Commentary: Our Great Davis Schools Are in Trouble

photo courtesy of DTA

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – For a number of years I have been warning this community that the great Davis school system risks coming crashing down on our heads as we look the other way.

In just my relatively brief time covering local issues, the district has been able to avert a number of very serious crises.  But long term, I think without strong interventions from our community, we are facing a long and perhaps slow decline.

The teacher compensation issue is back—and I’m sure if you ask the teachers, it never went away.  I see this as a symptom of the larger problem—but it’s a big one and it is going to cripple the school district.

Last year, a bright young teacher at our children’s elementary school, who had to grapple with the debilitating situation stemming from the COVD crisis, left the district.  She was not alone.  A whole host of bright young teachers left along with her.  That’s the next generation of potentially great teachers, gone.

I just read the letter from Anoosh Jorjorian, a local activist and part of Davis Parents for Teacher Equity.

She wrote, “I have listened to the financial concerns from the DJUSD Board of Education that are standing in the way of giving our DTA and CSEA educators the fair and competitive pay they have earned. These concerns do not seem to acknowledge the state of our educators — and therefore our schools — due to years of chronic underinvestment.”

She noted:

  • I know of two teachers who are food-insecure. One might be an anomaly, but two means there are more.
  • Parents of SPED kids are at their wits’ end because this district cannot hire and retain enough paraeducators.
  • Two sites are without counselors, which is causing chaos at those sites.

Jorjorian argues, “The board has offered the bare minimum of what is acceptable to our educators. In the context of a nationwide educator shortage, the bare minimum is not enough.  We need DJUSD to dig deep and prioritize pay for the people who care for our kids at school sites every day. As long as our educators are not satisfied, DJUSD parents are not satisfied.”

This is similar to argument put forth by DTA President Victor Lagunes at the beginning of the current movement.

“Davis TA believes that our students deserve the best. DJUSD must invest in students by investing in attracting and retaining great educators,” he said.

He argued that the board has acted unfairly toward the teachers.

He writes, “It is unfair that this board directs the district to offer only fractions of the immense funds the California legislature approved in this year’s budget. It is regressive: it leads to us falling further behind rather than keeping pace; it goes against all the statements of intent that were communicated to the public during Measure G; it means we aren’t competitive.”

Lagunes added, “We believe our students deserve the best. They need highly qualified teachers in all their classrooms, and staff at their schools, and we will not achieve that unless we invest in attracting and retaining highly qualified educators. The current stance of this board will not make that possible.”

None of this is particularly new unfortunately.

Former DTA President Dianna Huculak wrote that “thousands of children and their families in our community have been negatively impacted by the district’s lack of vision and inability to retain teachers.  “

She added, “As school trustees you could choose to take action to ensure that our district reflects the values of our community, or you can continue in the same policies and ensure that thousands of more children will lose consistent, caring adults in their lives.”

She wrote that in 2017.  Eventually the push by the teachers led to the passage of Measure G in 2020.  But that put a band-aid over a much larger problem and did not solve the pay equity issue and did not, as we have seen, halt the bleeding.

In my view, this is a symptom of a much larger problem, but it is a symptom that threatens the vitality of our entire school system.

Some of the problems that we face stem from the nature of the state’s financing system and the ways that it disadvantages affluent communities like Davis.

Some of the problems stem from the fact that the district has long prioritized breadth and diversity of programs overcompensating teachers.  It was here that the district and voters utilized Measure G to address some of that.

This led to a long series of public discussions with a subcommittee made up of Joe DiNunzio and former Trustee Alan Fernandes.  Ultimately the choice came down to programs or teachers, and there was little appetite for cutting programs, and limited means by which to address teacher compensation outside of a local parcel tax—that was ultimately placed on the ballot and passed by the voters.

But we knew even at that time that this would only be a temporary solution.

And making this process far more difficult in the long term is the reality that this community faces.

The cost of housing further disadvantages particularly young teachers who have to commute or pay large percentages of their pay to live in town.

The cost of housing has also led to a decrease in local enrollment, which further threatens to reduce district finances and strains the ability of the district in the long term to maintain current programs while retaining quality educators.

In a recent article we noted that since 2005-06 resident enrollment has declined by about 1244 students, or an average of 78 annually, and that trend, according to projections from Davis Demographics, is expected to continue into the foreseeable future.

The district has offset that by adding about 61 or so interdistrict transfers, students who live outside of Davis but attend school here, primarily because they have parents who work for the city, school district or university, many of whom cannot afford to live here.

In the long run, and I don’t know how long, the school district is going to get caught in the vise on these issues.  The lack of housing affordability is detrimental to teacher retention, and it is also straining the district’s finances.

There will be further discussions as we reported last month.

Vice-Mayor Will Arnold and Councilmember Josh Chapman agreed to look into future ways for the city and school district to collaborate to increase housing for young families.

Josh Chapman is concerned that at some point the district will reach “a saturation point” where “you’re not going to just continue to grow the number of interjurisdictional people coming here…  When you get to that point, what does that mean for Davis schools?”

Chapman noted that “the main reason why people move here is because of the quality of schools.  So I think that this issue has such a direct impact on families across the town in general.”

This is one area where the city has a direct impact on the school district.  And of course this all comes back to housing.

Chapman said, “What we talked about the in meeting was how do we get more proactive when it comes to housing in this community?  And how do we grow the number of families that are, that are living here who have school-aged children so that they can attend schools here and can be part of this community?”

In my view, these issues are inextricably linked and it is up to the community to figure out its values; otherwise, the character of this community will inevitably change for the worse through our inaction.

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. Ron Glick

    “In my view, these issues are inextricably linked ”

    Actually, you are conflating two separate issues, the long term trend and the current budget. The current failure of the superintendent and the trustees to negotiate a raise in a timely fashion is unconscionable. The state budget was adopted in June and the Governor with a $98 Billion dollar surplus and an election in November gave big budget increases to education. Since then all state workers got a raise but DJUSD has failed to move forward expeditiously. Five months later still no deal for district employees. Add to this inflation at 40 year highs and its no wonder teachers are furious.

    The question is why not? Is it avarice or incompetence? I believe that it is the later and DJUSD needs to get serious and make this a priority. This falls on Matt Best for not getting it done but it is also a horrible stain on the legacy of Trustees Adams and Asmundson who only have a few days left in office. Leaving this mess to the new Trustees and a new board represents a huge failure.

  2. Ron Oertel

    So, you already know what I (and a few others) have said about this.

    DJUSD needs to close a school or two, and has a need for fewer teachers – not more.

    Doing so will (also) allow the existing parcel taxes to be distributed among a reduced need, thereby ensuring more funding for what remains.

    Enrollment is declining in totality across the state, including in Yolo county.  Get used to it.

    Even Woodland has slightly declining enrollment – despite all of the new development.  (No doubt, partly because DJUSD poaches its students.)

    More than 1,000 out-of-district transfers at this point. (You’d think that would be enough trouble that DJUSD has already caused, but no – they also continue to push for sprawl. For no reason other than their own self-interest.)

    Don’t be fooled, folks – they’re just like any other self-interested organization. The problem being that some are “suckered into” the “it’s for the kids” claims – of which there’s an ever-decreasing number.

    Again, this isn’t a “Davis-only” issue. Enrollment is declining in most places. (And I personally view this as a “good thing”, toward a stable population and a reduction in the so-called “housing crisis”.)

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