Davis voters did something rather remarkable in recent years. In an era of ebbing state support for public education, local voters approved five school parcel tax measures in as many years, generating millions of dollars in local funding that counterbalanced many of the funding reductions and deferrals stemming from California’s state budget crisis and the nationwide recession.
Two people who had a major hand in the successful passage of those taxes — Jay and Carri Ziegler — are being honored for their support of the schools with the A.G. Brinley Plaque for extraordinary service.
They will be honored publicly, along with Citizen of the Year Ann Evans, at the Davis Chamber of Commerce’s annual installation dinner Saturday, Jan. 25, at Freeborn Hall.
What: Davis Chamber of Commerce Installation Dinner, featuring cocktails, dinner, awards, dancing to live music
When: 6-10 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 25
Where: Freeborn Hall, UC Davis
Tickets: Not yet set; call the Chamber office at 530-756-5160 or watch www.davischamber.com
Thanks to those taxes, the Davis public schools were able to retain a number of programs — everything from elementary school reading teachers to classes in music and science, as well as libraries and athletic teams — that otherwise might have disintegrated under a barrage of across-the-board reductions in state funds.
But nothing comes easy in electoral politics, and winning approval of those five measures involved crafting five successful campaigns. Parcel taxes require a two-thirds majority for approval, so a successful campaign involves a lot more than motivating parents who have a child in school. Getting to two-thirds involves winning the support of a hefty percentage of empty-nesters, retirees, college students and others as well.
That’s where the Zieglers got involved. They’ve lived in Davis since 2001, and have a daughter and a son attending local public schools. Veteran campaign advisers, they have worked for statewide ballot propositions, presidential campaigns and more. Between 2007 and 2012, they donated their professional services as strategists to all five parcel tax campaigns: Measure Q in 2007 (73.2 percent yes), Measure W in 2008 (75.5 percent yes), Measure A in 2011 (67.2 percent yes), Measure C in March 2012 (72.3 percent yes) and Measure E in November 2012 (69 percent yes).
“Part of the reason we were committed to helping with these parcel tax campaigns was that we were fearful when the state was having such a budget crunch, and the state was cutting funds to the public schools,” Carri said. “We know from education research that kids who are not reading well by the third grade have trouble catching up (later on). Early intervention makes a difference.
“And we all know kids who like music or science or athletics … things that keep them engaged, and wanting to go to school,” Carri continued. “We all know those things make a difference in whether or not kids graduate.”
Added Jay, “We found that there was a real view (on the part of local voters) that ‘We’re willing to support our schools — but we don’t want to do it all by ourselves. There’s a reservoir (of voters) that realizes that Sacramento was not going to make the difference in our schools,” particularly during the state budget crisis.
“And they are willing to vote for it” by supporting local school parcel tax measures, he added. But voters also want to know where the local funds they approve are going to be used.
So the Zieglers drew on their campaign experience and helped design some of the public opinion studies — carried out in the form of telephone polling — “looking at what people in the community cared about when it came to the schools,” as Jay put it.
“In every campaign, you think about the goal, and with a parcel tax, the goal is getting two-thirds of people voting in support of the measure,” which is what is needed for approval. “So we were analyzing where the base of support was, identifying individual supporters, distinguishing what messages mean the most to people.”
Jay said his own appreciation for the value of good public schools stems from growing up in a university town (Arcata, home of Humboldt State University), in a household that included an elementary school teacher (his mother) and a middle school/high school teacher (his father).
Carri grew up in the Foothill Farms area of Sacramento, and her commitment came from a personal conviction that the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” is more than a cliché.
“For every kid that gets a good education, everyone does better,” she said. “We all benefit when kids can do well in school and find something they are passionate about.”
Jay and Carri met when they were juniors in college, on the steps of the state Capitol. Jay, a UC Davis student, was interning with John Garamendi’s office (he was a state senator at the time). Carri, a Sacramento State student, had an internship with the Los Angeles Times. Carri went on to a job in a public affairs firm and Jay got a job in the state controller’s office.
They ended up moving to the nation’s capital, where Jay worked in a variety of positions as part of the Clinton administration, and later worked on Al Gore’s presidential campaign. Carri became a press secretary for Congressman Robert Matsui, and later the media director for Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports magazine).
They moved back to Davis in 2001, after Gore lost the presidential race by a whisker.
“We’d had our Washington adventure together. And my folks were getting older. And by that time, we had kids,” Jay said. “Having grown up in a college town myself, I wanted our kids to have that kind of experience, too.”
The Zieglers observed the less-frequent local school parcel tax campaigns in the early 2000s, in which a pollster was hired to assess the prospective level of public support. With the state budget crisis starting to bite hard on local funding in 2007, they volunteered their professional service. And then volunteered again, and again, and again, and again.
“But there were hundreds of people who worked on these campaigns as volunteers, and made them successful,” Carri pointed out. “We are humbled to be recognized. But so many people in this community have a true appreciation for the value of a good education.”
Added Jay, “And many people helped in many different ways. They have a sense that you want to make a difference in the place you’re in, and do what you can. Everyone wanted (the parcel tax campaigns) to be a model in which everyone participated somewhat.”
With California’s economy now starting to recover, and the state gradually beginning to restore some of the education funding cuts, there are no parcel taxes on the drawing board in the near term.
Jay now has a position in the Sacramento office of The Nature Conservancy, an environmental group that is active on an international level. Carri joined the firm Lucas Public Affairs in May. Daughter Amelia is a junior at Davis High and son William is a seventh-grader at Holmes Junior High.
And they are hopeful that the local school system will continue to serve other children in the coming years in the same way that their own children have benefited.
“Every kid in this town should have the kind of education they need to do well in life,” Carri said. “Not just my kids, every kid. That’s really important.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8055. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffHudsonDE