Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Bob Dunning: It’s a big change that nobody wants


From page A2 | March 10, 2013 |

While our town is just beginning to debate the merits and demerits of converting Davis High School to a four-year institution from the current three years, those close to this issue know that cash-saving school closures are the District’s ultimate goal here.

High School reconfiguration is simply the vehicle the Board has chosen to carry us all to the desired destination, which is school closure.

Strangely, no one was talking about adding a fourth year to the high school — and closing elementary or junior high school campuses in the process — when we elected two School Board members four months ago.

And make no mistake here. All the talk about a 9-through-12 high school replacing the current 10-through-12 structure has nothing at all to do with marching in lockstep with the vast majority of school districts in California. It does, however, have everything to do with closing a school or two in grades lower than the high school level because of budgetary considerations.

If it we’re only about the pros and cons of reconfiguration from an academic standpoint, there’d be no debate. You don’t change what’s not broken, and given that Davis High School is one of the highest performing schools in the state, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else is doing.

If four-year high schools work for everyone else, fine. But the three-year model has been a winner for Davis High School for decades, all the way back to the days when Davis Junior High School and Davis Senior High School were joined at the hip on either side of B Street.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but most of us believed the pre-November hype that if both our school parcel tax passed and Gov. Brown’s Prop. 30 passed, we’d have enough money to maintain our schools as they are for the time being.

If the parcel tax wasn’t going to provide enough money to keep all our elementary and junior high schools open, why weren’t we told that at the time? Why wasn’t a higher parcel tax put on the ballot to keep these schools open?

Some will argue that the parcel tax barely gained enough votes as it is. That if the district had asked for more, it would have failed. It’s an unproven theory that with every increased dollar asked for on the ballot a handful more voters will defect. Ask for too much and you automatically lose.

That’s not necessarily true, especially in a town like Davis where our schools and teachers collectively are universally regarded as a community treasure.

Without a doubt, many of us would have dug even deeper and continued to vote “Yes” had we been told that school closures would almost certainly be on the docket just four months down the road.

Closing a cherished school is serious business, as the students, parents, teachers, staff and surrounding neighborhood learned when the board closed Valley Oak Elementary five years ago, taking away a long-standing source of pride in one of Davis’ few struggling neighborhoods.

Before the School Board and the District make the decision to close schools and reconfigure the high school, they should realize that this is not an action the Davis community is demanding. Quite the opposite.

In fact, it caught most everyone by surprise, given the seemingly positive financial outcome for our schools from last November’s election.

Superintendent Winfred Roberson told me nothing has been decided and that all stakeholders will be consulted before the ax falls.

“We want to think strategically and plan to use District resources responsibly and establish a sustainable system and an excellent academic program now and into the future,” Roberson said.

Sadly, many in the school community fear the train has already left the station. The die has been cast. They note that the District’s website points out that Davis is one of only four of 1,000 school districts in California to still have a three-year high school. They point to Roberson’s directive to secondary teachers in advance of a meeting next week to think about “What preparations could help facilitate a smooth 9-12 transition for DJUSD.”

Those words alone are a red flag to many that not only has this train left the station, it’s already far down the track.

As Simon and Garfunkel advised us in their classic “59th Street Bridge Song,” “Slow down, you move too fast.”

Indeed, way too fast for many who have yet to have their say in this matter.

— Reach Bob Dunning at





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