Commentary: Davis Teachers Do Deserve Better – That’s Why District Is Seeking More Funding

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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.

“We had that contingency language ahead of time,” he continued.  “Once we had that tentative agreement it passed with 89 percent and then we had a unanimous vote to endorse the parcel tax.”

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


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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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28 thoughts on “Commentary: Davis Teachers Do Deserve Better – That’s Why District Is Seeking More Funding”

  1. Ron Glick

    “One is for the district to pass the parcel tax and the other will be for the district to re-prioritize their programs.”

    There are other paths, one is do nothing. It will result in low morale and high turnover but you get what you pay for. A second would be to increase class sizes and reduce staff to fund competitive salaries. That would really suck for the kids.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Reduced class sizes… a lot of us grew up with class sizes of 30-32… went on to college (UC) and got our degrees, and had great professional careers.   Yes, easier for teachers.

      Have seen some of the ‘studies’ but many read like, “we know the conclusions we want to draw, so let’s find the data to support it…”

      But, it was what it is… it is so ingrained now, doesn’t matter if it is myth, legend, or real… it is dogma, and will continue.

      That said, I support the premise that teachers’ compensation should increase… we should remember, though,that other non-teaching DJUSD folk will “ride on the coattails”… which is fine, they deserve better, as well… but this measure, if one looks at it honestly, is NOT “just for the teachers”… but I really do not expect that honesty…

      The teachers are the “poster children”… similar to the “it’s for the kids” mantra.

  2. Ron Glick

    “Reduced class sizes… a lot of us grew up with class sizes of 30-32… went on to college (UC) and got our degrees, and had great professional careers.   Yes, easier for teachers.”

    Personal experiences may differ depending on user needs. You have talked about your own educational experiences over the years and they seem exceptional. A lot may have done well but many others did not. Looking at this through the lens of your own experience may cloud your vision.

    I believe California public schools have the highest average class sizes in the country.  Davis High classes are already capped at 32 with some exceptions for things like PE. How high should we go?

    1. Bill Marshall

      No higher… what I question is what the practice has been on the lower end. When you say ‘capped’, that’s ‘the max’, and I have no problem with that.  “What is the average of class size for the various grade levels”, would be a fair question.

      BTW, even for the lower, “in practice”, class sizes, if they were increased to ~ 30, I just don’t see how that could avoid the need for additional revenue, to appropriately increase compensation for teachers and other DJUSD employees.  Non-teaching positions (staffing levels) would likely remain unchanged, and teaching positions ‘eliminated’ would not solve the problem.

      We, in general, favor the proposed tax… our problem is lack of explanation of the justification of the exemptions, some of which cannot be justified (in our opinion) by a “means” test… they are categorical, with no consideration of ‘ability to pay’.  If it wasn’t for that issue, particularly the new exemption for DJUSD employees, we’d be voting “yes”.  But after repeated inquiries, no cogent explanation has come forward.  Appears as if offering exemptions is designed to get ‘free’ additional votes.

      1. Ron Glick

        You need to be careful with average class size because there are many things that can go into this calculation. For instance when I was teaching in another district we had 10-20 % more students in a class than was the headline number because they included people like counselors who don’t have any students in classes and Special Ed classes that are usually much smaller. We had a cap on how many students a teacher could have but there wasn’t a cap on class size outside of PE. So in my opinion its good DJUSD has a cap on class size. I don’t know how DJUSD generates average class size values but its a good question as to how many people are actually in the classes.

        1. Bill Marshall

          We basically are in agreement on all points… you should note I did not “ask” a question… I only opined on what might be a fair question.

          To me, class size should be determined rationally (as you have basically indicated) and not by ‘fiat’.

          Thank you for clarifying your thoughts, and giving me the opportunity to clarify mine.

          Meant sincerely.

  3. Tia Will

    “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.

    It seems this should be a number that would be relatively to ascertain accurately.

    I also have concerns about those who would make further cuts to either instructional or non-instructional staff. We are already making do without school nurses, psychologists, special needs planners and instructors. For years we have been putting children of normal or above average intelligence with emotional challenges into special needs classrooms with children with sometimes profound learning disabilities to the detriment of the teachers and all the children.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I also have concerns about those who would make further cuts to either instructional or non-instructional staff. 

      Just wondering – if the number of out-of-district kids (currently around 850) was reduced over time, would you necessarily have any concerns regarding reductions in the number of staff member positions?

      Also, if the population of resident students no longer supports the current number of schools, would you have any concerns regarding the possible closure of a school at some point?

  4. Alan Miller

    People move here for the Davis schools.  So the schools are Too Good relative to other districts.  The schools should be degraded in Davis so that we are more in line with other districts.  Lower teacher salaries means we will get lower quality teachers and a poorer education for kids.  This will make Davis less attractive and people won’t move here for the schools, and often working elsewhere.  The net result will be less pressure on both real estate values and traffic, making Davis more livable and affordable.  Make Davis better, by making Davis schools worse!

