My View: The End of Great Schools in Davis?

Every election year it seems we run into the same scenario—there are 10,000 more ballots to be counted, it’s a relatively close outcome, therefore, we have to wait to call the race.  The problem is that math works against that being the case.

It is one thing if you are watching presidential returns in, say, Ohio, and Cuyahoga County still hasn’t come in (that’s the bluest and largest county in Ohio) and you want to see what happens once those ballots are counted.  That type of dynamic can alter the outcome.

But the late ballots in Davis tend to reinforce the outcome on election day and tend to be distributed fairly evenly throughout the city.

When we ran the numbers on election day, they were stacked against Measure G passing.  The measure got 66.9 percent of votes cast on election day.  That means that it would have passed, based just on election day votes.  The problem is—there weren’t enough of them to overcome the initial 63.9 percent of the vote the measure got.

Even with 10,000 more votes, the measure will come up about 118 votes short, at 65.9 percent.  And it would take 68.8 percent for those last 10,000 to win.

You see what’s happening here?  Sixty-eight point eight percent is significantly higher than what the measure got on election day, and without a change in the voter pool, it’s unlikely to happen.  There is one plausible scenario that could be a factor—the provisional ballots might end up being more strongly pro-Measure G, but I would consider that a longshot.

Mostly likely then, Measure G isn’t passing and the board needs to plan accordingly.  When I spoke to Joe DiNunzio last week, he didn’t want to consider that eventuality, and Alan Fernandes was quite a bit more optimistic than me about the passage and also the future prospects of parcel taxes.

For Alan Fernandes, the results so far don’t mean that the community is not supporting local public education.

“It doesn’t mean it wasn’t the will of the community that this occur,” he said, noting how high a threshold two-thirds really is.  “It’s not just a majority.  It’s not just a 55 percent requirement in state law.  It’s not even a 60 percent requirement, it’s a super super majority.  It is a standard that is so high that falling within an arm’s distance away, doesn’t indicate it was a will of the community at all.

“I view it as very much the will of the community that our teachers are compensated, and its willingness,” he said.

Instead, he believes “it is a matter of us to educate the public on how state law is situated where they are willing to allow a lower threshold (55 percent) to invest into buildings by a facilities bond, but when it comes to investing into people and programs and education of our kids, for whatever reason, the legislature and the powers that be haven’t caught up to what are the needs of the community.”

I get why he thinks that way—I just don’t agree.  Throughout the election some of my more conservative friends have suggested that Davis has been overtaxed and voters have had enough.  The polling really suggested we were moving in that direction.

Measure G got about what the polls said it would get.  The campaign did not move voters and the counter-campaign was just strong enough to dip support, it looks like, to about 66 percent.

I supported Measure G mainly because it was the best of the bad options for the school district, but privately I have been concerned for some time.

This was actually the very point I was attempting to make in 2018 when I threw my name in the hat for a temporary appointment to the open seat.  At that time I warned the board that we were nearing the end of the ability of the board to raise local funding.

The problem for education in Davis is a confluence of factors.  First, the state of California does not spend enough on education.  As we showed with our piece a few months ago, California is spending $12,000 or so per pupil while states on the east coast are spending 50 to 100 percent more.  And even that $18,000 to $24,000 pales in comparison with what we spend per year, per college student—or per year, per inmate.

But Davis faces a double whammy.  Not only does the state not spend enough on education, but we are disadvantaged within that allocation of state funding.  We get 79 cents on the dollar.  With a parcel tax, we get close to the average—95 cents on the dollar, but we have prioritized programs over salaries.

I respect those who want to do a deep dive again into what the district is paying for administrators, programs it may not need, etc.  I believe I have examined the issue enough to conclude that there is not enough there to make a difference.

I read the arguments from the opposition.  A lot of those arguments were shrouded in ignorance—everything from average teacher salaries without accounting for longevity and lack of awareness of how funding can be raised and how money can be allocated.

Bottom line is that two years ago I feared that we were about to lose our great schools and worried that the community was unaware of the danger.  I go even further: I think the quality of life from schools to the city infrastructure to city services is, over the next ten years, going to basically fall off a cliff.

We have more ways to stop this problem on the city front than the schools front, but it’s coming across the board.  We are largely hamstrung on education—we are not getting enough from the state, the state is not allocating enough for quality public education and our local remedies are not only limited, they are dwindling.

I get it, we can take solace in the fact that nearly 66 percent of the voters were willing to back another parcel tax.  But that’s, in a way, fool’s gold.  The reality is two-thirds threshold is incredibly high and, as this community becomes more bifurcated away from families of child-rearing age, it will become harder and harder to get two-thirds of the voters to back additional taxes.

—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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35 Comments

  1. Keith Olsen

    What, not a “crisis”?

    The problem isn’t the unfairness of the two thirds parcel tax threshold, the problem lies with the state and how they unfairly allocate our state taxes to schools.

    1. Ron Glick

      The problem is both the state funding formula and the high 2/3 bar for the  locals to address the problem.

      As I talked to people throughout the campaign it seemed many didn’t  understand how school financing has changed. They saw this as simply another school parcel tax instead of something new to address a new problem created by the 2014 change in state funding.

      The community seems unaware of the precarious fiscal situation of the school district that has made up the shortfall created by the new funding formula by spending down reserves to the statutory limit in order to keep salaries competitive with nearby districts. The district is at the end of its ability to make up this ongoing structural imbalance.

      This election is close enough that I hope the district takes a second bite at the apple in November if the current outcome holds. If we accept failure the future of DJUSD looks dimmer going forward.

  2. Tia Will

    I believe I have examined the issue enough to conclude that there is not enough there to make a difference.”

    In strictly monetary terms, I believe you are right. However, with a vote this close, I wonder if another thorough assessment of the possibility of administrative cuts might be enough to convince skeptical voters the district is sincere about economizing where possible, to tip the vote to the positive.

    1. Keith Olsen

      Then why didn’t they do that before the election?  There are many places DJUSD can trim but have they?

      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.
      https://www.davisvanguard.org/2020/02/sunday-commentary-letter-writer-gets-it-wrong-on-measure-g/?fbclid=IwAR1CGHFk6IOHeQjAGAJdaKVJdezmEsexVxtTrq_13GxMiiRz4Xn-jhWc578

      How many of these ways to save money have been implemented?  Does it take the voters finally stepping up and saying no to new parcel taxes (if the no vote holds) to trim some fat?

       

      1. David Greenwald

        More importantly – how much of a difference would those have made?  Answer: not much.  It would have been on the margins.  The conclusion of every analysis on funding and spending was that you needed to make big cuts not marginal ones to generate the type of money – $3 million – needed.

          1. David Greenwald

            It’s not a bad idea – make a round of mostly symbolic cuts and try again in the fall.

        1. Ron Oertel

          The conclusion of every analysis on funding and spending was that you needed to make big cuts not marginal ones to generate the type of money – $3 million – needed.

          Of course, this is based upon the assumption that teachers (making an average salary of around $72,000/year, plus benefits) “need” a raise, for a less-than-full-time job.

          And of course, another big “jump” to conclude that doing so has any effect on quality of education.

          Also assuming that the district continues to avoid “right-sizing” the district, in the face of declining resident enrollments. (At some point, it’s likely to be forced upon them, regardless of arguments put forth on here.)

          I’d still like to know what impact this proposal would have had regarding unfunded retirement benefits, as well (since benefits are based upon salary). How much money does CALSTRS have in the stock market?

  3. Bill Marshall

    Rather than hand-wringing, ‘blame-game’ drama, why not wait two weeks to find out what the vote actually was?  Plenty of time after that for those, and “next steps”, IMO…

    The measure may have passed, and may have slipped further into the “no” column.  Hypothesizing doesn’t feed the bulldog, nor move the football (pick your metaphor).

    Patience is a good trait to have.

    1. David Greenwald

      Why Bill?  I ran through the numbers and concluded there is very little chance that the measure passes.  If you disagree with that, show me your numbers,

      1. Bill Marshall

        My “numbers” are being tabulated and will be available within 2 weeks.  And they will be correct and definitive.  No matter what your number crunching says…

      2. Hiram Jackson

        Greenwald:  “Sixty-eight point eight percent is significantly higher than what the measure got on election day, and without a change in the voter pool, it’s unlikely to happen.”

        The structure of this particular local school parcel tax was more challenging to explain than other recent measures, so I’m open to the possibility that it fails after all the ballots are counted.  The presidential primary, especially for those interested in the candidates for the Democrats, was the biggest reason to vote.

        Because of all the choices, volatility, and uncertainty, I think there was a higher likelihood for voters voting for a Democrat were going to hold on to their VBM ballot until the last day than was the case in previous elections.

        There has also been, in Davis, a past demonstrated correlation that more liberal/Democratic leaning voters are likelier to support a local school parcel tax than conservative/Republican leaning voters.  I think there is a reasonable scenario to see a greater skew in the late ballots, and I acknowledge it will likely be razor thin.

        For now I will await the final result.

         

      1. Ron Oertel

        Thanks – same with you.  Not sure why David apparently discouraged you from posting on the Vanguard’s Facebook page, as you noted the other day – upon your return here.

  4. Dave Hart

    Of course, this is based upon the assumption that teachers (making an average salary of around $72,000/year, plus benefits) “need” a raise, for a less-than-full-time job.

    Spoken by someone who has obviously never  been a classroom teacher who took their job seriously.  If someone worked 60 hour weeks for 10 months on an engineering project then took two months off to recharge, we would all be very understanding.

