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Friday, April 04, 2008

Davis School Board Votes to Keep Three Junior Highs

After long discussion over the last several weeks, the Davis School Board voted by a 3-2 vote to keep three juniors and keep the secondary schools in the same current configuration with Davis High School remaining a 10-12 program and DaVinci High School remaining on the Davis High School campus.

Gina Daleiden in her dissenting vote made it clear that the vote was not necessarily on the substance of the issue, but due to the fact that the vote was not tied to corresponding budget cuts. The same is true from Tim Taylor's vote as well.

In addition, the school board voted to keep hire three Principals to fill the vacancy at three elementary schools.

Earlier in the evening Superintendent James Hammond made a radical suggestion of offering to save the district over $100,000 by performing a duel role of Principal at an Elementary School while at the same time continuing to serve as the district's superintendent.

Gina Daleiden would say that "this is one time we need to save James, from James." Arguing that the situation was not feasible from a workload standpoint. She also suggested there would be a potential conflict to have the Superintendent of the District tied to one elementary school site.

The board would vote by a 4-1 margin to take this option off the table with Tim Taylor dissenting.


I am pleased that Emerson Junior High is remaining open. It is a vital school in West Davis and while there are upgrades needed to the campus, it is only the fifth oldest campus in the school district. The building itself has a number of desirable features that lead me to want to preserve it as a vital Junior High.

That said there are a number of aspects of this particular vote that I am uncomfortable with, even as I am pleased with the outcome.

First, the fact that it was not tied to additional cuts, means that there remains more work to be done. The district has to meet a threshold in order to meet its budgetary requirements or it risks the county taking over its operations.

Second, I think Gina Daleiden's concern is quickly dismissed with regards to the cut of teachers and programs. Something has to be sacrificed in order to keep Emerson open and that might be more teachers or more programs. I hope we can find creative ways to do this, but if we do not, we need to recognize what this means for teachers and programs in the district.

Third, and this is probably my biggest concern--Richard Harris and Susan Lovenburg were two of the strongest proponents of closing Valley Oak and denying the charter. The stated reason was fiscal cost. Now, they have been the ringleaders to keep Emerson open which presents its own problems with fiscal cost. That does not sit well with me. To use the phrase of some on the board, this has become a sacred cow to these board members.

At least Sheila Allen was consistent on this issue--she voted to keep them all open. I would agree with her on both issues. Gina Daleiden and Tim Taylor were consistent as well, opting for fiscal prudence on both issues. While I disagree with them, I can respect their decisions.

However, I really need to understand the decision that Susan Lovenburg and Richard Harris made--the differentiation that they took. Does that differentiation amount to a rationalization or is there an actual tangible and clear reason that distinguishes the closing of Valley Oak from the maintenance of Emerson.

All of that said, keeping Emerson open is the right thing to do. The other choices were not good educational choices for the students involved. They required creating an overly crowded Davis High Campus, they required moving DaVinci students away from their logical location, and there was not a compelling demographic or attendance issue to necessitate this move. In short, the move was only made for the purposes of saving money. At this time that might be reason enough, but I still think you need to bear in mind educational considerations. I am not opposed to a 9-12 high school--I attended one myself. There are strong reasons to do it which is why the majority of the state has 9-12 high schools. However, there are also reasons not to do it, it keeps 9th graders in a better situation socially.

However, removing this option from the table now forces the district to look at other areas for cuts.

Everyone applauds the efforts of the Davis Schools Foundation. I am big supporter as well. They have raised $250,000 for the district which is wonderful, but it is less than one-tenth of the way to their goal and I just do not see them at this point getting anywhere near that goal.

I do not say this to bring people down, but we also must face reality. Parcel tax relief will not come until 2009. The Davis Schools Foundation is only going to help offset some of the worst cuts. The state may provide some relief but that will also come after the budget for next year is set in stone. The long and the short of it, is that we have dodged another school closure, but we are going to have to brace for a major hit, there is no way around it.

Finally, the demographic forecast shows that we will stabilize after this year. That means that declining enrollment will not have an ongoing impact of forcing additional steep budget cuts. Those who believe the solution to this is more growth need to look at a lot more closely at faster growth and larger cities--these cities have no escaped the problems of the budget nor are their schools doing better than ours. We need solid land use and growth policies in this city, but those should not be based on school enrollment priorities. The voters in this city have made a choice to support their schools vastly with parcel tax money while choosing to grow their city closely. People who think we can have better with faster growth policies might want to also consider what would happen if those new residents vote to cut off the parcel tax. In short, be careful what you wish for and plan wisely.

In the end, we are all in this together--the amount of civic spirit I have seen from students, teachers, and parents is amazing. We need to learn from this however--the lesson is the cost of complacency. Just four months ago there was so little interest in the school elections and now schools are all that are on people's minds. We need to focus our attention on these issues when we are not facing severe cutbacks. We must remain attentive and aware so that these types of things do not sneak up on us in the future.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting