Sunday Commentary: Letter Writer Gets It Wrong on Measure G

We have not seen a lot of opposition to the parcel tax, but the few objections that we have seen have significant errors.  The letter from Randy Chinn in the local paper provides a pretty good example.

He writes: “I’ve voted for every school tax in my 20-plus years in Davis, but I’m opposed to Measure G. Unlike prior school tax measure discussions where the school board made tough budget decisions, I’ve seen little effort by this board to prioritize and reduce expenditures before asking for new taxes.”

But Mr. Chinn is objectively wrong here.  The school board’s subcommittee spent six months of subcommittee meetings going over the alternatives, and they even brought on an efficiency expert to see how much they could gain by becoming more efficient.

All of these meetings were public and, of course, we reported on many of them in the Vanguard.

When they engaged with a consultant about ways to save the district money, for instance, they found some.

The problem, as Alan Fernandes and Joe DiNunzio told the Vanguard, is it saves in the tens of thousands of dollars, not the millions needed.

Said Joe DiNunzio: “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.”

How about cutting administrative salaries? Alan Fernandes and Joe DiNunzio quickly pointed out that the district is lower than average in that capacity – and, again, we are talking tens of thousands of dollars, not the millions needed.

“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 minus of the region… that is a red herring,” he said.

In addition, the school board itself met several times last year to discuss the potential for the parcel tax, and the alternatives to putting forth a parcel tax and what those would look like.

In May the full board met to discuss alternatives.

Closing a school could also save money.  Closing an elementary school saves a little over half a million, while going back to two junior highs would save $700,000.

The board avoided going that route, however, largely because in order to reduce costs by enough to pay the $3 million for increased compensation, they would have to deeply cut key programs.

Associate Superintendent Matt Best said at the meeting, “Cost reductions will impact the quality and amount of educational programs and services.”  He added, “If you want to maintain the quality while raising revenue, it needs to be revenue based.”

But the key thing here: they looked at alternatives.  They decided to go with the parcel tax route.

Joe DiNunzio explained, “We’re not suggesting any of these things – we want to have a comprehensive look at what our options are.”  He stated, “This was done in the interest of putting everything out on the table.”

Alan Fernandes asked Matt Best about cutting 7th period – even if they could work it with parcel tax funding.

Matt Best explained that, right now, the state funds six period days.  For the most part there are about five required courses, which means, in a six-period day, the typical student would get one elective.  For example, right now they could do both language and art, but in a six-period day they would only have one option.

But it’s worse that than.  Because of diminished demands, the district would likely cut way back on offerings like language, art, music, etc.

“The 7th period day allows for a breadth of programming that most schools don’t have,” Matt Best explained, noting that a key difference between Davis and Rocklin was that Davis had about 1/7th more offerings of electives because of the 7th period.

Alan Fernandes explained, “That means we’re cutting music and our foreign language offerings and we’re cutting art.”

Alan Fernandes: “In order to get to a place where we’re closing the compensation gap in a meaningful long term way, to do it based on this list is to fundamentally change what our district is – which is to say that we’ll now become what other districts are and look like in order to pay them.”

Mr. Chinn continued: “What budget adjustments would allow for a teacher pay raise within existing revenues? We’ll never know, as the board apparently never asked that question.”

That’s false.  They did ask that question – in detail, over the court of several meetings.

The answer is that they would have to find about $3 million in funding.   They have a chart that lays out what that could look like.  They found it unappetizing.

Is that money there for the cuts?

Yes.  They would have to close schools which could save perhaps $1.2 million if they closed both a junior high and elementary school.  They would have to eliminate programs: 7th period, math and science electives, foreign language, art, music, counselors and librarians.

They came to the conclusion that they didn’t want to make those cuts.  If Measure G fails, they will clearly have to revisit that decision.

Mr. Chinn argues there is a different solution: “Gov. Newsom’s proposed budget for the 2020-21 fiscal year gives California schools $3.8 billion in new funds. As the Enterprise noted on Feb. 5, that funding could go to teacher raises. The school board should consider doing exactly that.”

It could.  But we don’t know how much the district will get.  We also don’t know when they would get it.  And, finally, if the district is interested in closing the compensation gap, they have to do so by either producing local funding or re-prioritizing existing funding.

That’s part of the problem.  As it stands right now, the district is not receiving the same amount from the state as other districts.  More state money is likely to increase rather than decrease that imbalance.

More money is good, but the way money is allocated from the state is part of the reason we have this compensation gap, and the other is that, over time, we have prioritized programs over salaries.  The parcel tax would allow us to shift that balance a bit – a no vote on the parcel tax will inevitably lead to program cuts.

They could do it, but this board has opted against that approach – not because they didn’t look, but because they didn’t like the way it did look.

—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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1 Comment

  1. Ron Glick

    “I’ve seen little effort by this board to prioritize and reduce expenditures before asking for new taxes.”

    Depends on how far back you go. Not long ago in 2018 the district renegotiated its SELPA contract with the County saving the district about $1 million a year. The rest of it is arguing about saving pennies on the dollar of what is needed, as David laid out, but the argument that these Trustees haven’t tried to save doesn’t account for the efforts of the holdovers who remain on the board like Fernandez who has led on this issue.


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