    And of course, another big “jump” to conclude that doing so has any effect on quality of education.

    This is exactly what has developed over time in Berkeley where the cost of living due to housing is worse than what we see here in Davis.  The voters there just approved a similar measure targeted for teacher salaries in the 70% range and on top of an existing list of parcel tax add-ons much greater than here in Davis.  I maintain the turnout was low and that always favors the motivated angry know nothings who believe the school district will be more efficient if they are sufficiently starved.

    That said, the mass of voters do support taxing themselves for good schools.  This is a supportive community for education.  Future campaigns for proper funding of schools need to boil down and more clearly state why these taxes are needed so that we get the 80% votes.  I don’t think that was done this time.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Dave Hart:  “Spoken by someone who has obviously never been a classroom teacher who took their job seriously.  If someone worked 60 hour weeks for 10 months on an engineering project then took two months off to recharge, we would all be very understanding.”

      I believe it’s more than two months.  And, that it’s less than 40 hours per week, to boot.

      Salaried engineers (and just about every other employee) don’t have nearly as much time off.

      In any case, $72,000 is respectable.

      According to the article below, only one 1 out of 8 districts throughout California has any school district parcel tax.  It would be interesting to know how many of those are exclusively for teacher raises.

      https://www.davisvanguard.org/2020/02/monday-morning-thoughts-parcel-tax-exemptions-the-legal-the-political-and-the-moral/#comment-420258

      Quoting myself:  “I’d still like to know what impact this proposal would have had regarding unfunded retirement benefits, as well (since benefits are based upon salary). How much money does CALSTRS have in the stock market?”

      Since no one else responded, thought I’d go ahead and post this link:

      https://www.calstrs.com/current-investment-portfolio

      Dave Hart:  “I maintain the turnout was low and that always favors the motivated angry know nothings who believe the school district will be more efficient if they are sufficiently starved.”

      Is that an argument, or an attack?

      1. Robert Canning

        Ron,

        There is some research about teachers’ work hours. It doesn’t support the assertion that teachers work 50 hours a week, and it doesn’t support the assertion that they work less than other professions. Here’s a link to an article and a blog post at the Brookings:

        https://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/10.1162/EDFP_a_00133

        and

        https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2019/06/12/do-teachers-work-long-hours/

        Having been a classroom teacher at the high school level in another era (early 1980’s) I can attest that new teachers work long hours. Once established (like in most jobs) my hunch is that they work closer to the average. I think it also depends on what classes one is teaching and how one structures the class.

        Re. the salary issue. I received a text message from the anti-G folks in the week before the election. They complained about the average salary for DJUSD teachers. I also read (I can’t remember where) that the average is high because of the number of teachers with longevity in the district.  This points out the usefulness of NOT using the average but rather using the median salary. Averages are notoriously subject to being skewed by high or low components that “pull” it one way or another. I have not seen a figure for the median DJUSD salary but I bet it is lower than $72K.

        And regarding summer time “off”, I have a high school teacher in the family. She stops working for the district in mid-June and starts again in mid-August every year. Seems like that’s two months. Also, she (being a new teacher) often has taken courses over the summer to augment her skills and knowledge base. She doesn’t get paid for those hours.

        Teachers at all levels have been denigrated and seen as second-class workers. It used to be “women’s work”. It’s time we treat teachers (and child care workers) as importantly at CEOs.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Interesting…

          Some very real truths, several misleading statements…

          Truth:  Median is the appropriate gross comparison, especially if accompanied by mins/max’s.

          Truth:  Basically two months off in summer, but also (misleading) doesn’t include holidays, Thanksgiving, ‘winter (aka Christmas) break, and ‘spring (aka Easter) break’.

          Truth:  “new teachers work long hours. Once established (like in most jobs) my hunch is that they work closer to the average”

          Misleading… teachers using summer to take classes “and not being paid for it”… well, if it results in qualifying units, it means they move up on the salary tables… so, smart investment, spending hours in the summers, and reaping higher salary for years.

          On the latter, when the City needed someone licensed as a PLS, I spent 500 hours, and about the same amount of dollars, to acquire that license.  Net compensation increase = $0… amount of reimbursement = $0.  Did it because I am a professional, as teachers like to view themselves (most often, appropriately).

          Partially true, partially misleading:

          Teachers at all levels have been denigrated and seen as second-class workers. It used to be “women’s work”.

          First part is partially true, and part of the reason (depending which period of American history you choose to look at) is that female teachers were oft married, and it was secondary family income.  At other points, female teachers were not allowed to date, or be married… that was more of a prejudice re: women, not teachers.  Almost all teachers were male until ~ the mid 1800’s.  Lack of men after the Civil War opened the door wider.  The WWII years also contributed to a higher %-age of women teachers.

