenging, there is dropping trust in the district management of tax dollars – and overall the belief that taxes are already high enough is fairly low at 37 percent, but that is not only incrementally growing over time but is also exceeding the threshold of being able to defeat a tax measure.

Tom Adams was largely correct when he talked about the need of “linking the good job that our teachers are doing, and keeping the quality of our schools,” which he believed could provide “a nexus of support” for a ballot measure.

As the pollster remarked, among “the messages that we tested, the most compelling reason to support a parcel tax measure is that great teachers are a centerpiece of student achievement,” and “retaining good teachers” is important so “they don’t go to another district.”

My read of these numbers is that winning is feasible and there isn’t a great alternative to the parcel tax, but it is going to take an actual campaign that aims to firm up people on the fence and tie community quality of life to school outcomes.

While I agree with Tom Adams that tying district outcomes to teachers is critical, there is another factor here.  If we look at areas where the district is performing poorly with the voters, it has to do with trust and management of district monies.  The trust in management of district money is at a low 56 percent, while the overall rating for management of district monies is 31 percent positive and 35 percent negative.

I question a bit as to how real that actually is, rather than perception.  But to the extent that it is real, it might be related to fact that the district recently gave raises to the administrators and that administrator compensation is near the top – “DJUSD spends the second highest amount, 13% more than the Comparative Set average on Administrative Salaries.”

Along the same lines, the perceived need for funding for the district among voters has fluctuated over time, from a high of 67 percent in April 2018 to a low of 55 percent in February 2018.  Currently it is at 61 percent.

In my view, the alternatives are not good.  Yes, we can reduce spending.  But that is going to impact quality of education.  The numbers suggest by cutting things like the 7th period, libraries, paraeducators and counselors, we can cut $2.8 to $3.2 million needed to increase compensation.

It would take voters’ approval.   It would not be an ideal first step.

One of our readers suggested: (1) eliminating the senior exemption at the current rate; (2) ending interdistrict transfers, (3) close a Junior High and Elementary School, (4) reduce the paraeducator program, and (5) reduce or eliminate King High.

In my view, there are problems with that approach.  We could eliminate exemptions but that would take a new vote.  The problem is that if that succeeds (which it might) it might generate around $1 million, but it would make passing the next parcel tax increase much harder.  Imagine the 65 percent proposal with five percent less of support.  We would likely be losing at a losing proposition rather than one on the bubble.

Ending interdistrict transfers is going to cost money not save it.  Closing a junior high and elementary school would on paper save about $1.3 million, but given what we saw from 2006-2008 with regard to school closures, it might be pennywise and pound foolish.  The paraeducator program is a good program, but is definitely one that would go if we had to cut.  Reducing or eliminating King High doesn’t seem like a lot of bang for the buck and could end up costing more in the long run.

So what should the district do?  Get out to the voters.  My recommendation, since we are probably looking at November 2020, is to have Matt Best and Bruce Colby along with Alan Fernandes and Joe DiNunzio go make presentations to every PTA, to every service organization (Rotary and Odd Fellows among others), to the Chamber, to clubs and religious institutions and just lay out the facts – what the numbers are, what the options are, what the stakes are.

The campaign is going to be a little different.  You can’t just target supporters.  You have to target the people who are leaning yes, those in the middle, and those leaning no.

As I argued last fall, this is an issue of quality of life.  People come to Davis for the schools, stay in Davis for the schools and many believe property values are linked with the schools.  We have good schools, but we are on the bubble of keeping them that way, and if this community wishes to maintain our schools, we have to support them with additional local money.

That’s the case to make and the future of our schools depends on our ability to make that case.

—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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30 Comments

  1. Jim Hoch

    There are several fundamental errors in your analysis. The most important is that you are using data provided by DJU administration. Given that the data originators have a vested interest in a certain decision it is not unreasonable to be skeptical of the data as presented. It may be that this is the only data available however that does not mean that it should be accepted without question and perhaps the first step to a solution is to get data with a higher confidence level.

