Sunday Commentary: Is the End Nigh – the End of Great Schools in Davis?

Share:

In 2007, the DJUSD school board put a parcel tax on the ballot for renewal.  It was the same amount they had been doing for well over a decade – $100.  It was my first time covering the schools and little did I realize that the world was about to change.

The next year, even before the crash of the US economy, DJUSD was feeling the hurt.  They had choices at that time.  They had just voted to close Valley Oak.  They looked at additional school closures.  They looked at deep cuts to discretionary programs like music and art.

But the parents came out in mass to support another path forward.  The community came forward with enough donations to forestall deep cuts and the community overwhelmingly backed a parcel tax that fall, to supply the needed money.

That didn’t solve the problem and so, over the next decade, we saw a pattern – some cuts and a steady dose of tax increases – so that in 2016, the parcel tax was up to $620 per parcel.

That was a mistake.  We knew in 2016 that $620 wasn’t going to be enough.  The Vanguard argued for $960.  Alan Fernandes argued for $960.  The rest of the board wouldn’t go there.

The reality is that $960 or whatever the district decides to put on the ballot for next November is not going to be enough either.  The reality is that there will come a point when Davis no longer has great schools.  And that day is probably not today.  But it is coming.

Let me lay this out.  I have been arguing this point since last summer.  It was a reason I put my name in the hat for an ill-fated appointment opportunity to the board last summer.  No one wanted to listen.  It is even more clear now.

There are three different problems at play here.  First, of all the school district is disadvantaged by the LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) funding system.  We have long known this is a problem – because the district has a lower percentage of at-risk students and economically disadvantaged students, they get the minimum grant from the state.  That means that to get back up to an average spending district, the district has had to rely on local parcel taxes.

The second problem is structural.  The state spends a little more than $10,000 per student on education, which is about $2000 less than the national average.  That puts California, when accounting for the cost of living, about 41st in the nation.

In case you’re wondering, Davis gets about a good deal less than $10,000 per pupil from the state.  At its maximum, it gets $9269 per student for high school students, and for K-8 the number is around $8000 per student.

The third problem has to do with local demographics.  The reality is that, due to the lack of new housing for families, the local population of school-aged children is declining.  That means for each student that the district loses, they lose somewhere between $8000 and $9000.

The district thus has three things going against it – the state of California is not paying enough for K-12 education, the district is disadvantaged within the state in terms of state funding, and it is losing students.

To compensate for the first and third problems, the district has done two things.  First, it has passed an ever-increasing parcel tax which has gone from $100 in 2008 to $620 today and perhaps over $900 by 2021.  Second, it has shored up the loss of students through out-of-district transfers.

There is a lot of controversy over the out-of-district transfers, but there shouldn’t be.  Replacing a lost student who lives in Davis with one who lives in Woodland is basically cost neutral.  By keep attendance stable, for now, the district is maintaining its ADA (average daily attendance) money, which is advantageous.

The longer-term reality, however, is not promising.  Davis is not going to maintain great schools if the number of children who live in Davis continues to decline.  I’m not arguing that Davis should grow to maintain great schools.  However, I do think that Davis should take into consideration what they want the demographics of this town to look like in 10 to 20 years – that issue should be part of long-term planning discussions.

The second point here is what I want to focus on.  Right now the district has maintained its funding stream for the better part of the last decade through a steady increase in parcel tax.

I would argue that is not sustainable either.

I think the district can and probably will get a parcel tax passed in 2020.  The polling, however, shows even that is right on the bubble.  We have drilled under the numbers but here – in summary version – are some of the key ones.

Hard support for a $300 parcel tax is about 62-64 percent with enough leaners to make it close, but the community will have to run a persuasion campaign to get the voters over the top.  Given this community’s support for education, that’s possible and I think likely to occur.

But underneath the numbers are a growing distrust for the money management in the school district, and the most ominous one is that 37 percent believe they are already paying too much in taxes.

For me, that’s the number to watch and, while it can be overcome in the short-term, I don’t see how it can be overcome in the longer term.

So let us suppose that they put the parcel tax on the ballot for 2020, it passes, the district is able to increase salary and compensation for teachers.  What happens when the next recession hits, what happens when the district needs to go to the well again?

At some point, the district is going to run out of the ability to ask for more money locally, and then what?  The “and then what” is what we should be focusing on and we aren’t.

Look, a lot can change – California can put out more money for schools, laws on funding can change, the city could change its growth policies, etc.  But if great schools depend on “what ifs,” that’s not a proposition that I would take to the bank.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$USD
Sign up for

Share:

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.