      1. Bill Marshall

        Reminds me of Jonathan Swift’s, “A Modest Proposal”… a lot of folk in his time “didn’t get it”… probably still true, today…

        Or perhaps, with ‘too many Irish immigrants/descendants”, and the poor, we should implement his ‘proposal’…

        1. Bill Marshall

          Many of those Irish came to America without being “documented” or “vetted”… as a descendant, will let y’all know when INS (or whatever it is called these days) comes rapping on my door… (yeah, drifting to a separate topic)

    1. Josh Pollich

      You say this as a joke, but really I think there’s something to it. Undergraduate students make up a large minority and perhaps a majority of Davis and they get very little out of the school district and the property values that it props up.

      They do get something out of the roads and bike paths, and you see how the city of Davis supported them in measure I.

      I think if I were an undergrad I would vote no on the parcel tax — Davis would be better for me if property values and hence rents significantly dropped. Honestly I might vote no for that reason anyway.

      1. Bill Marshall

        I understand your point, to an extent… but,

        Some of those undergrads benefited from a DJUSD education…

        When I was an undergrad @ UCD, I did not vote in City elections, precisely because I felt I should not vote on things that would bind or preclude the community as to long-term commitments… I voted ‘absentee’ in my home area.  Where I intended to return to…

        $198/yr is de minimus, even for an undergrad living in a SF rental… much more de minimus for an undergrad living in a MF unit.

        There is no vote/choice currently as to either more money for roads, bikepaths, or DJUSD. Even it there was, the revenue stream would not provide for additional improvements to roadways/bike/ped facilities during a current undergrad’s residency.

        If the measure fails, and if DJUSD ‘deteriorates’, and if rental costs or property values drop, in the distant future, why would any current undergrad care?

        Your points fail, rationally.  It is, though, a classic example of an “it’s all about me!” (even if it is de minimus) mentality… for the current undergrads who will be voting in March 2020… I recommend ‘abstinence’ on voting on the measure unless they intend to stay in Davis after graduation. As I understand it, the proposed measure has no “sunset date”

        Silly reasons for you to vote “no”, but I could see why you might have legitimate reasons to vote no… you have not expressed those. Just vote as you see fit.

         

        1. Josh Pollich

          I don’t think you need to have a long-term commitment to Davis to legitimately vote here. Individual undergrads may come and go, but the city as a whole will have a large minority or majority of undergrads for decades to come. Why shouldn’t they shape the city to their own interests? Why should the city only reflect the interests of a vocal and unrepresentative minority of its population?

        2. Ron Oertel

          Bill:  “There is no vote/choice currently as to either more money for roads, bikepaths, . . .”

          In my opinion, approval of this particular parcel tax would endanger all future efforts. That’s been the crux of my arguments.

          I find Josh’s comments interesting, and a different perspective than what’s normally expressed on here.

          Regarding Bill’s comments (e.g., “it’s all about me”), that might be interpreted in more than one way – in regard to this issue and other issues.

  5. Ron Glick

    First the parcel tax is so small that its unlikely to be passed through to renters in any meaningful way. Still its an interesting question if students will vote their pocketbook or their belief in education? Not unlike 2020 in general. Will people vote beliefs or money?

    1. Bill Marshall

      Will people vote beliefs or money?

      Yes.

      Will be a mixed bag… there is a third consideration, that I’m still struggling with… the structure of the measure, related to exemptions… the purpose of the measure, I’m there… the cost, am fully OK with that… a bit earlier this AM, finally heard back from one of the Board members… urged her and the Board to share what they expressed as rationale… I believe it would ‘help’.

      But what was shared to me should be made public by the Board, not by me.  Am leaning more towards a ‘yes’ vote, but some issues are still ‘troubling’… and I’ve expressed those before…

      1. Hiram Jackson

        Bill Marshall: “…there is a third consideration, that I’m still struggling with… the structure of the measure, related to exemptions…”

        The purpose of Measure G is to attract and retain teachers.   There is value to developing teacher talent and then keeping it.  If they continue to work in DJUSD, they have the option of the exemption if they live in Davis.  If they decide to work elsewhere or retire, they lose the exemption.  The exemption is something that has to be applied for annually.

        1. Bill Marshall

          We’re talking $198/yr… $16.50/mo… really?  That’s going to attract teachers, help retention?  Really??

          I opine, NOT! And a suspect principle…

        2. Bill Marshall

          Again, I say… I support the purpose… have no worries on the amount of the levy… it’s the principle of the exemption…

          I grow weary of folk portraying the proposed measure, the exemptions, being about “teachers”… not acknowledging that ALL DJUSD employees, owning property in the City can get the exemption… even the top echelon of administrators making close to or above $200 k/year.

          It won’t be JUST teachers getting the increases in compensation, either… the measure clearly says, “teachers and staff”… yet the proponents say it’s about the teachers… I also grow weary of that argument… as worded…

          We support compensation increases for teachers AND staff (but not the high echelon admin).

          Good job, Hiram… a Board member’s candor leaned me more to approval… your argument pretty much completely negated that.  Lack of candor was the factor.

    2. Alan Miller

      First the parcel tax is so small that its unlikely to be passed through to renters in any meaningful way.

      RG, I didn’t picture you as a ‘laws of economics’ denier.

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