Guest Commentary: How and Why the School Board Put Forth the Parcel Tax to the Voters

Joe DiNunzio and Alan Fernandes have led the way toward the question of a parcel tax

By Joe DiNunzio

At the invitation of the Davis Vanguard, the following article is a rather detailed overview of the process the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) undertook during 2019 that lead to the Measure G initiative on the March 3, 2020, ballot.

Since 2018, the DJUSD board has had a stated goal of addressing the teacher and staff compensation gap that exists between our district and other regional school districts.  In December of 2018, Alan Fernandez and I were asked by the board President, Bob Poppenga, to lead a subcommittee to analyze the options the District had to address this compensation gap.  Starting in January 2019 and continuing through the November 7 meeting in which the board voted to put a resolution on the ballot, we conducted a series of sub-committee and full board meetings on this topic.

During these sessions we explored the District finances and compensation plans and invited the public, teachers, and staff to ask questions, request specific analysis to be conducted, identify options to be explored, and provide feedback on emerging directions the District could pursue.  The initial set of subcommittee meetings took place in 2019 on January 24, February 22, March 14, April 1, April 10, May 20, and June 3, and focused on diving deep into the issues and financial analysis.  They were held in multiple locations and time slots, to provide the widest possible access to the community.  The full board addressed this topic at our public meetings on January 17, April 4, April 18, May 2, and June 6, during which the goal was to foster an ongoing dialogue between the full board and the community, to help build to a final decision on the path forward.

Stepping back, the stated objective of our analytical process was to “…support a clear and transparent discussion on identifying potential options for revenue and / or cost changes needed to fund the compensation increase.”  The result of the work was a final document based on the analysis of that effort – including comments and requests from the public — to codify how DJUSD is currently receiving and spending funds, compare that to District priorities as well as to other districts, outline the size of the compensation gap, and identify potential steps to address it.  The final version of this document was presented to the board on June 6, 2019, and is available online at the URL:

Each public school district in the State of California must report their annual audited financials in a templated and consistent way, which enables comparative analysis and can often lead to important insights on areas of strength and challenges.  That said, like any data, these financials need to be reviewed within context, and specific areas of interest explored in more detail to drive to the underlying causes of variances.

There were a number of important foundational decisions we made in conducting our analysis:

  • We picked the most current full year available, which at the time of the report was 2017-18.
  • We looked at all revenue and all budget categories, recognizing it is important to distinguish general unrestricted funds from restricted funds, the latter of which must be focused on the specific programs and positions and cannot be used for other purposes.
  • We identified a set of regional districts to use as comparisons (shown on Slide 8) driven by two key elements:
    • Within roughly 40 miles of Davis, so they are geographically close enough to us to be in the same economic environment (and reasonable options for teachers and staff looking for other employment); and
    • Within +/- 5,000 in student enrollment, as scale of operations is a key determinant of financial structure.
  • We looked at revenue and expenses on a per-student or ADA (average daily attendance) basis. This allows for something approximating an “apples to apples” comparison across districts, though there are always nuances based on individual district configurations and specific operating decisions from year to year.

The following bullet points highlight some elements of the analysis that I believe would be useful to the Vanguard readers, given recent discussions on this topic.  That said, I encourage you to read the entire report.  In addition, for those interested, there are other reliable sources for California K-12 educational data that can be useful to explore, especially the information available at:

  • Slide 7 of the June 6th board report shows a Sankey chart of expenditures per student (ADA) for the major revenue and cost categories at DJUSD. As a starting point we found it very helpful to see how the money flows in and out of the District on a student basis.
  • Slide 9 shows the delta in state funding received by DJUSD, and the fact that our existing parcel tax represents a substantial commitment by the community to provide funding (which goes toward the specific programs articulated in Measure H and is audited by a citizens committee each year for compliance to those requirements).
  • Slides 11 and 12 show that Davis has a very experienced and highly educated teacher population, with a teacher to student ratio above the comparable average.
  • Slides 14 and 15 show that DJUSD spends more than our comparative set of districts on classified salaries for instructional aides due to our model of inclusion for special education (which most of the comparable districts have not yet fully adopted).
  • Slide 16 shows that 68% of our administrative spending goes to instructional and pupil services (focused in the classroom), while Slide 17 shows that DJUSD administrative spending — when accounting for the restricted / self-funded spending on the 6.5 FTEs focused on parcel tax, teacher credentialing, energy, and performing arts – is 3% higher than the average of the districts in the region. A follow-up longitudinal review of general fund administrative expenditures (not in this report) showed a total of a 2.5 FTE increase in administrative positions during a three-year period, specifically: moving the DSIS Principal from a 0.5 to 1.0 FTE; increasing a Vice Principal at DSHS from 0.6 to 1.0; adding a 1.0 FTE program specialist in Special Education, and adding a 0.6 FTE Crisis Counselor administrator.
  • Slide 20 shows that DJUSD is spending 6% less than the comparable districts on non-employee expenses. A more detailed follow-up analysis available in Slide 44 shows a few other things of note: DJUSD spending of $666 per ADA on outside services (Category 5800) is 10% below the comparable regional average, while DJUSD travel and conference costs per ADA (Category 5200)  is $50, which is 15% below the comparable regional average.  One additional footnote on travel and conferences is that total spending in that category is $385,000, 40% of which is funded for a specific / restricted purpose.
  • Slides 21 and 22 show the double-challenge of a significant number of our teachers and staff reaching retirement age while the supply of teachers in California is not increasing to meet the state’s needs.
  • Slide 24 shows at a high level how the calculation was generated to identify the total compensation gap of +/- $3 million, with some example point to point comparisons on Slides 25-27 as well as more details on Slides 51, 52, 59, and 62.
  • Finally, Slides 29 and 30 show the options for sources of revenue and cost reductions to generate the funds needed to close the compensation gap.