    You completely reject the “revenue per student” metric. Most successful districts focus on “revenue per student” and scope the district from there.

    Much of the compensation gap is generated by DJU policy of favoring senior teachers at the expense of of more junior teachers. As senior teachers have disproportionate influence in the union this outcome was likely a joint venture between administration and the union. There is no evidence I am aware of that teachers with 20-30 years of experience have better outcomes than teachers with 5-10 years experience.

    “Ending interdistrict transfers is going to cost money not save it.” This is completely unjustified unless you have some data not presented that shows the cost of educating transfers is lower than the cost of local students.

     

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Hiram Jackson

      Jim Hoch: “There is no evidence I am aware of that teachers with 20-30 years of experience have better outcomes than teachers with 5-10 years experience.”

      How do you define “better outcomes”?

    2. Bill Marshall

      Much of the compensation gap is generated by DJU policy of favoring senior teachers at the expense of of more junior teachers. As senior teachers have disproportionate influence in the union this outcome was likely a joint venture between administration and the union. There is no evidence I am aware of that teachers with 20-30 years of experience have better outcomes than teachers with 5-10 years experience.

      Damn it Jim, we’re in total agreement as to what I quoted from your post… there are a couple of fallacies in how DJUSD (and many other school districts)…

      First, is the years of employment… huge difference between 10 years of experience/learning and one year of experience 10 times.

      Performance of teachers, based on “outcome”… we’ll never know… neither the teachers’ union nor senior administration would ever permit that… would require performance evaluations based on a variable other than ‘years served’ and ‘keeping your nose clean’… I get where a really good teacher may have students with no-so-good ‘outcomes’ (grades/standardized test/life skills)… but, there are some teachers that really good students, with a lot of support from parents actually impede ‘student outcomes’…

      Yet we (DJUSD) have a salary schedule that has

      https://www.djusd.net/UserFiles/Servers/Server_117089/File/Departments/Personnel_Services/Forms/DTA%20Salary%20Schedule%20BOE%20Approved%204.5.18.pdf

      Many steps (much more than City of Davis, for like classifications), and notably, a disproportionate increase per year based on advanced degrees… nothing about performance/student outcomes.

      Don’t kid yourselves, folk… we have some great teachers @ DJUSD… we have some who are marginal, at best (being charitable)… we (our family, 3 kids) have encountered both ends of ‘the bell curve’.  Yet the district will “float all boats” from what I’ve seen of the proposal(s) to date… encouraging the weakest links to remain, at the ‘expense’ of not adequately valuing the strongest.

      Pay for performance?  Not a happening thing… it will all be for years served, and parity/exceeding other districts…

      Thanks to the union, and senior administrators, who have already “gotten theirs”…

      1. Bill Marshall

        Oh… I’d be inclined to vote yes, if the proposal froze senior admin folk, if the increases were proportionate to performance, and if  the initial compensation increases were geared towards medical/dental benefits.

        Salary increases affect retirement obligations (costs)… covering more as to med/dental (by individual) would more greatly improve the lot of the newer/younger teachers… disparate, but a disparity I’d back, big time… I believe focusing on the total compensation, other than salary, would help the retention/recruitment efforts much more than salary…

        I made my choices for employment looking at the benefits… med/dental, retirement, PERB… feel I made damn good choices… was always open to ‘pay for performance’… think I’d be better off if the City had that… but, in truth, in the main, the PFP thing was generally actualized by ‘promotions’… with additional responsibilities/obligations associated with that… but, while forming/raising a family, the benefits, other than salary, were key.

      2. Jim Hoch

        “Thanks to the union, and senior administrators, who have already “gotten theirs”…” 

        Note the common theme of Central Administrators and Senior Teachers grabbing all the money. Yet the only answer, accoring to some, is to raise taxes. Maybe I am overly cynical by believeing that the people grabbed all the cash before will also grab all the new cash as well.

         

        1. Alan Miller

          Maybe I am overly cynical by believing that the people [who] grabbed all the cash before will also grab all the new cash as well.

          You are wise of the ways of Government, Master Po.

          Thank you,

          Grasshopper

  2. Alan Miller

    People come to Davis for the schools, stay in Davis for the schools and many believe property values are linked with the schools.

    I’m not sure the problem here.  If our schools fail, people will leave Davis, thus increasing the vacancy rate and decreasing rents and opening up space for college students.  Isn’t that one of the Vanguard’s goals?  I’m voting no on the tax increase!  More housing for college students!!!

  3. Ron Glick

    “I question a bit as to how real that actually is, rather than perception.”

    David Greenwald

    “The percept takes priority of the concept.”

    Marshall McCluhan

    1. Jim Hoch

      Somewhat odd that immediately after citing a recent example of fiscal irresponsibility he then says “I question a bit as to how real that actually is”

  4. Cecilia EscamillaGreenwald

    You stated, “The numbers suggest by cutting things like the 7th period, libraries, paraeducators and counselors, we can cut $2.8 to $3.2 million needed to increase compensation.

    It would take voters’ approval.   It would not be an ideal first step.

    One of our readers suggested: (1) eliminating the senior exemption at the current rate; (2) ending interdistrict transfers, (3) close a Junior High and Elementary School, (4) reduce the paraeducator program, and (5) reduce or eliminate King High.”

    7th period is important for students. And, things that make out schools so great are counselor, libraries, PARA EDUCATORS (teachers depend on them), and YES, we need King High School. Do not cite these programs. The kids need them. If it means getting out there and meeting with the public then I hope the board and ADMINISTRATORS get out there and meet with voters. Heck, sign me up to help table or reach out to bi-lingual parents. There is too much at stake. Having spoken with teachers, parents and students about how these things positively impact them and the kids leads me to say these are the wrong things to cut. Let’s work together to help this pass.

  5. Cecilia EscamillaGreenwald

    Kids and teachers need these program for kids to succeed. Please don’t cut para-educators, King High, libraries or counselors.  The ramifications of cutting these programs will far outweigh any potential benefit.

    I am more than happy to help “campaign” and get the word out and I hoe the board members and administrators do the same thing.

    I know their plates are already full, but I sincerely believe that we can rally around this and save our schools and resources

    In the end it’s the children that will suffer the most if this does not pass.  Let’s work together to meet with voters and hear them out. I’m sure they have great ideas too. I am willing to work with other parents and community members.  There is too much at stake.

    I have always voted for the or else tax even when we did not have kids, because I understood the value.

    Let’s be there for our children and be there for Davis Schools!  I know this is challenging, but we must protect our schools and the quality of life (and education) for our kids.

     

  6. Bill Marshall

    This poll just in… from a household that has three DJUSD voters, not reflected in the official poll…

    All have read the discussion… here, and elsewhere…

    That will be three “noes”, unless seriously convinced to the contrary… administrative and marginal teachers’ “boats floating” is a serious issue… focus on salary vs. other comp (med, etc.) is a serious issue in this household… the tone of ‘it is for the kids’ vs, recognizing it is for the teachers, which may or may not relate directly to ‘the kids’ is an issue…

    David is correct… a ‘heavy lift’ as to convincing folk that the money will be well spent, is needed…

    It’s not about the money, it is about the principles of the thing…

    1. Ron Glick

      Bill, I agree with you about who the beneficiaries will be, it will be the teachers. Having been a teacher myself for over two decades I learned that you had to occasionally suffer the “its for the kids” arguments. You can expect many more of these arguments if this goes to the ballot.

      An  honest campaign would focus on a “its for the teachers” argument. I’m happy to make that argument.

      Public school teachers, even the best paid ones, don’t make a lot of money. Certainly the amount of time they have off in summer can be discounted but the bottom line is they don’t make a lot of money. Additionally, the beginning teachers make even less, and if they are carrying student debt its truly hard to make it as a teacher especially in a relatively underpaid district like DJUSD.

