Guest Commentary: Why I Urge Everyone to Vote No on Measure N

If this tax is passed, we will essentially never be able to repeal or amend it. This is our only real chance to vote no. 

By Michael J. Harrington

(Editor’s Note: Political season is here. The primary is March 5 and the general is in November. The Vanguard will keep readers updated throughout the season on the latest news and announcements. The Vanguard accepts submissions on all sides of issues and campaigns.  Publication on the Vanguard does not imply Vanguard support or endorsement.)

I strongly recommend that on March 5, all local voters Vote NO on Measure N, the new large school parcel tax that will last in perpetuity with no voter check in and compound increasing every year. Because N has no sunset clause, this will be your only chance.

This is the first time I am voting NO on any school measure, and I am doing so because it is not OK to install a large permanent tax that will never automatically come back to voters and will go up every year with inflation, especially when all indications are Davis student enrollment will decline significantly. Make the Board put a sunset on it and start to plan for declining enrollments.

The big California population shift.

Not only is there little or no growth overall in population in California, the school age population has been dropping significantly across California. The CA department of Finance projects a 10% drop from 2020 to 2040.

This drop is even slightly stronger in Yolo County with a 12% decline in students 5-18 years old from 2020 to 2040 as projected by the CA department of Finance.

This drop in school age kids results from decreasing birth rates and slowing immigration. This leads to an increase in median age both for California and Yolo County according to the projections by the CA Department of Finance. Yolo County’s median age is lower than the CA average because of the large number of students at UCD so it is very notable that Yolo’s median age is getting older more rapidly than the state at large.

DJUSD has been “Masking” the decline in Davis students for years

As a result of these changing demographics, the enrollment of Davis-based students in DJUSD schools has already been dropping for almost a decade. In the words of Superintendent Best, DJUSD was able to “mask” enrollment decline by bringing in more out of district students. One strategy used to do this was to advertise on NPR and in the Sacramento Bee.

DJUSD enrollment dropped in 2020 due to the pandemic, and then the district was again able to “Mask” enrollment decline by expanding services to younger students with pre-kindergarten. But Mr. Best has publicly stated that the district can not continue to “Mask” enrollment declines because the school age population is dropping for the entire region.

Now is not the time to drop the sunset clause.

Given the shifting demographics and dropping enrollment in Davis schools, now is not the time to drop the sunset clause from the school parcel tax. With such big changes in the DJUSD student population coming, it is particularly unreasonable for the district to ask for a permanent tax that goes up with inflation. The low birthrate has already “baked-in” a shrinking student demographic for years. The declining enrollment is entirely predictable so now is not the time to lock in a permanent tax with a compounding inflation adjustment to provide a flood of money to the district while “customer demand” is going down.

Like most of Davis, I believe in Big “D” Democracy and believe we all share and enjoy the right to vote on big ticket items such as parcel taxes and exterior large development projects (Measure J). Thus, parcel taxes should always have a sunset clause. The board leaving out the sunset clause alone is reason enough to vote against this measure.

Leaving out the sunset clause as enrollment drops looks like an attempt to lock in funding before people realize there are fewer students in the Davis schools and declining “customer demand” from kids of Davis families who pay this large tax burden.   Based on declining enrollment projections, it is imperative that voters have the opportunity to reevaluate the Measure N tax. If N passes, you will never again have a meaningful vote on the school’s parcel tax income and you will lose the power of the purse over our district.

The Yes on N campaign consistently claims the tax is just a renewal and it is not permanent – both are extremely misleading. The lack of sunset makes this a very different school parcel tax than Davis has ever voted for before. Without the sunset clause there are 2 hypothetical ways N could be repealed but both are highly difficult or unlikely.

  • The school board can put it back on the ballot. Since this money funds programs the school board oversees, they are far more likely to want to keep the tax in place than the average Davis voters.
  • Citizens can gather several thousand signatures to put a repeal initiative on the ballot. The organization behind this, and the effort is extremely difficult and so unlikely it is fair to call the Measure N tax permanent. I personally have significant personal experience with these local initiatives, and I can tell you that it would be next to impossible to vote out this tax.

We should not be passing a large self-inflating school tax right before enrollment drops. At a minimum, there needs to be check-ins with the voters.

Good news, there is still time to vote No and fix the problem.

Measure N was brought 15 months before Measure H expires. The board has plenty of time to act and bring a more reasonable measure with a sunset back to voters long before funding runs out.

The Board has at least 4 more favorable election options before the current tax Measure H expires in June 2025. November 2024 is a particularly favorable date for DJSUD since there is a higher student turn out in election years and students overwhelmingly vote in favor of school funding. Maybe it is because they don’t have to pay for it, or maybe it’s because they value education as evidenced by paying their own tuition. Looking at past elections, we see student turn out favors school funding measures.

If the District fixes the structural problems, there are tax measures to fund our schools that I could vote for. It is the school board’s responsibility to fix this misstep, and they have the time to do so.

I also have to add a comment about a disturbing fact: some Yes supporters, and even school board members are running around town and posting on social media that if the voters decline Measure N on March 5, the teachers are all going to get pink slipped and laid off and programs cancelled! This is total malarkey and fear mongering at its worst!

Vote NO and make them fix the structural problems and come back with a better proposal with a sunset.

What about the Out of District Students?

The district’s past advertising campaign on NPR and in the Sacramento Bee to bring in students from other districts is wrong. By drawing students with resources and engaged parents who have time to drive them to Davis out of surrounding districts pulls millions of dollars and family resources away from other districts and leaves behind kids who can’t get transfers, or don’t even know to try. It is highly unfair to those left behind. The parents driving their kids to Davis every day also won’t be paying the parcel tax, but worse, the largest employer in the region who many of these parents work for – UCD – will also be paying nothing into DJUSD. This whole policy needs to be reevaluated from the perspective of what is best for students in the region.

Consider Carefully and Vote NO!

I respectfully ask that each voter carefully consider the hard facts that Measure N lacks a sunset date to require the schools to check back with voters, has a big escalator clause that leads to compounding tax levies, and ignores the demographic reality that the school age population in this entire area, and California, are plummeting. Vote NO on March 5, and make the Board come back with a better proposal. There is plenty of time.

As a parent I am a huge supporter of the schools, and have always voted for every single school parcel tax, but as a graduate of UCD and GWU law school, a 35-year local practicing attorney, former City Council Member, and the primary challenger in 2011-12 to the City’s illegal water rates and too-large water plant capacity (saving the ratepayers over $350,000,000 in costs, according to the City Finance Dept), I cannot stand by and allow a tax with such deep structural flaws to add to the housing cost burden in perpetuity.

Please Vote NO on Measure N.

Because the tax is essentially permanent, this will be your only chance!

Michael Harrington served a term on the city Council and has been a Davis voter for 29 years

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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