On Thursday, the DJUSD school board did what was long-expected – they voted 5-0 to ask staff to come back with language for a new parcel tax. We don’t have most of those details yet, but we do know one thing – the ask is going to be $198.
In May the school district contracted with EMC research to poll for $198. The results of that polling show a tax measure right on the bubble with 64-65 percent including 2 to 3 percent the pollsters deemed to be leaners. That rate would raise about $3 million annually for the district.
The polling analysis puts the measure on the wrong side of the bubble initially and the district is going to have to work hard and sell the community on the need here.
On the one hand, the peripherals in the polling show strong support for things like: “Keeping teacher and support staff salaries competitive with surrounding districts” (85%) with 79 percent stating, “Maintaining the quality of our schools should be a top priority, even if it means raising taxes.”
But there are warning signs as well. 37% polled said “taxes in this area are already high enough” and that they’ll “vote against any additional tax measure, even for Davis schools.” Moreover just 56% of those polled trust DJUSD to “properly manage tax dollars.”
What is clear is that the district is taking a bit of a risk here – there is a chance that this parcel tax does not pass. They will have to convince people in the more skeptical range of voters that this is needed.
My problem here is that once again, we are asking for a bare minimum to achieve the goal of raising compensation level, without building in future contingencies.
In April, Alan Fernandes, who has consistently pushed the district on parcel taxes said, that one of his goals is to forecast out further. He would really like this to be seen as a permanent solution and wants to push the parcel tax at least to ten years.
While it is not clear how long this parcel tax’s duration will be, it is clear that this is not a permanent solution.
As Tom Adams made clear on Thursday – the state situation is unlikely to change much in the foreseeable future.
Tom Adams said, “The big emphasis tonight is local control. We get a certain amount from the state, but that’s pretty much what we’re going to get for a while.”
He said there will be cost-of-living adjustments, “but there isn’t really enough to create the investment that we need to have.”
“Davis needs to realize that Davis needs to take another round of investment to get us to where we need to be,” he said. “The good thing is that Davis solves problems.”
He added, “If we don’t match our investment to our aspirations we’re not going to get very far.”
Board President Bob Poppenga quickly added, “I think it is important to realize the state of funding from the state of California is not going to get us where we want to go.”
The reality is that the district is funded at about 84 percent of the state average through average daily attendance and the Local Control Funding Formula. The current parcel tax then moves the needle from 84 to 95%. Even with the parcel tax, we are still 5 percent below average.
Worse yet, the parcel tax really doesn’t get us to state average as we pointed out in a previous column. That’s because it is really not “general fund” money. Instead that money goes to extra programs – 7th period, counseling, music, art, librarians – a whole host of programs that other districts don’t have but that has become the core of our identity.
The alternative to the new parcel tax is either stay below state average on compensation and risk talented teachers going elsewhere or cutting programs.
For Mr. DiNunzio, there was not a lot of appetite in this community for cutting programs.
“The analysis showed that we are already running an efficient operation,” he continued. “The options above bringing more revenue in is going to require cutting staff – and that means cutting programs. And we saw in all of these meetings, no appetite for that.”
Some of the commenters on the Vanguard clearly would prefer that option. But that’s not where the majority of the community appears to be by the polling numbers.
My problem with all this – is we are still leaving needs on the table. In 2016, we argued that the district should go higher than $620 on the ask.
At the time Alan Fernandes argued we should go to $960. Unfortunately, the district could not even get three votes to go to $750. The board was divided 3-2 on whether to go up to $750, with Barbara Archer and Tom Adams on the dissenting side. Tom Adams was willing to go up to $700. The difference between $620 and $750 is a little over $10 a month.
Alan Fernandes on the other hand argued the need to go big.
“I think this community wants us to reach big and so for the amount I have been very clear, I’ve been in favor of a parcel tax above $900,” Mr. Fernandes said. “I don’t know that everyone is there, here, but I’m certainly supportive of going downward. I like the $750 we polled at that and it is a nice round number. Our median home price in Davis is $585,000 so we’re talking a tenth of a percent of the value of the home dedicated to probably the most important thing that keeps our home values where they are, which is our schools.”
I bring this up because this was in 2016. The board could not even bear to go a little higher to $750, let alone to $960.
So what would $198 take us to in 2020? $818.
At $198, I guarantee that within the next five years, the board will have to ask for even more. There will be new costs that are not met by the current structure. We will have the same debate as we did in 2016 and as we are having now.
I am going to support the parcel tax – our teachers deserve compensation that allows them not to take public benefits and to be fairly compensated for their work. But I am disappointed that once again the board which has talked big at times, has decided not to entertain the idea of creating a more permanent solution.
Alan Fernandes was right in 2016, he was right in February. But we still are taking his lead on this issue which means by 2024, we will be back, with another parcel tax on the plate.
—David M. Greenwald reporting