Last week the Vanguard sat down with two school board members, Joe DiNunzio and Alan Fernandes, as well as Victor Lagunes, the DTA president, to talk about the need for another parcel tax that would add $198 per parcel to fund teacher compensation increases.
Joe DiNunzio calls this “both a complicated and a simple issue.”
On the complicated side, Joe DiNunzio noted that the current board picks up where the prior board left off, identifying teacher compensation as a crucial issue.
He said, “It was an important starting point to have a clear-headed discussion about this.”
While LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula) remains the law in terms of public school funding in California, the board has committed to attempting to pressure the state legislature to spend more on K-12 education.
“That is something we need to do (raise overall education funding in the state), but it is outside of our local control,” he added.
LCFF remains a mixed bag. On the one hand, the district believes in “equity-based funding” where districts with higher numbers of at-risk or what they call “unduplicated” students have more expenses seeking to serve their needs.
“It’s not inappropriate for them to get more funding,” he said. “The problem is we all don’t get enough funding. And we get less than other districts by a considerable amount.”
He pointed out that the only local control over funding is of the state dollars we receive – which he says is not enough. The parcel tax allows the district to add revenue and set their own priorities for how that revenue can be spent.
“The local dollars stay local,” he said.
The next question, he said, is where is our money going? Eighty-five percent is going to employee compensation – consistent with districts across the state.
How does the 15 percent compare to other regional districts? Joe DiNunzio asked.
“It turns out we spend that other 15 percent a lot more efficiently than our comparable districts,” he said.
The key question is whether they can squeeze more money out of that 15 percent. For Joe DiNunzio, “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.”
He said, “We had that conversation with the community – are there programs that you would be willing to live without?” He said, “The answer was no one was willing to live with fewer programs.” He went down the list of programs. “If you can’t effect that, you’re only opportunity is to look at the revenue side. To date the only tool that a school district has on the revenue side is a parcel tax.”
Joe DiNunzio also noted that the parcel tax is a great reflection of the community’s values and spending priorities. “We as a community want to fund those things,” he said. “Those are things that as a community that are valuable to us and we have agreed to fund.”
This parcel tax is focused on the issue of bringing the compensation of the district in line with other districts. “Can we bring our teachers and staff up to the regional average,” he said.
The bottom line. he said: “This comes down to two options. One, we can fund these increases to bring our teachers to the regional average through a parcel tax or we can do it through cuts.”
He said that the board has not had the cuts conversation yet. “It’s not clear where it would come from,” he stated. “There’s not one place it will come from. It will be no easy decision. We will have to cut things that people value.”
The point was made that some people have suggested the need to reduce compensation for administration first.
“I’m happy to do that,” Alan Fernandes stated. “But it’s not going to even pay for the lights.
“And the superintendent is compensated at the average plus or minor of the region… that is a red herring,” he said.
One of the points that has been raised is that not only are school districts underfunded, but they are limited in the ways they can address funding issues.
“What offends me far more than the fact that school districts are underfunded is the fact that they have no tools,” Alan Fernandes stated. “We have a parcel tax which is a two-thirds vote and a school bond which is only for facilities which is 55 percent.”
Compare that to cities, for instance, where they can do a utility user’s tax, a sales tax, a parcel tax – “they send us on a job to care local educational needs in a community and they want us to build schools and they give us a screwdriver and no hammer, no nails, nothing – and a screwdriver you can only use (if) two-thirds of the people say you can use it.
“To me it’s more offensive that we have no other options for raising revenue,” he said.
Very few districts – only about 10 percent according to Mr. Fernandes – have passed parcel taxes.
Davis, though, as Joe DiNunzio points out, “has very consistently supported parcel taxes. That demonstrates the value that we as a community give education.
“We would love to have another tool,” he said, “but there’s not another tool coming down the road to address funding.”
One of the big issues that the district faces is that over the next decade or so, a substantial number of teachers are hitting the retirement age. Replacing them, given both a statewide teacher shortage and a community teacher compensation gap, will be extremely difficult.
That is going to make this even more complicated going down the road.
One key question – did the district ask for enough with this parcel tax? After all, they may have to come back in five years to ask for more.
Alan Fernandes responded: “I think we asked for the appropriate amount.
“Did we ask for enough?” he asked. “No. Because I want to pay our teachers more. But I think we asked for the appropriate amount to at least get to the regional average.”
He noted the escalators in the measure which would add for cost of living and the fact that it doesn’t sunset.
“I think that as long as things stay how they are from the state funding perspective, it’s the appropriate amount,” he said.
“This doesn’t solve all problems for all people in all instances,” he said. “This solves a specific problem at a specific time in our community.”
He said it closes the decades-long gap between pay in this community and the average district.
Joe DiNunzio added, “Budgeting is supposed to be hard. Public budgeting is supposed to be painful… It’s not your money, it’s the public’s money. And you have a fiduciary responsibility to be as responsible as possible.”
Victor Lagunes added, “Would a higher number be better? Most definitely.” But he too said this was the appropriate amount.
—David M. Greenwald reporting