      I remember a third grade teacher who the kids loved but who left after her first year in DJUSD. I remember one of the brightest kids in her class in tears on the last day because this wonderful teacher was leaving. Why would she go? The money, of course. The teacher, with glowing reviews, left for a nearby district closer to her home, where it was more affordable to live and the total compensation was better. Who could blame this teacher? Who replaced her? It would be hard to find somebody else as good to take her place.

      Another ex-DJUSD teacher I know, one who ran an amazing shop class where the kids built bikes from scratch, went to Elk Grove schools. Why? The money and benefits of course. Even though he added a grinding commute the benefits of changing districts outweighed the costs.

      Both of these amazing people left for greener ( as in greenback dollar) pastures. They did so many years apart. A point I raise to demonstrate that DJUSD has been losing great people to the competition over a long period of time. If you want to stop this type of attrition we are going to need to pony up. Arguing that until the pay scale eliminates its performance pay imperfections is a “flogging will continue until morale improves” kind of argument. Meanwhile the exodus of talent will continue much to the detriment of you know who.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Ron G… thank you for your forthright honesty… THAT is precisely a part of what is needed to get this household’s vote, particularly mine.

        Admitting that attracting the best and most effective also means rewarding the so-so/marginal would be good.

        DJUSD/DTA committing to encouraging the weak links to ‘depart the premises’ to make room for the strong links would be good.  Then, following thru on that commitment…

        I agree that new teachers are underpaid, as are beginning neo-natal dietitians who have a BA/BS, have to do a year-long ‘subsistence’ internship, and earn their credential via a rigorous test, to boot.  They make less than a beginning teacher @ DJUSD, when they start out.  If  a teacher messes up, doesn’t know what they’re doing, a student suffers…has to be fixed later… if a NND messes up, a child could die.

        The one in our family also had a student loan… paid off in 4 years, admittedly with our help.

        She later earned her Masters, has earned additional credentials, and after 10 years, earns about as much as a 10-year, top range, DJUSD teacher.  She gets slightly better benefits, but has nothing like STRS… a 403 matching… and SS.

        I believe, short of pay-for performance approach, the district should raise the entry level ranges, and freeze the higher ones.  But, for all, increase the non-salary compensation.

        My two cents. To sum up, honesty will be the key…

        1. Ron Glick

          As far as I know DJUSD employees don’t get a matching 403B. I never worked in this district but I know of no such matching programs. If you are a teacher and contribute to a deferred comp plan you do it on your own. As for STRS and Social Security, since STRS is older than SSI teachers were exempted from SSI during the New Deal. One of the great  misconceptions for those who think STRS should go is that they don’t explain how to unwind this 85 year old exemption.

          I also believe the teachers at the lower end should get the biggest bump but I disagree about shutting out the teachers at the top. The way to do this is to give everyone the same amount instead of basing the raise on a percentage of current salary. Since the percentage increase for lowest paid will be greatest this is a way to level the playing field.

        2. Ron Glick

          One caveat, back in the day, teachers who didn’t use their full medical benefits got a contribution to a deferred comp program but I believe that was fazed out during the Great Recession.

        3. Bill Marshall

          Ron G…

          DJUSD teachers don’t get 403’s, but they get STRS … 403’s have lower contributions from “employer”… more risk as to ‘investment results’ than STRS… 403 is defined contribution… STRS is defined benefit… which would you pick (rhetorical, have no need to know)?

          The way to do this is to give everyone the same amount instead of basing the raise on a percentage of current salary.

          Well, contributing across the board to non-salary, works for me… has not been proposed however… as it stands, sure looks like the bolded thing.  Am leery of that.

          Since the percentage increase for lowest paid will be greatest this is a way to level the playing field.

