Bob Dunning

Many factors go into the Measure A decision

By April 16, 2011

I would never suggest to anyone in the Second Most Educated City in America how they should vote on a particular issue. Measure A is no exception.

I am, however, willing to share what’s going through my mind as I sit down at the kitchen table to cast my ballot in what has become a more-contentious-than-usual school parcel tax measure.

In the past, passage of such a tax, even with a two-thirds majority requirement, was a foregone conclusion. Davisites will always pull out their wallets when it comes to supporting our public schools, which are a continuing source of civic pride.

This time is different. Passage of Measure A is not the slam-dunk it would have been in recent years. Some are disenchanted with the school board. Some are disillusioned with the district administration. Some have finally reached the point of no return with their personal finances. Yes, even in seemingly untouchable Davis, average citizens are having trouble making ends meet.

Others are upset at the cynical decision to offer an exemption to all seniors if the tax passes, without regard for anyone’s ability to pay. And then there’s the regressive nature of the tax, hitting underwater mortgage holders with the same dollar amount as million-dollar homeowners.

It would be easy to simply vote “yes” and hope everything works out for the best. Any tax, any time, you can count on me. This is, after all, about the schools. And the kids.

It would also be easy to simply vote “no.” Enough is enough. You can’t keep running back to the voters every time you decide to declare an emergency.

After considerable thought, and just a little bit of prayer, I have decided to exercise my option to cast a write-in ballot. It won’t be the first time in my voting history that I’ve done so.

I realize Measure A is just one long paragraph. A rambling run-on sentence, really. And we’re supposed to vote either “yes” or “no.” But there’s a great big empty box, completely blank, immediately under those two choices and I plan to take full advantage of it.

First, I’d like to tell board members that if this thing passes, don’t take us for suckers. We expect you to live within the means provided. Like a teenager who has borrowed the keys to the family car one time too many, you now act like you own it. And you seem to expect that we’ll keep filling it up with gas for you as well.

As my friend Jeff has described it, there has been a steady “erosion of public trust in the fiscal responsibility of the Davis Joint Unified School District in recent years.”

He cites the building of Korematsu Elementary to accommodate an allegedly growing student population, only to have the board quickly turn around and close Valley Oak, devastating a neighborhood and breaking the hearts of a number of parents and students. The same for the construction of Harper Junior High, which was followed with the announced intention to close Emerson.

Adds Jeff: “The board and district also have a tendency to botch personnel matters, at considerable cost to taxpayers.”

Indeed. Who can forget that we were paying six-figure salaries to TWO superintendents at the same time?

And who can forget the cruel and insensitive and ethically questionable manner in which the Board and administration fired Davis High School girls basketball coach Jeff Christian, then, displaying uncommon arrogance, followed that insult by telling him he had only “30 seconds” to tell his side of the story when he showed up at a school board meeting to plead his case?

And finally came the inappropriate advocacy letter the district sent out at taxpayer expense to try to convince a significant subset of voters to vote “yes” on Measure A.

As Jeff notes “Somehow, the district managed to find money to eradicate that litany of miscalculations. Some voters, then, may question the credibility of the district’s claims that it is running out of money. This impending vote may turn on more than just its face value; the outcome will be a measure of the electorate’s faith in the fiscal responsibility of the district and board.”

On the flip side of all this negativity are the talented and hard-working teachers who show up for work every day to do their level best to educate the kids of this town. They are far from being overpaid for their efforts.

And then there are the kids themselves. The system’s not perfect, but we are turning out great kids. Over the years, I’ve had six of my own children in the Davis school system and all have been well served by a variety of teachers. I don’t think any of them would trade the opportunities they’ve been given or the teachers they’ve had.

I’m persuaded by the words of Hiram Jackson, the president of the Davis Schools Orchestral Music Association, who wrote a letter to the editor several weeks back extolling the virtues of a strong music program, though he could have been talking about any number of programs that could face cuts.

“As a parent,” he writes, “I cannot choose my teenager’s friends, but when I see her build relationships with fellow music students, I relax. These are friends who are interested in attending school, who think about their future, who come from very diverse backgrounds and who stay out of trouble.”

Adds Hiram: “A growing and accessible music program, as our schools currently have, means the district spends less time and money on discipline and intervention programs. If we cut the music program, we will spend many years and much more money rebuilding it and recovering the lost benefits.”

We never know all the factors that go into keeping kids engaged in school, but every time we eliminate a program, we ultimately eliminate someone’s passion as well. At this point, I’m not willing to allow that to happen.

I’m filling in the “yes” box even as we speak, but I hope the board will read every word on my write-in ballot.

I know I am not alone in my feelings.

— Reach Bob Dunning at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Bob Dunning

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