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Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Congratulations for your important and impressive victory in Measure W. The people of Davis, as they did last spring with their donations to the Davis Schools Foundation, have affirmed their support for education. It is a resounding victory that carries with it a good deal of responsibility.

The people have entrusted to you the education of their children. You do not need me to tell you how big a responsibility that entails.

During the course of the campaign, I had the chance to speak with many, many people in the community about the schools. I would like to share some of my thoughts with you in a moment.

But first I would like to say I worked so hard to get the facts out for this measure because I believe in education. As I have said so many times on the blog, I sat up in the audience all too many nights last spring until all too late into the evening. I talked with parents and students and shared their anxieties and concerns. I supported Measure W first and foremost for them, never again did I want students to worry about the possibility of their schools closing and their teachers fired.

I have heard concerns about fiscal mismanagement, transparency, and accountability from many quarters in the community—including from people that it might surprise you to learn shared this concern. However, I believe that I have thoroughly reviewed and observed district practices. I believe that the district has gone to great lengths to be both transparent and accountable. I look forward to working in the future toward both of those goals.

Now however I offer some critiques and hopefully constructive criticism.

First, this has to be the last parcel tax until Measures Q and W expire in three years. The community was willing to back this one, but they were getting a bit leery. I support education strongly, the state budget is going to be a huge challenge, I can only hope that given a year at least where the district is assured that they will have the necessary funding, that the district finds ways to keep afloat in tough economic times. The taxpayers of Davis face all sorts of potentially new taxes, fees for service, and water rate increases in the coming years. I worry about their ability to make ends meet in these tough economic times. As such, I will state plainly right now, I will not support another parcel tax before these two parcel taxes expire. Furthermore, I urge the district to find a way to renew only Measure Q when the time comes, that means find a way to account for the $120 per year that Measure W provides even if the state does not.

Second, there needs to be community outreach on Valley Oak. There is still a lot of bitterness out there. I understand that Measure Q and Measure W passed despite the closure of Valley Oak and at times it passed with the support of many of those same parents, but there are two groups that you need to focus on. First, those parents and community members who fought so hard for to keep Valley Oak open. And second those in the community that really believed it was a special and unique school and who believe that there were racial elements that came into play.

I spoke with so many this year and many of them told me this fall that they were torn. They had always supported education, always voted for whatever measures were on the ballot to support education, but they were angry about Valley Oak. Those people in the end voted for W as they voted for Q, but do not let this fact mask a very serious animosity that has developed out there. A number of very prominent people did not endorse Measure W because of Valley Oak and they only in the last week and through great effort of many decided to hold their nose and vote for it.

I will never forget right before the election going on a police ride along of all things, and as we drove past Korematsu, the police officer told me that he had mixed feeling about that school. He described to me how he had worked at Valley Oak in his capacity as a police officer as he had several other schools over his lengthy career. But he said Valley Oak was different. They made him feel like he was part of the school itself. He did not feel like a visitor there. At one point, there was a troubled student without male role models in his life and they asked just to talk to him about ten minutes at recess.

To me this story reinforces to me that yes you can duplicate programs but a school is more than a sum of its programs. That is not to take away from the great things that this district does at every school. But I, like so many others believe that Valley Oak was special and unique that the district did this community and that neighborhood a great disservice by closing the school. The district and the board have not made amends for that or acknowledged that to the citizens of the community. And yet, the devoted parents and community leaders there remained loyal to this district and supported Measure W even as their hearts were breaking over the loss of their school. Talk to them, and you will see, the hurt feelings and raw emotions still. You will also see the love for schools and the commitment to education.

Third, again along the same lines, during the course of the budget struggle, there was another struggle that lost attention. In 2007, there was a serious push for stronger work toward closing the achievement gap. There were period but persistent concerns about race relations on the high school campus and elsewhere in the district. There was the controversy about the STAR testing. There were concerns raised by longtime and prominent members of the community that issues that were addressed in a 1990 report laid on the shelf for years, un-acted upon. These issues came back up in 2007. They have disappeared during the struggle for the budget. These are serious issues and they need to have renewed focus. The problem is no less real in 2008 going into 2009. The fact that the district will have fewer resources to deal with this problem means that we must be that much more aggressive at addressing it.

Fourth, there are serious issues of mistrust regarding Emerson Junior High. These are not merely manifested on the blog, but also in emails on several email lists developed to mobilize people to fight to keep Emerson open. Interestingly, not one email went out on that list urging people to vote Yes on W prior to the vote. There are people in this part of Davis that really believe that Emerson’s closure is fait accompli. I do not believe that is the case at all. From every conversation I have had with the district or board members, while they cannot promise that Measure W’s passage means Emerson stays open, I believe it would be logistically infeasible to close it.

However, I would suggest that there needs to be more communication between the school board, the district, and West Davis about the exact concerns about Emerson and the real prospects for it closing. Level with the public in advance if there is reason for concern and reassure them if there is not. Communication and trust are the keys. I understand that in the rush of the spring budget crisis, these discussions could not happen, but they can happen now and they need to.

Finally, Bruce Colby a couple of weeks ago suggested a Vanguard sponsored Q & A session. I hope to work with Mr. Colby and Dr. Hammond to facilitate something along those lines. We can think about how to structure it.

I am pleased with the transparency and accountability of this district, but I do believe that the district can do even better. Opening lines of communication are important. The new district website is better, but it could be better still.

In this day and age of instant communications, there is no excuse to have a communications gap with the community. I would look as a district toward finding ways to enact better communication tools. The Davis Enterprise is only read by less than one-third of the households in the city. The Vanguard is one alternative means to communicate more directly to the public, but not the only way.

The district has come a long way in the last four years in terms of public trust and accountability, but there is much that still needs to be done.

---David M. Greenwald