Sunday Commentary: Superintendent Matt Best Is Sounding the Alarm on Lack of New Housing and Impact on Schools – Will the Community Pay Attention?

Matt Best speaks to the school board, community on Thursday

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – I happened to be meeting with a long-time leader in the Davis community on Friday and she noted my article on Superintendent Matt Best and said that’s the first time she can remember that a superintendent in Davis directly linked housing to declining enrollment.

This time it was a test run—a false alarm.  Somehow the word got out to West Davis that the school district was considering the closure of Patwin Elementary School.  It wasn’t true—this time.  But even the possibility of such a move prompted hundreds of purple-clad Patwin parents to come out to pack the school board meeting.

For a long time, people have cavalierly argued that what DJUSD needs to do is close a school.  Well, I remember what that looked like.  I remember when DJUSD did close Valley Oak nearly 20 years ago.  I remember when they threatened to close Emerson Junior High.  The notion that that would be an easy decision or an easy fix is a false one.

While a school closure could save *some* money in the short term, it’s more a band aid than an actual solution.  That’s the part people don’t seem to understand.  If you have ongoing declining enrollment then, even if you close the school, the bleed off will continue the next year and you won’t be able to close another school for quite some time—if ever.

Fortunately that is not our fate—at least today.

Superintendent Matt Best acknowledged that “we’ve reduced kindergarten classes, four of them across the district, and created one K, one combination due to low kindergarten enrollment expected for next year, much lower, quite frankly, than we expected.”

The number is 100 lower than expected.

“The decision to reduce the number of kinder classes is never an easy one, and it raises concerns about class size and school viability from staff and parents,” he explained.

Best reaffirmed, “Let me state plainly that there’s been no decisions to close any school as a result of unexpected decline in kinder enrollment for next year. That would involve you all and months of community discussion, which are not planned at this time.”

But this is more a temporary reprieve.  Matt Best was not shy at pointing out the real problem.

Best underscored that, while there was a statewide component due to declining birth rates across the state, the declining enrollment locally “should serve as a wake up call to anyone who does not understand the very real impact of little to no housing development within the city, specifically the West Davis community, they’ve seen virtually no new development over the past 30 years.”

The result is as students have aged out of homes that had children, “they’re either not turning over to owners with children and sometimes not turning over at all.”

Matt Best explained, “We must acknowledge that lack of housing development continues to have a dramatic negative impact on our schools, and we’ll continue to see this effect until new development brings more students to our schools. As way of reference, we have the fewest number of resident students than we’ve had since the mid-nineties in Davis Joint Unified.”

Good schools have been in the DNA of this community for decades.  Declining enrollment is an existential threat because it threatens to cut off the lifeline to the schools—adequate funding.

Our housing policies have priced the critical 30- to 50-year-old demographic out of our community.  It has also forced our young teachers to live elsewhere and commute—where they are no longer part of this great community.

The Vanguard has been warning for quite some time that this day is rapidly approaching.  Fortunately we are no longer the only ones pulling the alarm levers.  The question now is whether the community is listening and whether they are willing to do anything.

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. Matt Williams

    Best only covered part of the story.  The part he didn’t cover was very well covered by Dave Taormino in In his July 9, 2022 article “Where have all the Babies Gone?” … specifically about how new housing in Davis is being purchased by families without DJUSD children.

    In the Cannery, roughly 80% of the buyers had no relationship to Davis or UCD, although some had grown children living here. Most came from the Bay Area and Marin County, exactly where the Cannery developers heavily advertised. It was an intentional strategy not intended to attract local UCD faculty, staff, and other Davis workers. In the 546 homes, an unbelievably low number of school age children actually live there. Something like 26 new students resulted from Cannery’s 546 homes plus apartments. In the 80’s and early 90’s a “Cannery-type neighborhood” would have generated 300 to 400 new students. Where have all the families with or capable of having babies gone?

  2. Matt Williams

    Our housing policies have priced the critical 30 to 50 year old demographic out of our community.  It has also forced our young teachers to live elsewhere and commute – where they are no longer part of this great community.

    This quote by David goes hand in hand with Dave Taorminio’s quote in my comment above.  Yet the developers proposing projects are not sizing the housing to address this issue.  Istead they are proposing lots and lots of $ million houses that the critical 30 to 50 year old demographic can not afford.

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