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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Board Approves $120 Parcel Tax for November Ballot

The Davis Joint Unified School Board met early on Wednesday to determine among other things, the amount that the District would seek for the November Parcel Tax.

The Board determined that the new parcel tax would be a $120 increase--the amount that they determined was needed to continue to provide the current level of service to the students and the community.

The board also made the determination that the apartment unit rate would be $50 (a slight decrease from the projected $60 increase). That means that the renter's share would like be no more than $25 or around a $2 per month increase. Given all of the rental expenses, the average renter will not even notice the parcel tax even if the property owner passes along the cost to the tenants.

Despite the early hour, a number of community members came to the meeting to express both support and opposition to the board. Representatives from the Teach Peace organization lobbied the board to add a component for peace and conflict resolution education as an inducement to get a number of activists to help on the parcel tax.

There were also a few renters who came to speak out against the parcel tax in response apparently to the flier that circulated in some apartment complexes [see yesterday's Vanguard story].

A fair amount of disinformation and misperceptions are being spread around the community about the parcel tax and the type of taxes that the school district can levy.

Contrary to popular belief, Chief Business Officer Bruce Colby told the board that the school district had no authority to levy a sales tax. Moreover, they also did not have the authority to request another agency levy a sales tax on their behalf. Schools are funded at the local level primarily through property taxes and property owners receive some protection from Proposition 13 that requires a two-thirds vote in order to raise any sort of taxes.

In addition, the district is required to lay out to the public exactly how the parcel tax will be used and the type of programs it will fund. This is a very specific requirement and the district will have an oversight committee that examines the spending to make sure parcel tax money is spent appropriately.

One important point to make, is that almost all of the spending is to hire teachers to run key programs. As one board member put it, these are the programs that make Davis schools what they are.

At the elementary school level, the parcel tax funds three programs--the elementary science program (8 positions), the music program (3.4 positions), and the librarian program (just over 4 positions). Those three programs account for %1.25 million of the $2.37 million total.

At the secondary level, the parcel tax will pay for a number of partial positions including science, math, music, and English. It funds 1.5 positions for the Junior High Librarian Services and it also funds $325,000 for the athletics programs.

In all, these are the programs that faced cutbacks last winter and spring. These are the programs that brought parents, students, and teachers to school board meetings in protest of proposed cuts. These represent a total of around 27 positions that would be saved.


I was expecting that school board to approve a parcel tax that was just slightly under $100 per year. I was surprised that they went as high as $120. However, the reason they decided to do that is that that is what they determined their needs to be. If the community passes this parcel tax, the school district can continue to fund the key programs that differentiates Davis from another school district.

This will be a tough fight. Polling showed at the $140 level, that the public support was only around 57%, well below the two-thirds requirement. The school district is going to have to launch and run a campaign to win this. It is going to be expensive and difficult. They will be running it during a time when most are going to focus on the Presidential Election.

We have seen already that there will be those who actively oppose the parcel tax. In the past, the district has been able to run opposition free. Two weeks ago, John Munn, former School Board Member who represents the local taxpayers association came before the board to lay out what the board needed to do in order to gain the support of the taxpayers association--it was basically accountability factors that the district had already done for the Measure Q campaign and the passage of that parcel tax.

Finally, yesterday at the board meeting, I publicly endorsed the parcel tax. Last winter and spring, I sat in on the board meetings. I talked with students, parents, and teachers. I saw the pain that the budget cuts would cause. I saw the fear in the eyes of the students at the thought of losing their teachers and their programs. And I decided at that point that I never wanted another child to have to go through that painful process again. The idea that children had to march to save their schools, to save their teachers, to save their classes, is simply wrong.

Those who want to hold the district accountable for mistakes made under the direction of others are wanting to punish the wrong people for the wrong reasons. The bulk of the budget crisis that we see is not due to fiscal mismanagement by the current board and district staff, it is due to a devastating statewide economic picture combined with a drop in attendance in the local school district.

The bottom line is that the amount of money needed to bridge the gap without a new revenue source means that teachers and programs will have to be cut. At the end of the day, it is unfair to punish these students for the perceived mistakes of others.

This parcel tax will sunset in three years. The previous parcel tax was passed for four years. That means that the two parcel taxes will sunset at the same time and the district can make the determination at that point, how much the district needs. And the public can then decide if the district has spent its money wisely and can make the determination as to whether to continue to supplement statewide educational spending to make Davis Schools among the best in the state.

The voters of Davis have much in the way of recourse here. They will have full authority to approve this current parcel tax in November. The next year will see three school board members face reelection. And there are always more radical means of expression, just ask Woodland.

Once again, I fully support the passage of the parcel tax. I firmly believe we have no other choice in order to continue to educate the students of Davis to the best of our ability.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting