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Sunday, June 22, 2008

Commentary: Parcel Tax Discussion Time

The Davis School Board meets tomorrow morning at 9 am to discuss critical details of a proposed parcel tax. I do not know the significance of that time slot, but that's when it is scheduled to go.

The district has to do this. I know some folks think they can still cut more funding, but they cannot. They cut as much of the soft funding as they could. To get to the rest of the savings they would have to cut hard money--programs, facilities, or teachers. And while we could go around in circles, the bottom line is that some program that is helping some kid to get through and get their degree would be cut and that would have a huge detriment.

The real question at this point is how much and what form the new parcel tax should be.

For starters the district will be armed with a phone survey of several hundred Davis residents. Part of their charge was to determine the level of public support for the proposed parcel tax. The public was asked about various amounts of support ranging from 80 to 100 additional per year. The parcel tax will require a two-thirds majority for it to pass.

$80 to $100 is not going to break anyone's bank. Remember there is a way for people to opt out due to hardship.

One thing that was disappointing was I received a few calls complaining that the district was not forthcoming with information to seniors and others on how to opt out of this year's parcel tax. That is something that needs to be corrected.

Second, I think the parcel tax would be easier to pass if it were tied directly to fiscal situation of the district rather than a blanket tax. In other words, if the state cuts additional funding next year, the district could receive more in the form of parcel taxes. If it receives more funding from the state, the savings would be passed to the public.

Already included in such a parcel tax is an oversight board. Some have suggested a more independent oversight board with a more open public selection process. I am not sure how that would work at this point, but the more transparency the better.

Parcel tax passage already requires that the district lay out exactly how those funds will be spent, this has been another concern.

School Board President Sheila Allen made some interesting comments in the Davis Enterprise this morning.

The Board President suggested that "the community spoke loud and clear during the past 12 months about what their priorities are"--this in reference to the $1.7 million in donations to the Davis School Foundation.

However, I would caution here from reading too far into that. Most of that money came from parents and involved and concerned citizens. There were a number of really big donations. That does not necessarily mean that two-thirds of the public will approve a new parcel tax.

A final decision will be November of 2008 or March of 2009.

There are positives and negatives for both. Traditionally the district has relied on low turnout events for their parcel tax, believing that those low turnout elections bring out a stronger core of parents and supporters of schools.

There are two concerns expressed in the Davis Enterprise article. First that the school issue might get lost in the tremendous attention given to the Presidential election. Second there is concern about time to organize an effective campaign. There is also a cost issue associated with a larger election.

On other hand, March might prove less expensive but there is also a fear that the awareness of the fiscal plight might decline by next spring.

One thing not mentioned is that if they have an election in the Spring, that will be the fifth election in about 16 months, the electorate will be fatigued and the Presidential excitement will be open.

Personally I think they have to shoot for November. The public needs to weigh in on this in full. The public will have to be organized and mobilized.

There are a lot of issues that need to be covered first.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting