Every Monday from here until the election, the Vanguard will ask all five of the council candidates one question which they have precisely 250 words with which to respond. This is the final question.
Question 8: DJUSD has seen a decline in enrollment of 78 students per year since 2004. At the same time, that has been stabilized by about 71 additional out-of-district transfers. In your opinion, should the city step in to address declining enrollment and, if so, what they can they and should they do to address, in particular, housing for families with school age children?
DJUSD’s excellent schools are an important component of the high quality of life we enjoy in Davis. It was an important reason that Maureen and I settled on Davis when we were getting married. We have hardly been alone in that judgment. The district’s record of academic success unquestionably creates additional demand and adds a premium to the value of our Davis homes.
DJUSD adds to the fabric of our community through sports, music, and other on-campus and off-campus activities. The district is one of our largest employers and is a potential draw for high-tech businesses and the economic development we need to pay for city services and infrastructure.
Thus, the gradual slide in DJUSD enrollment is a legitimate civic concern. So is one of the major reasons for that decline – the unaffordability of our housing for young child-rearing families. Many people who work in Davis simply cannot afford to live in Davis with their school-age families. In recent years the Davis City Council has approved a series of projects now underway to add market-rate and affordable housing that will help, but more family housing is clearly needed.
Our draft Housing Element nearing final approval includes a series of specific and credible proposals to address that housing need, such as my proposal to examine use of surplus DJUSD property for teacher and faculty housing. Our community will need to pursue such creative approaches to ensure stable school enrollment and preserve the huge community asset that our local school system provides.
I believe the City should indeed take steps to support schools. Declining enrollment is a symptom of our broader housing crisis. If families with school-age children cannot afford to live in Davis, enrollment and consequently school district revenue will fall. Relative to other school districts in California, our starting and average teacher salaries are already low; declining revenue will make recruitment and retention of high-quality educators even more difficult, and may force cutbacks to the programs that we value.
A General Plan update is the most important step we can take to create a comprehensive housing vision that outlines where and what types of teacher and family housing could be built in the City. We must ensure that such a General Plan update process reaches all groups in our community, instead of only those who are presently civically engaged. That kind of proactive outreach means utilizing existing nonprofit, cultural, religious, and other social networks to create new spaces for underrepresented populations to participate.
A General Plan update would identify locations for affordable, dense, climate-friendly, transit-linked for-sale housing to be built, including starter homes for families with school-age children. Affordable for-sale homes have always been the engine of upward economic mobility, the building of intergenerational wealth, and the creation of community. In the short-term, the City can provide downpayment assistance, consider upzoning to increase density on lots, and pursue other policies to facilitate homeownership by families, but the long-term vision of a thriving Davis school system depends on greater housing stock.
Declining enrollment in our schools will have a negative impact on the quality of education available to our students. The cause for the decline is multifaceted and part of a larger decline seen across the state. While the solution to this problem will require more than just increasing the number of families in Davis, the fact that families still see Davis schools as valuable enough to commute to does mean that if housing were more affordable and available, it would stabilize some of the declining enrollment. The city has a responsibility to provide housing for basic reasons, helping maintain the quality of our schools is an added bonus.
It is not the city’s responsibility to ensure the school district is fiscally solvent, just like the school district is not responsible for the city’s fiscal situation. Success in education is not measured student numbers, but student outcomes. So the focus of the district should be on utilizing the funding it receives to provide the best education possible for the students it has.
Additionally, to suggest that the solution to more students is more housing is nothing but a straw man argument.
Fertility rates have been in steady decline in California for many years, so it should be expected that enrollment should see a steady decline and thus the district should plan accordingly.