Helping inform the board discussions on this analysis as it emerged in April and May of 2019 was a poll that the board authorized to gauge community reaction to a possible ballot initiative.  The contract for that work, like every outside contract entered into by the District, was part of a published board packet (in this case for the April 18, 2019 meeting) which was reviewed and subsequently approved by the board.

Once the current school year started, the board renewed the discussion of options and approaches to address the compensation gap – including potential parameters for a ballot initiative — during sub-committee meetings on September 16 and October 28, as well as full board meetings on September 19, October 3, October 17, and November 7.  During these sessions, which involved additional conversations with the community, teachers, and staff, it became clear that there was strong interest in pursuing a revenue-based solution to address the compensation gap, and little to no appetite expressed for budget / staffing cuts.

Ultimately, after a process that spanned 18 public meetings across most of 2019, the board approved an initiative for a $198 per year parcel tax to address teacher and staff compensation, which is on the ballot as Measure G.

Joe DiNunzio is the DJUSD Board Vice President

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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      1. Bill Marshall

        Yet, it explains nothing of the ‘structure’ as to non-“needs based” exemptions… particularly the new one, DJUSD employees…

        Except for that, it was well-written, informative, and persuasive.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Why do you not seem to care that they are not needs-based?

          As I’ve said repeatedly in the past, it is the principle… should City employees, seniors, etc., be exempt from the local sales tax, City parcel taxes?

        2. Bill Marshall

          And David, that is an excuse for the new exemption?  That it is legal?

          The latter flies in the face of what you argue in many of your”court” articles… I think the argument is “it is legal, regardless of whether it is ‘right’…”, or, “just because it is legal, doesn’t mean it’s ‘right’…”

          I note you did not address whether City employees could/should be exempted from City fees/taxes… a very …….   …. response.  Not analytical.  Nor responsive…

          You also ignore my

          Except for that, it was well-written, informative, and persuasive.

          response…  cherry-picking, inherent/implied bias?


        3. Bill Marshall

          BTW, as to Prop 13 (not the new one on the March Ballot, the 70’s one)…

          Prop 13 was “twisted” as Paul Gann intended… gave an “out” for commercial properties, which has been exploited big time (thought you were a Poly Sci major… maybe I misunderstood)… have you heard of the ‘split roll’ arguments?

          Until the commercial property “out” is dealt with, I do support Prop 13… I benefit from it… but if the playing field is leveled, it could go away… IF things happen @ state/local levels go to like Millbrae did before Prop 13… they figured the needs, set the tax rate… the tax rate for Res actually WENT UP under Prop 13!

          Learn history… it is informative…

          Some folk look at budgets as to what they need… others look at it as how much can I spend… I am in the former group, 90% of the time.

  1. Bill Marshall

    David, your, and some others’ arguments have indeed convinced me as to the levy… which way is between me and the ballot box… you were indeed, seminal… congrats(?)

  2. Bill Marshall

    whatever your preference is- it has to be legal

    Please remember you wrote that…legality seems to trump, no matter your preference, precedence, ethics, or morality, spirituality…  OK… just apply that to all your views… just to be consistent… if that matters… does to science-based folks…

    I still am of the opinion that non-means exemptions are a ploy to garner votes… no one has presented evidence to the contrary… @ less than $10/mo in this measure… not getting that logic…

    You are fully entitled to your own opinions (as, am I) views, biases, etc.   May just not agree.

  3. Bill Marshall

    No one has bothered to answer my repeated questions of why non-needs-based exemptions.

    Have asked the question here, and by e-mail to the Board members…

    No one has bothered to answer the question as to whether, if we take the senior exemptions (which we cannot deduct due to SALT), and submit the same $$ to the DJUSD, whether that is eligible as a charitable contribution, which is deductable…

    Have asked that a few times here… crickets… unwilling or unable to answer?


    1. Hiram Jackson

      Bill Marshall: “No one has bothered to answer my repeated questions of why non-needs-based exemptions.”

      I did a few weeks ago and you dismissed it and said you leaned to vote against it because of what I wrote.

      1. Bill Marshall

        As I recall, your reply was ‘dismissive’, or not ‘authoritative’… if I am incorrect on those points, I  sincerely apologize…

        I was hoping to hear from the trustees, or other senior mgt @ DJUSD who crafted the measure…  am assuming you are neither one…

        I sent same ? to board and superintendent… got a partial answer from one trustee (off-line, as to VG… appropriate)… but nothing ‘public’ to date…

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