The Davis school board discussed the prospect of moving ninth-graders — generally considered “high school freshmen” — from their current assignment at one of the three Davis school district’s junior high campuses over to the Davis High campus as part of a broader discussion of the district’s academic programs and facilities needs during Thursday night’s school board meeting.
Trustees Tim Taylor, Gina Daleiden, and recently-elected Nancy Peterson indicated that they’d like to hear more about the pros and cons of moving ninth-graders over to DHS. The other trustees — Susan Lovenburg and school board president Sheila Allen — indicated that they were ready to discuss a ninth-grade move, but they wanted to do so in the context of the broader impact that a ninth-grade transfer would entail for the school district’s other campuses.
The discussion came up in the larger context of a discussion of the Davis school district’s budget situation. California voters gave a thumbs up in the Nov. 6 election to Governor Brown’s Proposition 30 — approving some temporary taxes over the next six or seven years, and thus avoiding immediate cuts to state funding for the public schools — and Davis-area voters approved Measure E — extending a portion of local parcel tax funding for the school district for another four years. As a result, the Davis school district momentarily finds itself in a stronger cash position, after having spent down cash reserves during the last four years of reductions in state funding for public schools.
But Superintendent Winfred Roberson and Associate Superintendent Bruce Colby reminded the school board trustees that even with the funding provided to the Davis school district by Proposition 30 and Measure E — which essentially prevented further cuts to school district funding, rather than restoring funds already cut by the state — the school district still faces a challenging situation in March: the deadline of whether to issue precautionary layoff notices to junior high vice principals, some high school counselors and some elementary school instructional aides whose positions were funded this year by a $330,000 donation from the nonprofit Davis Schools Foundation.
It is not clear at this point whether the Davis Schools Foundation is ready to extend that $330,000 of financial support for these positions into the 2013-14 academic year. But state law requires that the Davis school board issue layoff notices by mid-March if there is a possibility that these positions might be eliminated.
Colby also reminded the school board that the Davis school district — which has eliminated about 100 staff positions during the last four years — is still operating under a structural deficit of somewhere between $1.5 and $2 million per year, even with the support of funds from Prop. 30 and Measure E.
Taylor argued that there would be academic and budgetary benefits if ninth-graders were reassigned to DHS. But several trustees asked for more information about how a ninth-grade transfer might affect Da Vinci Charter Academy and other district programs.
Lovenburg asked for a broader discussion, saying “I want to be looking at the big picture (district-wide), not just if we can improve the high school program by moving in ninth-graders (at Davis High).”
Cathy Haskell, former president of the Davis Teachers Association, said moving ninth-graders into DHS “would be increasing (current high school enrollment) by 33 percent. We feel like it is crowded (now). We have giant class sizes, and we can’t shift kids into other classes (because they are full). And our teachers tell me that our academic program at the junior highs is so improved by having the ninth-graders there.”
But Taylor asked: “Why is Davis so unique and so much smarter that we know ninth-graders are better off at junior high?”
The question of grade configuration as well as the prospect of a mid-March round of layoff notices will likely come back on the school board’s agenda at another meeting in the next few weeks.