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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Commentary: Looking toward options for the future of Valley Oak

The Davis Joint Unified School Board by a 3-2 vote last month voted to close Valley Oak Elementary School. The school board led by board trustee Tim Taylor left open the possibility of placing a second parcel tax on the ballot that would enable Valley Oak Elementary to remain open. Bill Storm, a teacher at Valley Oak Elementary has posed an alternative suggestion of a Charter School.

I will examine both of these options and then offer up a third alternative that I think is better than these options both in terms of feasibility and in terms of effort.


There are actually three suggested parcel tax options that have been offered.

The first is the motion passed by the school board which would place a second parcel tax on the ballot. It would require the primary parcel tax to be pass by a two-thirds vote and it would need to pass by a two-thirds vote. It would ask the voters to specifically approve a parcel tax of somewhere around $20 additional per property to open Valley Oak.

There are several drawbacks to this. (see Library Tax issues and Board Discussion on Parcel Tax) The County is likely to place a library parcel tax on the ballot as well, and that would mean that the voters would have three tax items on the ballot which may in the end doom all three. In addition, it would seem unlikely that voters would approve a tax for kids to go to a specific school.

Board President Jim Provenza and Sheila Allen suggested alternative wording for the second parcel tax which would be a "nine school option" or some derivation there of. That would give the parcel tax a better chance to pass given the wording, however, you would still have three parcel taxes on the ballot, which again, would be problematic.

A third alternative posed by the Davis OPEN folks is to combine the two parcel taxes. That would make the primary parcel tax a bit higher, but it would require only two tax measures on the ballot. The school board majority is however dead set against this option, which seems to be the best of the parcel tax options from the standpoint of keeping Valley Oak open.

Regardless a parcel tax would be a daunting endeavor requiring two-thirds of the vote to pass and under the most likely conditions it would require two two-thirds votes to pass it. That would necessitate a long and sustained grassroots campaign. The work required to pass this seems very high and the chances for passage at this point seem low. Therefore, other alternatives should be explored.


Bill Storm writes in his blog:

We need to have an extended conversation about the desirability of charter status for Valley Oak Elementary, as such status gives us the means not only to survive and sustain what works for our children, but to create a new vision to serve them even better.

Mr. Storm, a teacher at Valley Oak elementary school also presents a lengthy FAQ.

The Charter School option is one definitely worth exploring. However, there are several tricky factors one of which relates to the teachers and service time. Apparently however, they have support from the teachers or at least that is what my reading of the blog implies.

Support from the Teacher's Association would make this option a more feasible one, but problems still persist with the charter school alternative. Writing up a charter is a long and exhaustive work. It is highly technical and requires a long and concerted effort.

While I would not rule out a Charter School as a last resort option, I would recommend another more easily attainable approach.


This November, there will be two open seats on the Davis Joint Unified School Board. Jim Provenza, a strong proponent of keeping Valley Oak open is running for the County Board of Supervisors. Meanwhile Keltie Jones, a strong proponent of closing Valley Oak is retiring. That leaves two openings. With a 3-2 margin on the current board, the Davis OPEN folks would need to win two seats to be able to force a new vote and keep Valley Oak open in fall of 2008.

There are what I would consider two outstanding candidates that if convinced to run, would stand an excellent chance of winning.

First is Val Dolcini. Dolcini is a very prominent name in Davis. He comes from a family that are long time prominent Davis residents. He has an excellent resume in his own right as a community leader and a long time aide to former Congressman Vic Fazio. He was a member of the task force and in fact the one dissenting vote on the decision to recommend the closing of Valley Oak Elementary School. Not only did he have the fortitude to stand against his colleagues, he was a passionate advocate for his position and wrote a fine dissenting opinion.

The second outstanding choice would be Rick Gonzales, Jr. The late Rick Gonzales, Sr. was a legend in Yolo County. Gonzales brother, Jerry Gonzales was a respected Police Chief in Davis. Gonzales himself runs the Concilio of Yolo County which provides disadvantaged kids with scholarships and resources to go to college. He has been an educator for over 35 years.

These would be outstanding candidates for school board even without the issue of Valley Oak. The community would embrace these candidates and I believe they would win easily if they chose to run. If they did, they could then change the board policy and keep Valley Oak open.

I believe this is the best alternative for Davis students in general, and by far the best means by which to keep Valley Oak open.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting