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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

News Analysis: Parcel Tax in Jeopardy?

Last night at the Davis City Council Meeting, I sat by School Board Members Sheila Allen and Gina Daleiden as they waited patiently for an extended period of time for the council to finish deliberations on a development agreement. I am still not certain who was more tired last night--them or me--we had all been up very late on Monday night and yesterday was not much shorter.

While this commentary is primarily focused on the parcel tax, I want to take a moment to criticize the council in the way they deliberated on the development agreement for a South Davis subdivision. One thing that was readily apparent last night was that the city council erred in attempting to deliberate on the finite details of such an agreement in public--they would have been better served having given staff direction and bringing the item back for approval as a consent item.

As it was, what appeared on the agenda to be a short meeting went well past midnight.

In the meantime by 10:45 or so last night, Board Members Allen and Daleiden presented information about the extension of the parcel tax.

The parcel tax represents roughly 5.5 percent of the district's revenue. It is assessed at $166.90 per parcel in the past measure and the renewal would add an additional 20 dollars to this tax--a modest increase that represents a basic COLA increase.

The parcel tax is vital to the district. At the elementary school level it helps fund classroom size reduction and an elementary reading program. At the secondary level it funds the seventh period for the junior, extended hours for the library and help for at-risk kids. In addition it funds $20 per student for classroom supplies district-wide, technology, counseling, nurses, and training for teachers.

Without this parcel tax the district would be in serious financial jeopardy. The problems that the district faces now, pale in comparison to the problems that it would face if the parcel tax were to fail.

Board Member Keltie Jones became very alarmed when fellow Board Member Tim Taylor proposed a second parcel tax measure on the ballot tied to the passage of the first that would fund the nine school option. Jones was concerned that the second measure on the ballot would cripple the chances that the first measure would pass. Both of these measures require a two-thirds vote and that is a daunting task.

One thing that I think people do not understand is that the character of Davis has shifted somewhat and you have a large, fiscally conservative new development center in south Davis that will make passage of the original parcel tax much more difficult.

Introducing the second is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having too many tax measures on the ballot--and there is a library tax measure as well--will make it harder for any of them to pass. On the other hand, Jones overlooks the grassroots energy that the Valley Oak and Davis OPEN parents would provide to help run a campaign to pass the parcel tax.

Without both measures on the ballot, the district does not have this already organized and strongly energetic parental base to rely on.

However, there are still serious concerns I have.

First, the parents at Davis OPEN were demoralized by the vote to close the school. Will they be able to get off the deck and organize for the passage of two measures?

Second, there is a resentment factor that I have already seen with the suggestion that the board is trying to win its campaign on the backs of its poorest and most vulnerable parents and students.

Third, what happens if the polling shows that the second parcel tax would doom the first? You may turn the Davis OPEN parents to work actively AGAINST the parcel tax. Then what?

This has the makings of a serious miscalculation. And it is a cumulative thing. First you have the superintendent issue--I think the board did the right thing, but to many, it looks unbecoming and questionable to pay for two superintendents even after you explain that it may save the district money even in the short run.

Second, you have a number of other "scandals" that this board is trying to deal with.

Add to those factors now a new hazard,very angry and demoralized base who is organized but exhausted and they are now in the position to go either way.

Looking at this landscape if I am on the board, I would be scared to death that the parcel tax is in jeopardy. Not because of the second proposed parcel tax but because of how this process has played out.

I understand that the board received pressure in both directions on the school issue with people threatening to vote no on the parcel tax is Valley Oak remained open, but this development cannot have helped it.

Right now the passage of the parcel tax appears to be in serious jeopardy. Are they going to get two-thirds of the public to back this? It looks very dicey right now.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting