By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – In February, the San Francisco voters ousted three school board members, who were seen as too focused on issues like racial justice. But several months later, the district is struggling to survive. New leaders are reluctant to step forward and teachers are leaving – there are currently, according to one tweet, 564 job openings in the district and more teachers will be resigning this summer.
While San Francisco is for certain an extreme situation, it echoes what is a systemwide problem – exacerbated by the pandemic and the strain put on teachers attempting to operate under extremely trying conditions.
Earlier this month, we received an email from our young child’s teacher from last year. Like many others, she is leaving the profession most likely. When we met her, she was a young, dynamic and energetic teacher, who taught with enthusiasm and compassion. The profession cannot afford to lose young teachers of this caliber.
In her message to a number of parents, she wrote:
Unfortunately, I’ve made the incredibly difficult decision to resign from my position and I won’t be returning back to the classroom next year.
As I’m sure all of you know, the profession is deeply unsustainable for educators and it’s taken an enormous toll on my mental and physical health, the last 4+ years that I’ve worked in various capacities in education.
Sadly, the issues that affect the roles of educators are systemic, and without structural changes, the everyday labor conditions and output required of teachers is limitless, making the job a daunting and unending task behind the scenes for all of us (though our smiling faces and upbeat energy might not seem like it). So, I have to step away to take care of myself.
Through it all, the humanizing aspects of the role have been what’s kept me going and I have honestly treasured every minute of being a maestra to your children and developing such special relationships with each of them. I have loved teaching them about how to be their best selves, wiping tears and giving hugs, being their cheerleader, pushing them to challenge injustice in all its forms, to meaningfully care for each other and our environment, and believing in them so they know they are deeply loved and valued.
In my view, while the pandemic did not cause the underlying problems in education, it exacerbated them to the point where we are really facing a crisis in our education system. Education is the pathway to prosperity in the contemporary world.
At the local level we have been fighting for more than a decade and a half to preserve what have been excellent schools. We are fortunate in Davis. Since 2007, the community has stepped up every time it has been called on to support its schools – including several times under emergency conditions, the most recent being in 2020 when the district needed money to be able to close the compensation gap.
Great schools have been a hallmark of our community since long before I moved here in 1996. And make no mistake, they are being threatened like never before.
The cost of housing in Davis combined with constrained housing supply has largely pinched off the ability of our community to replenish itself. There are fewer opportunities for families with school age children to move to this community, this community is increasingly out of reach of middle class families, and the result is a slow decline in enrollment and with it resources for schools.
Some have maintained that Davis is and will continue to be *fine* into the future.
But that’s not what I see. What I see is a slow but sustained bleed that is very slowly, maybe even imperceptibly choking off the lifeblood of this community. Moreover, it is all intermingled together.
One reason why this is not perhaps more apparent is that the school district has been able to apply temporary bandages to prevent the problem from becoming more urgent. We have shored up our budget through parcel taxes and shored up our enrollment through interdistrict transfers.
But in the longer term, the lack of housing that is affordable for families means that their numbers are slowly declining. Slow declines are devastating to schools because it means even if you are able to make big cuts to reduce costs, you constantly have fewer resources and are constantly attempting to shed costs.
It is not size that matters. This not about right sizing the district. Size really is irrelevant to this equation.
Rather, it is the year over year change that impacts whether the district is adding or subtracting resources. If enrollment declines, the ADA money declines with it, but because of large percentages of fixed costs and economies of scale, you can’t shed costs in a one to one ration that allows you slide up and slide down with no worries.
A big culprit here is that Davis’ land use policies have choked off its ability to provide housing for families that they can afford.
As we have pointed out, it is really the whole package – Davis has become less affordable, it has especially become less affordable for people with school aged children, many of whom will not be able to work in Davis unless they work for the university.
The community already has a fiscal gap between what it does spend and what it needs to spend on things like services, amenities, and infrastructure.
One of the big problems that Davis faces is that this is not going to be a quick and sharp decline. This is the proverbial frog in a pot of water. The water is not yet boiling which would alert us that there is a serious problem. Instead, the water is slowly increasing in temperature, and by the time most of our residents realize how hot the water is, it will be too late.