By Tim Taylor and Gina Daleiden
Davis has a long-standing reputation as a community that truly values its children and its schools. We all want the best educational opportunities for our students, and for them to be safe and thrive at school, now and into the future.
To this end, the Davis Board of Education directed staff to look beyond the status quo to explore multiple options for reconfiguring our school structure to provide academic and programmatic benefits, while generating fiscal efficiencies that could be reinvested in programs for our students across the district.
The direction was to engage school site staff, parents and community in a meaningful and rational discussion about potential alternative models. This would allow us to gather necessary information to ultimately evaluate any changes aimed at bringing fiscal and academic benefits. This was a direction to explore and detail a range of options, rather than to evaluate and make final decisions.
DJUSD is an outstanding school district. We’re proud of our accomplishments and our unique features, including our dedicated staff, supportive community and stellar students. If we want to continue to be a top school district, if we want to continue to innovate and reach even greater heights of learning, we need to have the courage to truly consider what change could look like. We need to explore existing and new models that might offer opportunities to improve our district academically and programmatically and pull ourselves away from the fiscal margins.
Faced with extreme budget cuts from the state, we’ve spent several years trying to “hold down the fort,” necessarily focusing on preserving as much of our program as possible while maintaining fiscal solvency. We’ve relied on our community’s commitment to education to renew and bolster local parcel taxes time and time again. We have made painful cuts that eventually encroached directly upon the classroom. We’ve had to live the consequences of increased class size, reduced course offerings, pink slips and little hope for reinvestment in program or innovation requiring financial support.
Now that Measure E and Proposition 30 have passed — and if the newly proposed state school funding formula provides sufficient monies to heal our structural deficit and avoid immediate cuts and further erosion of our current program — we will have some breathing room to consider strategic steps and continued improvements. Our most recent budget projections may finally allow time to thoroughly evaluate the future of our programs and how we allocate resources.
It’s time to think big again, to aspire to be better and greater. But we won’t get there without the willingness to explore options and examine our priorities for still limited funds.
We understand that asking questions about possibilities for large-scale change is sensitive, and our community needs and deserves the clearest communication and best information during the process. We would like to make this discussion community-based, transparent and easily accessible, so that rumor and anxiety levels are reduced.
On Thursday, the Davis Board of Education will have a workshop meeting on reconfiguration. The board will hear an update from staff on information gathered so far, and the information and analysis yet to come if the board chooses to explore possibilities further.
At that meeting, along with our colleagues, we would like to consider a board-appointed, community advisory body, one that reports directly to the board and is bound by the state’s open meeting law, the Brown Act. This schools advisory committee could take the information presented by district staff and others to build and evaluate models of program change and fiscal investment.
We would envision this panel as an opportunity for independent review of district work and information. They would be able to hear testimony from teaching staff and other school personnel, our dedicated partner foundations, community members and others who can contribute to their work in building a model, or range of models, that the board ultimately can compare to the status quo.
Right now, we simply lack sufficient information to make a wise judgment regarding potential changes in school configuration in our district, including whether no change or smaller changes are preferable. There can be no true comparison without a detailed definition of options.
We owe it to our students, present and future, to ask the questions and do a thoughtful and serious analysis. We believe this is best done within a structure that incorporates a broad community base via an independent advisory body that reports to the board, and we hope our colleagues join us in finding a way to create a “schools advisory commission” for this purpose.
This advisory board also will allow for more community involvement in decision-making. It gives citizens one more point of access to address important issues and concerns beyond regular Board of Education meetings.
If we can craft scenarios that make fiscal and academic sense, at that point we can discuss the details and begin a truly meaningful evaluation. If a plan does not make good sense, academically, socially and fiscally, then, of course, it would not proceed. But responsible leadership demands that we at least examine, in a thorough and serious way, the possibilities for the future of our district.
A hard look at a variety of program models and resource allocation is critical to help our district stay at the leading edge for years to come.