          Yep!  And what is most needed for the lowest compensated… “paid” is generally thought of as ‘salary’… nuance… I think we should be discussing “compensation gap”, rather than “pay gap”… compensation I can easily get my hands around… and those at the lower tiers definitely need their compensation increased… and, currently, med/dental contributions by the employer is not Fed/State taxed… salary is… something about ‘biggest bang for the buck’…

          If the priorities for using the funds generated by a new parcel tax were (in order), fully funding med/dental for teachers/staff, and their families… next, inflation protection for all, as to salary (and med/dental)… next, bringing up the salaries for entry-level teachers… all, going to at least parity with the ‘market’, I’m there… and then some…

          But that type of proposal is not currently on the table… so, am strongly leaning “no”… just being honest, as you have been…

          But to be honest, DTA would never accept those priorities, IMNSH opinion…

      2. Mark West

        Ron G.: “I remember a third grade teacher who…”

        Ron is absolutely right that we are losing good young teachers due to our approach to compensation. Unfortunately, we are also retaining bad older teachers such as the one who has ‘taught’ Math to more than one of my children. By ‘taught,’ what I really meant to say was that he sat in his classroom and entertained his students without ever addressing the curriculum. But it is ok, because the kids love him and besides…he is close to retirement…

        I will not vote to give more money to the District until the District demonstrates a willingness to address its accumulated ‘deadwood.’

        1. Bill Marshall

          We had the same @ DHS… a teacher who “lost” the student’s ‘homework’… downgraded her… (in tears for a long while, as she was an ‘above average’ student, and has since earned a Masters)… other parents and their kids had same experience and spoke out as we did… teacher was ‘allowed to go elsewhere’… should have been dismissed, with prejudice (not hirable as a teacher anywhere!)… ~ 2000… DTA and State law prevent teachers like that to have their records exposed… kinda’ like “bad cops”, but suspect, in reality, teachers are more protected, short of shootings or sexual abuse…

          But as it stands, those marginal/bad teachers would have their “boats floated”, while the good ones, the inspiring ones (and we experienced those!) get the same deal…

          We’ll have to see the specifics of the proposal, but we’re starting out on the “no” side… not for financial reasons…

          Unions bad… professionalism good…

          Good to see discussion about valuing teachers, but acknowledging that there is deadwood/driftwood, toxic teachers… and DTA protects them, and senior Admin staff pretends not to see…

  7. Jim Hoch

    The core problem with the district is that the board is supposed to oversee the district but seems very much like the central administration controls the board.

    Who dominates the meetings? Bowes talks far more than all board members combined.

    1. Ron Glick

      Nothing new or different than most public institutions with the staff running the show. Perhaps how much Bowes talks at the meetings is new in Davis but that is a difference of style. I do agree it might be good if our elected officials were a little more skeptical of their staffs and remember that the staff agenda and the agenda of the elected, as the representatives of the people, might not always be in agreement.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Perhaps how much Bowes talks at the meetings is new in Davis

        Let’s see… Darryl Taylor, Eva Long, David Murphy, etc… no, nothing new under the sun…

        Being skeptical of staff is not a virtue, per se… staff interacts with Super, Super interacts with Board… if staff reports are prepared/available in advance, if the Super communicates, there should be no surprises… all questions/issues have time to be resolved or at least questions posed… no surprises.

        There was a CC member who was (frequently) publically critical/skeptical of staff, in spite of communication avenues… without contacting them via CM… some staff, at meetings, would not accept her bogus skepticism… knowing she was playing to an “audience”… had nothing to do with facts/recommendations… it was about her showing that she was a skeptic… a ‘drama queen’, if you will…

        1. Jim Hoch

          If your role is oversight then “Being skeptical of staff IS a virtue” You don’t need to be unprofessional about it but the board is supposed to be in charge and I have never gotten that impression. To the contrary I have felt the board is stage managed by staff.

  8. Bill Marshall

    The main topic is what should the district do… context is “to get a revenue measure passed”…

    Honesty

    Admitting flaws, and taking concrete, positive actions to remedy those

    Compensating those who faithfully serve, minimizing how long, but according to their contributions (senior admin staff contribute minimally to the core mission, in my opinion)…

    Said my piece…  for now…

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