Related posts

29 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: Is the End Nigh – the End of Great Schools in Davis?”

  1. Ron Oertel

    The proposed increase in parcel tax has no relationship to the quality of schools. 

    It’s for a proposed increase in teacher salary, a different issue.

    And yet, there’s no acknowledgement of this basic fact in the entire article.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      There are two basic points here of disagreement

      The first is, that I fundamentally disagree that the increase in the parcel tax has no relationship with the quality of the schools. The ability to hire and retain quality teachers absolutely has a bearing on the quality of the schools.

      The point and more fundamental is that the overall point has little to do with the specifics of this parcel tax and more to do with the longterm ability of the school district to fund itself. The key point in this article is that it lacks that ability long term which it can pass this parcel tax or not.

      1. Ron Oertel

        The teachers that are interested in higher pay may have already left.  Since teacher pay is not based upon performance, there is no way to determine if the teachers who are interested in higher pay are the same ones who are most effective.

        It also depends upon where other opportunities lie, including pay, work conditions, location, etc.

        Sacramento, for example, is having much more significant problems (and was under threat of, or has already been taken over by the state due to budget problems).

        If DJUSD has a significantly higher job vacancy rate than other districts, you might have an argument. But, no such evidence has been presented.

         

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          “The teachers that are interested in higher pay may have already left. ”

          That’s not an argument against the point I’m making. It’s an argument that the decline of the district could already be underway. The fact that other districts are also struggling is also not an argument against the point I’m making.

        2. Ron Oertel

          That’s not an argument against the point I’m making.
          It’s an argument that the decline of the district could already be underway.

          It’s not an argument either way.  There’s no way to determine the “quality” of the teachers who may have already left, or the impact on the local schools.

          Now, if DJUSD has a higher job vacancy rate than other districts, you’d probably have a stronger argument.

          The fact that other districts are also struggling is also not an argument against the point I’m making.

          Sure it is.  If you’re arguing that teachers are leaving for other districts, than they absolutely would compare pay and working conditions in other districts. And quite often, conditions are worse (e.g., in Sacramento).

           

  2. Ron Oertel

    David:  “The longer-term reality, however, is not promising.  Davis is not going to maintain great schools if the number of children who live in Davis continues to decline.”  

    If that was true, then smaller school districts would consistently be of “lower quality” than larger school districts.  (I don’t believe that’s the case.)

     

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Maybe. What’s interesting is that they don’t set up their comparisons between large and small districts, they generally compare similarly sized districts. Part of the reason is that larger districts can offer much more variety in programs. If DJUSD were smaller, it might not be able to offer music, language, arts like it does because of economies of scale.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        If you look at the list of top 25 school district by score, they are all relatively large – there are no districts on that list smaller than DJUSD. So that might be your answer.

        1. Ron Oertel

          Go ahead and present that.

          Are you stating that some of the higher-income areas in California (with small school districts) perform more poorly than larger school districts (such as Los Angeles, San Jose, Sacramento, etc.)?

          Because that’s the OPPOSITE of my impression.

          As a side note, “variety” does not necessarily translate into “quality”.

          In any case, if the DJUSD becomes too small, perhaps they’ll ultimately need to consolidate with other school districts. (Assuming that your claims are correct in the first place.)

          1. Don Shor

            “variety” does not necessarily translate into “quality”.

            Yes it does. More course offerings are one measure of the quality of a district. We’ve had this discussion before, so I’ll just suggest that you look up the course offerings for Dixon, compared to Davis.

        2. Ron Oertel

          On a related note, how are school districts organized, across the state?  For example, the website below lists 3 school districts within Marin county, but they appear to be limited in both scope and size.

          What about the rest of Marin county, in this example?

          https://www.marincounty.org/residents/community/school-district

          As a side note, I wouldn’t be surprised if the performance of the “large” school district in San Francisco was a primary reason that folks like Newsom moved from San Francisco to Marin, before becoming governor.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            None of the ones you mentioned are in the top 100. Davis was 26th in 2018 by comparison.

        3. Ron Oertel

          I mentioned several school districts, most of them “large”.

          Please provide a link to the original source of the information you’re referring to.

          1. David Greenwald Post author

            Sorry – proprietary information, not a publicly available link. I’m sure you can google the data though.

        4. Ron Oertel

          Sorry – no time (at the moment) to research your claims.

          Most journalists provide verifiable data, to back up their claims.

          But again, if you’re stating that size is important for performance of school districts, then perhaps Davis needs to consolidate with other districts. I’m not convinced that this is the case.

