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School budgeting 101: our Q&A on Davis’ funding crisis

School board member Tim Taylor talks with fellow members Richard Harris, Susan Lovenburg, Sheila Allen and Gina Daleiden about making it clear to the public what the salaries of DJUSD administrators are compared to similar school districts. Wayne Tilcock/Enterprise photo

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From page A1 | November 01, 2012 | Leave Comment

Davis schools Superintendent Winfred Roberson announced earlier this fall that the school district is putting budget-cutting contingencies in place in case Proposition 30 fails at the polls on Tuesday. The district has sought the assistance of a mediator in talks with its teachers union over requested furlough days and commensurate pay cuts.

School funding is an exceedingly complicated matter, and years and years of budget cuts — and short-term fixes in Davis provided through parcel taxes and fundraising campaigns — have created many questions in residents’ minds. The Enterprise attempts to answer some of those questions today.

Q. How much state funding has the Davis school district lost since the state budget crisis began in 2007?

A: The total is more than $1,500 per student per year — about $10 million in cuts and deferrals — which is a roughly 17 percent reduction in state revenue.

Q: Haven’t Davis residents voted on — and approved — several school parcel taxes to offset state budget cuts?

A: Yes, to recap:

November 2007: Voters approved Measure Q, a four-year parcel tax that charged $200 per year per single-family home. Measure Q continued a series of local school taxes that Davis area voters have approved since 1984. Measure Q went into effect in July 2008 and expired in June 2012.

* November 2008: The state began to whack away at local school funding, and the Davis Board of Education asked voters to approve a supplemental parcel tax with a three-year time frame, to restore some of that revenue. Voters approved Measure W, which charged $120 per year per single-family home; it would run concurrent with Measure Q for a total of $320 annually. Measure W went into effect in July 2009 and expired in June 2012.

* May 2011: As the state budget crisis went from bad to worse, with further cuts to K-12 education, the school board turned to voters again and asked them to approve an “emergency” two-year parcel tax, Measure A, charging $200 per year per single-family home. Voters said yes. However, Measure A will expire in June, taking about $3.25 million annually out of the Davis school district’s budget.

* March 2012: With 2007′s Measure Q and 2008′s Measure W set to expire, the board asked voters to consider Measure C — a five-year annual parcel tax charging $320 per single-family home presented as an extension of Measures Q and W. (Opponents to Measure C argued that it was actually a new tax.) In either case, Davis voters approved the tax in a vote-by-mail election. Measure C went into effect July 1. Property owners will see their first payment under Measure C as part of this fall’s property tax bill.

The total local parcel tax revenue amounts to less than the total budget reductions from the state over the past four years, hence the reductions in the district’s staffing in 2010 and 2012.

Q: Why has the Davis school board put another parcel tax measure on Tuesday’s ballot?

A: With Measure A due to expire in June 2013, and a new round of “trigger cuts” for K-12 schools hinging on the outcome of Gov. Jerry Brown’s Prop. 30 on Tuesday, the Davis school board is asking voters to consider Measure E — a two-part parcel tax with a five-year term.

The first part of Measure E would replace expiring Measure A’s $200 annual tax per single-family home with a $204 fee that would begin in July 2013 and expire in June 2018. The second part of Measure E hinges on the outcome of Prop. 30. If that measure fails, and local Measure E is approved, the Davis school district could charge up to an additional $242 per year per single-family home to offset the roughly $3.5 million in “trigger cuts” to Davis schools that automatically will kick in.

Q: So wouldn’t Measure E “take care of the problem” that will be created if Prop. 30 fails on Tuesday?

A: Not during the 2012-13 school year. The “trigger cuts” that would occur if Prop. 30 fails would be immediate. But Measure E would not go into effect until July 2013. The first charge that property owners would see under Measure E would be in November 2013 and Davis schools wouldn’t see any resulting revenue until December 2013.

So the Davis school district faces a roughly $3.5 million shortfall — this year — if Prop. 30 fails and Measure E is approved. This is why the school board last week approved contingency plans for salary cuts for administrative employees, and announced a tentative agreement for similar contingency plans for employees represented by the California School Employees Association — custodial, secretarial and food workers. Negotiations for similar contingency plans with the Davis Teachers Association are ongoing; there are some indications that a mediator might be asked to get involved in these discussions.

Q: Has the Davis school district cut staff and reduced payroll?

A: Yes. In 2010, the Davis school district reduced staffing by the equivalent of 48 full-time positions through a retirement incentive. A total of 51 teachers (not all of them full-time) took that offer. This summer, the district eliminated another 45 full-time positions, and there have been reductions among administrators and classified employees as well. All told, the school district has more than 100 fewer employees now than it had two years ago.

These reductions basically parallel the cuts that other school districts — which do not have local support in the form of voter-approved parcel taxes — made in 2008 and 2009.

Q: With fewer teachers working in the district, what has happened to class sizes?

A: Class sizes have increased across the board. This year’s average is 30 students in grades K-3, 33 students in grades 4-6, 35 students in junior high school classes and 37 students in high school classes. Effectively, class sizes are now as large — or larger — than they were in 1996, when Davis began participating in the state-sponsored class size reduction program implemented under then-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin.

Q: What happens in Davis schools if statewide Prop. 30 and local Measure E fail on Tuesday?

A: The failure of Prop. 30 would result in an almost immediate $3.5 million “trigger cut” to the Davis school district’s budget. The failure of Measure E would result in a budget reduction of about $3.2 million in 2013-14, when current Measure A would sunset.

There probably would be some combination of furlough days, salary reductions, another round of layoff notices and possibly a discussion of closing one or more schools. Logistically, further class size increases would be difficult at some schools, since there is only so much space in the district’s classrooms, and many are at or near their seating capacity.

Many school districts have adopted contingency plans for a shorter school year — two weeks shorter, in some cases — as one way of coping with the revenue reductions that will occur if Prop. 30 fails. However, fewer instructional days lead to less student learning, lower test scores and more students who are performing below grade level.

Q: What are the required majorities for approval of Prop. 30 and Measure E?

A: Prop. 30 requires a simple majority for approval. The same goes for Prop. 38, an alternative education-funding initiative on Tuesday’s ballot. A local parcel tax like Measure E requires a two-thirds majority for approval.

Q: Where can I get more information?

A: The Davis school district has updated its District Dollars website, www.DistrictDollars.org, to include information about Prop. 30, Measure E and the district’s budget projections through 2015. District Dollars is a web-based, interactive program. District Dollars also includes information about how California public schools are funded, how much money the Davis district gets and how it is spent, and different options for balancing the budget.

The site is a collaboration of the Davis Joint Unified School District and the Davis Community Network and is maintained by community volunteers. District Dollars is available as a quick link on the DJUSD website at www.djusd.net.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8055. 

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