           

        2. Ron Oertel

          Robert:  Regarding the amount that teachers work per year, are you stating that they’re working during spring, summer, and winter breaks?  (The type of extended breaks that other employees simply don’t have?) In addition to holidays and whatever vacation they accrue?

          Regarding the use of “average” salaries, that’s a perfectly reasonable amount to examine.  Especially since the salary increase (which hasn’t actually been disclosed on here) would have been evenly distributed across all levels.

          This entire issue is a “weird red herring”, especially in a district with declining resident enrollments.

    2. Bill Marshall

      M.A.K.N. = “folk I don’t agree with, who have the audacity to vote”.

      My calculations show this to be mathematically sound.  Within +/- 5%.  Which is larger than the spread someone says is “insurmountable” in variation between election night and ultimate… (~ 4 %)… guess some could say 4% is significant…  oh, they have!

      1. David Greenwald

        Said it was unlikely not insurmountable. Regardless, I’m not arguing we should not count the votes, only discuss next steps. Seems actually prudent to do so.

    1. Robert Canning

      Ron,

      I’m not sure I understand your comment that average salary is “a perfectly reasonable amount to examine”. Think about it this way.  If you added $10K to every teacher’s salary, that would only raise the average but wouldn’t change the fact that the average, as a descriptive statistic, is still skewed by the higher (or lower) salaries. It wouldn’t change the fact that the upper 25% of salaries are much higher than the lowest 25%. Just like in real estate, you almost never see the average home price, but rather the median, which is not skewed by high priced listings. 

      Do you believe teachers in Davis make too much?

      1. Ron Oertel

        Again, if the “issue” is that they’re trying to attract new teachers, then perhaps that’s where the focus should have been (regarding additional compensation).  (Of course, that’s a questionable goal in the first place, in a declining resident enrollment district.)

        If there’s a lot of older, tenured teachers staying around, it must be a pretty decent place to work.

        Compare this situation to the serious problems in Sacramento’s school district.

        https://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2020/02/21/sac-city-unified-teacher-layoffs-approved/

        1. Hiram Jackson

          “If there’s a lot of older, tenured teachers staying around, it must be a pretty decent place to work.”

          There’s a difference between financial needs and interests of older and younger teachers.  Older teachers are likelier to have bought in to the housing market when prices were much lower and thus will likelier have lower mortgage payments.  Older teachers did not carry as much student debt (if they did at all) compared to younger teachers.  Those are factors that influence where a teacher will work and for what salary.  And those factors have changed within a matter of 20-30 years.  Even if one were to factor in a likely increase in one’s salary over time within a district, it still wouldn’t be enough to cover those costs along with regular living expenses.

        2. Bill Marshall

          What Hiram says… and then some…

          If you value not commuting (I commuted les than 1.5 miles, one way), have community connections, it becomes less and less about the money… and if you have kids, the kid’s connections… had the opportunity for a promotion, a bunch more money, in a lower cost community, which had a lot to offer (Redding)… was offered the job, but as my daughter overheard her mom and I discuss it, she started crying… fearing loss of her dance classes and friends, etc.

          I declined the offer… 4th time in my career was offered better paying jobs, and declined, based on “other factors”… had it occurred earlier in my career, before family was established, might have switched…

        3. Ron Oertel

          Hiram:  What you’re describing is true regarding many careers, throughout urbanized areas in California.  A reason that I suggested that compensation increases be focused on the lower-end of the spectrum, rather than evenly-distributed to all.  (Assuming that the goal is to attract new teachers, in a declining-enrollment district.)

          Regardless, pretty much any new Davis teacher is going to live in Woodland (or some other place that’s somewhat less-expensive than Davis).  Regardless of any realistic salary increase.  (So, that particular argument should have been “retired” a long time ago.) And frankly, new teachers should pursue employment where they’re actually needed (e.g., where resident enrollment is increasing), rather than where they might “prefer” to work.

          And if there’s a “shortage” of new teachers, I’d suggest looking at the (50 or so?) that are being laid-off in Sacramento (see article above, or research it on your own).

          The truth is that every “pro-increase” argument put forth on here falls flat, on basic logic alone. But again, I don’t personally care much about the issue, one way or another. If it passes, that’s fine with me too. (So, I wouldn’t read too much into my response, other than I put forth on here.)

        4. Ron Oertel

          Regardless, pretty much any new Davis teacher is going to live in Woodland (or some other place that’s somewhat less-expensive than Davis). 

          Of course, this may, or may not apply regarding two working partners within a household (e.g., one working at UCD, and one working for the school district). One is certainly not going to get rich by being a teacher, alone. (Seems to me that this is already well-understood, prior to pursuing such a career.)

          I’m going to assume (without counting them up) that I (and possibly some others) have made more than 7 comments, at this point.

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