        5. Hiram Jackson

          David Greenwald: “If you look at the list of top 25 school district by score, they are all relatively large – there are no districts on that list smaller than DJUSD. ”

          Where is that list?  Because I can immediately come up with two unified school districts smaller than DJUSD that score higher — San Marino, Piedmont.  They’re wealthier communities than Davis.

        6. Hiram Jackson

          Ron Oertal: “Please provide a link to the original source of the information you’re referring to.”

          You can go here and come up with a list that approximates David’s.  But to compare ‘apples to apples’ with Davis JUSD, it’s best to go with unified school districts.  Districts that are not unified are usually elementary school districts or high school districts.

        7. Ron Oertel

          Thanks, Hiram.

          In any case, it appears that you’ve already provided a couple of examples which conflict with David’s claim regarding the size of the school district (in regard to performance).

          It’s still a little unclear on how school districts are organized across the state, but I”m not requesting any further response regarding that.

        8. Hiram Jackson

          “In any case, it appears that you’ve already provided a couple of examples which show that David’s claim regarding the size of the school district (in regard to performance) is not valid.”

          True, but I did say that those communities are wealthy.  Piedmont has a $2K+ parcel tax in effect, and San Marino has a $1K+ parcel tax in effect.  They are able to fund their districts at a higher rate than Davis does. It does suggest that money can buy quality.

        9. Ron Oertel

          Hiram:

          Yes – those communities also probably have a significantly higher cost of living.

          But yeah – due to the varied types of organization for school districts, it appears that a straight “apples-to-apples” comparison is not as straightforward as it first appears.

          Regarding a possible increase in the parcel tax (to raise the salaries of local teachers), I suspect that more “honest” arguments (than the ones David is putting forth) might be more effective.

          Then again, I don’t really think this is the right time for such a significant increase for teacher salaries, if simultaneous claims are being made regarding the city’s fiscal challenges.

          Especially when considering the already-large, existing parcel tax for schools.

        10. Hiram Jackson

          David Greenwald: “If you look at the list of top 25 school district by score,…”

          I am not a fan of standardized test scores to measure school quality.  It means almost nothing to me as a parent to look at my own kids’ standardized test scores.  Are there parents out there who find more meaning in their kids’ standardized test scores?  If so, what am I missing?

          A more interesting and tangible measure of school quality might be matriculation rate to college (or an equivalent institution), paired with college (or equivalent) completion rate.  And make a separate category for percent of first generation college students who matriculate and complete.

        11. David Greenwald

          I both agree and disagree with you.  I’m not a huge fan of standardized tests in general, but it does give us a readily available metric.  The other metrics you mention suffer from the same problems.  In the end, this conversation is far from where it started with my article, so I’ll leave it here.

        12. Hiram Jackson

          David Greenwald: “The other metrics you mention suffer from the same problems.”

          What I suggest as an alternative (college, or equivalent, matriculation/completion) is not perfect, but I believe it is far more helpful a measure than standardized tests, because parents, teachers, and administrators together can better understand what the outcome is.  Parent and school district expectations can more closely align and partner than they can with standardized test scores.

          Standardized test scores end up being more of a mystery to the public, and often the public (and even well-educated adults) accepts on faith that they’re valid.  But when you begin to dig into what the scores mean and how they correlate demographically, it falls apart in so many ways.  How am I, as a parent, supposed to partner with the district to raise standardized test scores?

          DJUSD actually does reasonably well at sending its students to college & post high school programs. It could be better, but improvement there won’t happen unless the conversation and focus shift.

  3. Ron Oertel

    Don:  “Yes it does. More course offerings are one measure of the quality of a district. We’ve had this discussion before, so I’ll just suggest that you look up the course offerings for Dixon, compared to Davis.”

    Not necessarily.  It depends upon how performance is measured. Looking up course offerings would not address that question.

    Also wondering if Dixon schools have improved (however that’s measured), as a result of increased funding from the state.  And, if so, exactly how those funds were used. Regardless, perhaps “size” is not the issue, if Dixon schools are improving. Are they, in fact “improving”?

    1. Ron Oertel

      And in fact, if Dixon schools are “improving” as a result of increased state funding, is this what Davis has to look forward to, if the schools start to decline?  (Increased state funding, and better performance?)

      1. Ron Oertel

        By the way, I can envision some disinterested, smart-aleck students who would gladly volunteer to “help” obtain more state funding, if they knew how the system actually worked.

        And, perhaps a couple of teachers might be secretly amused, by such remarks.

         

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for