Gregg Cook has been pushing this point for over a year now – opposing the parcel tax, and arguing for alternatives. Unfortunately it is a flawed analysis, as we shall see.
He writes: “There is no question that Davis teachers are underpaid and are entitled to salary that recognizes their contribution to our community.”
But then he adds: “At the same time, teachers are entitled to respect and that’s where the board fell dramatically short. Rather than scour the school district’s budget to find the resources to pay our teachers, the board chose to pass the buck to Davis voters and to the teachers themselves.”
The problem with that view is that it is contingent on there being ways to scour the school district’s budget to find those resources. There are certainly ways to do that – but all them require cutting programs, which also means laying off teachers.
He writes: “Board members have required that Davis teachers actively support the parcel tax measure…”
That’s not exactly true. The school board did want to make sure that the teachers were on board with the parcel tax, but there is no requirement that teachers phone bank or precinct walk.
As Victor Lagunes, DTA President, told the Vanguard, “We had unanimous support at our rep council to endorse the measure.”
Mr. Lagunes explained that they had “contingency language” – “if this measure passes and there’s money that comes in” that they had an agreement from the district that it would translate into increases in the pay structure.
In other words, no teacher voted to oppose the parcel tax.
Mr. Cook then does a sort of fiscal analysis: “Davis’ school budget for 2019-20 is $97 million dollars, the $3 million dollar proposed parcel tax is approximately 3% of the current budget. Is it possible that a 3% reduction couldn’t be found in a review of current budget expenditures?”
The basic answer is yes, it could be found – the district could make a cut of $3 million. But that would mean losing big programs. When Alan Fernandes and Joe DiNunzio spent six to nine months looking at the budget and comparing the district to other districts, they created alternative ways to reach $3 million in savings – those would include school closures, ending seventh period for HS, closing some of the electives and the like.
Quickly they decided they did not want to go that route.
Mr. Cook argues that the board rejected proposals to audit existing programs and to do a public line-item review of the budget. But that’s not really true. The subcommittee did that level of analysis – but, most importantly, Alan Fernandes had a team of consultants look into whether they could do efficiency cuts.
As Joe DiNunzio put it, “Can you squeeze a few extra dollars there – you always can.”
He noted that when Alan Fernandes had a company look at efficiency, “It’s tens of thousands of dollars. When you look at the compensation gap, it’s $3 million. We’re not going to find it that way.”
Looking at the other side, “staff and programs are tightly linked. So if you cut staff, you cut programs. There’s no two ways about it.”
What Mr. Cook is forgetting is that the district has had to look at things like efficiency and low-hanging fruit cuts before – in 2008 facing huge teacher layoffs, they analyzed the budget, made cuts, laid off teachers.
To argue that you could painlessly eliminate $3 million from the budget when over the last 10 to 15 years they have had multiple rounds of teacher cuts belies common sense.
Mr. Cook notes: “The district has managed to find the money to conduct a poll assessing the potential success of a parcel tax proposal and pay for the development of the proposal language.”
That’s true – they found a few tens of thousands in advance of seeking three million.
He continues: “The cost of conducting the election will be high, not just to the teachers requiring them to ‘actively support’ the ballot measure but to the district’s financial standing as well, where is this money coming from?”
As Mr. Cook is well aware, the money to run the campaign is not district money, but rather campaign money, donated from supporters across the district.
“A review of administrative personnel demonstrates an increase of 20 new positions added in the last three years.”
I don’t believe that is remotely accurate.
He added, “According to the district’s current budget information, the district spends $716 dollars per student per year (Average Daily Attendance) for administrative salaries, that’s $21,480 for each 30 student class room, a little less than 50% of the average teacher salary; do we really need 15 administrative staff to support 30 students?”
According to the district’s information, the district pays a lower percentage of its general fund to administrative salaries than the typical district.
As Alan Fernandes put it, he would be happy to reduce compensation for the administration. “But it’s not going to even pay for the lights.
“And the superintendent is compensated at the average plus or minus of the region… that is a red herring,” he said.
Mr. Cook points out “non-employee costs” in the following categories: materials and supplies, $1.4 million; outside services, $1.3 million; and travel and conferences, $2 million.
That money comes to less than 15 percent of the budget. As most people involved in classrooms know, materials and supplies are in short supply, requiring teachers and parents to go out of pocket. And professional development is required by the state.
He asks, “Isn’t it reasonable to assume that ‘non-employee costs’ expenditures could be reduced,” to which my response is that he needs to do more homework and keep in mind that, had they been able to meaningfully reduce those costs, they probably would have done so during earlier rounds of teacher layoffs, no?
As someone who has looked at the budget a lot over the last year. I feel pretty comfortable that there are really two options at this point. One is for the district to pass the parcel tax and the other will be for the district to re-prioritize their programs.
I don’t believe we are going to find painless ways to cut costs. When the consultants looked it, they didn’t find huge costs they could simply cut to amount to anything more than tens of thousands of dollars.
—David M. Greenwald reporting