Here we are, exactly a week into the New Year and yet, in less than two months, California will vote not only in the presidential primary, but also on a host of local measures – including, for Davis, the school district’s parcel tax.
The Vanguard sat down with some members of the Yes on Measure G team that is hoping to gain passage of the parcel tax: School Board members Alan Fernandez and Joe DiNunzio, and DTA President Victor Lagunes.
Mr. Lagunes, a teacher at Da Vinci Junior High, said that most teachers are supportive of the parcel tax.
“We had unanimous support at our rep council to endorse the measure,” he said.
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.”
After that agreement, the parcel tax went to the school board and the school board also agreed to put it on the ballot.
Mr. Lagunes explained that shortly teachers will be out walking as part of the public campaign. But he said even before that they have been working internally. About half the DTA membership lives in Davis, but “besides that there’s some like 750, close to 800 people, that are members of CTA… the larger organization, that are here in Davis.
“That gave us a good number of people to reach out to get us warmed up to this,” he said.
And now it’s ready, set, sprint. Less than two months to election day.
“It’s the first time we’re doing a March campaign,” Joe DiNunzio stated. “It’s tough to campaign over the holidays. It’s 60 days – not even.”
It’s been a longer process than usual, though.
“We had a series of subcommittee meetings starting in January 2019 running until June,” Mr. DiNunzio stated. “By the time we were done, we had a good idea of where we wanted to go.”
In the fall of 2019, they took the opportunity to further communicate that and have additional meetings. They put the measure to a vote of the board in early November.
“The shortened timeline is a challenge,” he said. “It feels a lot more like Great Britain with six weeks to campaign as opposed to six months.”
He sees three critical things that they must do.
“First is get out and clearly articulate why this is the best time for it,” he said. “Second is to make sure that any questions that we have the opportunity to answer them – through walk and knock, through community events, we’re going to all the PTAs, we’re going to all of the civic organizations – to make sure that we’re present and able to answer those.
“And the last thing, I do think, is get out the vote,” he added. “I think the general community is very supportive of this. The polling is right on the borderline. So I think it is critical that after we communicate, we get people to the polls.”
Joe DiNunzio also points out that this measure will be at the end of the ballot. Most people will be very interested in the presidential election.
“It’s going to be very important that people go all the way to the end of their ballot and make sure they vote for the local Measures,” he said. “We’ll run a robust campaign for sure and our kickoff is this Saturday (January 11) at the Davis Arts Center from 2 to 4.”
For Alan Fernandes, given the tight timeline and the race that started polling right at if not a tick below the threshold, the key to the entire race will be the ability to do effective GOTV (Get Out The Vote).
“If we do this better than we’ve ever done any campaign, which I feel like we have a shot at doing, effective GOTV can move an election five to seven points if you’re very precise and targeted,” Mr. Fernandes said.
He explained that polling reflects people’s reaction at the time to questions and issues.
“What polling doesn’t reflect is GOTV and the ability of us to really target our support,” he said.
For him, it matters if they do a good job of identifying their voters and getting them to the polls.
“If we do that well, then I think we’re going to get that extra bump above what the polling reflects,” he said. “The kind of GOTV that I’m hopeful that we run here is akin to what you would see in a more professionally run campaign that Davis traditionally doesn’t have.”
Victor Lagunes talked about the challenges facing teachers and he said one of the biggest impacts for students will be lack of consistency for students – a high teacher turnover.
“Our ability to attract and then retain is really critical early on,” he said. For new and young teachers, one of the keys is health care costs. “We want to cover single payer – a lot of these (teachers) come in and they need to at least have their own plan covered – let alone plus one and things like that.”
If the parcel tax does pass, in the contingency, “that was one of the things we really looked at,” in terms of issues that really related to the idea of attraction and retention.
“What we need to do is be able to maintain and keep all of the people that are coming in,” he said. “We train them, they get to know what our community is like, and then that consistency is ultimately good for kids in the classroom.
“Health care was a big question for a long time,” he said. He said that was their starting point that they must have single payer coverage.
Alan Fernandes explained that when they did their strategic plan, now six years ago, they started with five goals, but the first amended version added the attract and retain strategic plan.
He said even from the first time he started knocking on doors, what he heard constantly was “Davis teachers are wonderful yet they do what they do being paid a cut below everyone else.
“That was almost the accepted culture of the district,” he said. Even at the point of the strategic plan, “I didn’t consider the urgency of the matter.”
Once the state did the reforms on LCFF (Local Control Funding Formula), Alan Fernandes explained that“then it was very clear from that point forward, based on the demographics of the community…” the compensation gap was going to grow larger and larger. “If we’re already behind, maybe it’s something we need to focus on.”
He noted that in 2016, when the last parcel tax came forward, “I began advocating extending the dollar amount” – “I didn’t articulate at the time for compensation, but certainly that was part of it.”
That parcel tax passed, giving the district an eight-year window of certainty. But at that point the teachers started to get active and push on the issue of compensation.
He explained that through those negotiations he saw “we’re not able to get to where they ought to be” in terms of compensation. “It’s just a budget reality of where we are. Unless we do some pretty drastic things in terms of changing the nature of how we deliver education in the community or we find another revenue source, I became convinced that we had to call the question in this community or figure out a new way.”
He added that in the last year of studying this, “I’m even more convinced that we need to do something about this now and I think this is the best option.”
He noted that “our historic support of this parcel tax” has “not really generally helped us make any progress on the compensation side.”
A key point here was “the fiscal realities that the parcel tax puts us in is that there are certain promises that we put in that parcel tax – purposefully because that’s what we polled and that’s what we’ve heard the community wanting.”
This includes 7th period, foreign language, athletic programs – “we’ve ballot box budgeted our local school district budget process, by doing that I believe we have promised the public… certain things that that parcel tax is dedicated to.
“Technically the parcel tax pays for a teacher’s salary,” he said. But that limits their ability to take that money to raise compensation. The question becomes “how do we gain the dollars to close our historic, and I say decades long, compensation gap that exists in our community?”
The second part of the interview will go more into the realities of DJUSD and school financing, and will have the campaign team explain why they see the parcel tax as the only option.
—David M. Greenwald reporting