By Mario Salvagno
In order to maintain existing schools and operations, DJUSD imports 650 of their students from surrounding towns. The number continues to increase and may grow by an additional 1,000 out- of-district transfer students unless long term planning begins now.
At the last discussion of Measure J/R’s renewal, many members of the public and City Council expressed a desire that Measure J/R should reflect a community-driven process. But how can the current renewal discussion be considered to be a community-driven process when neither its provisions nor its impacts have been discussed or considered by the City commissions or the public in an open and formalized process?
Instead, the current plan seems to be to present the citizens of Davis with an up-or-down vote on a ballot measure that was drafted and designed two decades ago under substantially different housing and economic conditions than Davis faces today.
During the past two decades, Davis has experienced a dramatic demographic transformation which has affected every citizen and entity in Davis, including DJUSD. In the 00’s, Davis was building new schools, now the district is faced with the choice between closing schools or finding more out-of-district transfer students to plug the gaps in their budget.
Before the City Council renews Measure J/R for another decade, shouldn’t the Council and community have a serious discussion about what Measure J/R has meant–and will mean–for Davis, DJUSD, and other community entities?
I am proud to be from Davis. Our town is one of the most educated towns in our country, and our public schools and education rank in the top 35 in the state according to niche.com. Our community values education—and rightly so. However, we as a community need to acknowledge that the past two decades have created serious challenges to the mission of DJUSD to provide excellent education for its students: a decline in families and school age children within Davis, and rising housing costs which have priced out many teachers and their families.
Any discussion of Measure J/R’s renewal should consider whether and how its current provisions have contributed to these challenges and how they might be remedied. A wise person once said that an unconsidered life is not worth living, and it might be also said that an unconsidered policy is not worth pursuing.
And while our school district may be thriving academically, our teachers are struggling. In 2018-19 the average teacher salary was $70,657. While this sounds like a good salary, the Zillow Home Value Index mortgage payments would be 58% of their annual salary. Median sale prices are just as bleak, with mortgage payments at 54% of that salary. Even looking at the average rental rate, the average teacher is still spending over 35% of their income on rent, above the federal standard for how much you should pay for housing.
In 2016, California passed the Teaching Housing Act, which allows affordable housing to be built for our teachers. When it comes to attracting and retaining our teachers, we need to do more.
With the passing of Measure G, we were finally able to help close some of the compensation gap from other districts in the area. However, when comparing our housing costs to the rest of the Sacramento region, we are one of the most expensive communities in which to live.
Increased teacher pay will help DJUSD attract and retain great teachers, but reducing living expenses for DJUSD employees is also important in light of Davis’ high housing costs. Our community needs to capitalize on this opportunity to house our teachers. However, there aren’t many parcels of land left within the city to build a robust housing program for teachers.
Measure J/R should be amended to exempt teacher housing from a citywide vote. Our school district should not have to spend resources paying for campaigns that could be better put towards their students and staff.
We should allow our commissions and City Council to support DJUSD’s needs through peripheral teacher housing projects without an expensive, timeconsuming, and risky ballot process provided that such projects are guaranteed to be reserved for DJUSD employees. If the district wanted to sell/lease any of this housing to someone else, it would need to go to a vote of the people.
Some of the best schools in the country– Choat, Andover, Deerfield–all provide housing as a way of recruiting teachers. More locally, Santa Clara County has used district housing successfully through the Teaching Housing Act of 2016..
In addition to the need for DJUSD housing, we also should include administrative facilities. Many of our buildings are in disrepair and spread out throughout the city. The offices on B Street and Fifth street are old and dilapidated. Currently, the District is facing millions of dollars in repair costs just to keep their district office operable.
Sometime soon, DJUSD will face an ultimatum on how to handle these buildings that are nearing the end of their life cycle, and affording the District more options can help them use their public monies more efficiently and effectively.
Measure J/R was originally written for when land for new schools was the district’s primary concern. Teacher retention and deferred maintenance have become chronic problems for school districts across California. The needs of the school district have changed, and Measure J/R needs to change with it.
These small amendments to Measure J/R would create opportunities for DJUSD to address critical issues while maintaining the broad spirit of the original ordinance.
Mario Salvagno is a Davis resident and graduate of DJUSD