Talented candidates, impressive endorsements, hefty résumés: Voters in the race for the Davis Joint Unified School District board have all in abundance.
But the candidates voters choose for the two open seats this November from among attorney Alan Fernandes, engineering professor Jose Granda, school board President Susan Lovenburg, school site council representative Nancy Peterson or research scientist Claire Sherman will have a daunting task ahead of them: how to preserve programs, maintain class sizes and keep the school day intact under a cloud of budgetary uncertainty.
Much will hinge on where Davis voters stand on Measure E, the proposed parcel tax extension to maintain school funding that the district says is needed to avoid a possible $6.9 million deficit in 2013-14. The measure needs two-thirds approval.
The district is depending on Measure E and Proposition 30 Gov. Jerry Brown's tax initiative to avert further cuts in K-12 school and community college funding to pass Nov. 6.
If Proposition 30 fails, Davis Joint Unified plans an immediate $3.7 million cut from its 2012-13 budget about 5 percent of its total revenue, district officials say.
If voters reject Measure E an extension of the city's Measure A, a two-year parcel tax set to expire in June 2013 $3.2 million goes away in 2013-14.
"If (Proposition) 30 and E fail, it's not a pretty picture," Lovenburg said at a recent campaign forum at Davis City Hall.
The stakes are high. A budget workshop in early October detailed a grim scenario of layoffs and school closures; larger classes and cuts in science, history and the languages; fewer electives; and reduced counseling services.
The district cut programs last year, leaned on community fundraising and won concessions from employees, Lovenberg said.
"We've consistently found multiple ways" to cut costs and raise revenue, she said. In November, she said she is counting again on community support.
"This community is extraordinarily supportive of Davis schools," Lovenberg said. "We're looking for other solutions, (but) every parcel tax has been approved."
The district has launched websites and printed fliers outlining the measure's benefits and the consequences for the district if the measure fails.
"(Measure) E is essential in my view," Fernandes said in an interview with The Bee. "It's not everything, but we need it. It would be a significant blow if E were not to pass."
That said, Fernandes added that the district cannot continue to rely on parcel tax measures for school funding.
"We need to acknowledge that parcel tax revenues are not without limits," he said.
Finances and funding are dominating the discussion over the future of districts like Davis across California, Fernandes said.
"This is the most consequential election for education in many years, Fernandes said. "School districts need to look at the future and the inability of the state to add significant funding. We need to talk about alternative methods of funding. What is our vision of the future? We're at a crossroads."
Davis' school board and four of the race's five candidates are pushing for the parcel tax the fifth such ballot measure brought before Davis voters since 2007, following measures Q (2007), W (2008), A (2011), and C (a merging of measures Q and W in March 2012).
The measure's lone opponent, California State University, Sacramento, professor Granda, has built his campaign around its defeat, though he supports Proposition 30.
"I have two principles: Excellence in education and responsibility to taxpayers," Granda said at a recent forum at Montgomery Elementary School in south Davis. "I will look after your kids' education and your pocketbook."
Granda said the measure passes the district's financial pain onto residents wearied by job loss and foreclosure, does little to salve the impact of budget cuts, and rewards a broken system.
"Whenever (the district) runs a budget deficit, they treat taxpayers like they are an ATM," Granda said at an earlier forum. "It's an unfair new tax. The district made a commitment that Measure A would be for two years. Now they're backing out of that agreement."
Granda wants the district to look at executive pay, favors a sliding scale in which more affluent schools absorb a greater share of cuts than less wealthy ones, and proposes establishing a nonprofit foundation to create a year-round funding source for the district's schools.
Sherman says Measure E is needed for the district to avoid a nightmare scenario of shuttered schools and other sharp cuts.
But she said district leaders have long delayed making hard choices on the budget, relying instead on residents to pass parcel tax extensions and putting off the pain that other school districts have had to endure.
"The bottom line is this: In Yolo County, a budget based on parcel taxes is not a balanced budget at all," she said. "Contingencies should've been in place years ago." If E fails, "We may have to close a school or a couple of schools. We'll have to decide what matters and what doesn't matter."
Sherman says after years of tax extensions, the school district may have worn out its welcome with Davis voters.
"There's been a lot of confidence that (Measure E) will pass without a problem. I don't believe that," she said. "This is a community of government workers. They're dealing with furloughs and flat pay. The board has always been on this precarious path of having to ask for money."
Peterson endorses Measure E as well as Proposition 30 and competing Proposition 38. The school site council member says a long-term strategic plan on spending and other issues is needed.
"We have to look at salaries there's nothing not on the table," Peterson said.
She touts the success of school-centered foundations such as Davis High School's Blue & White Foundation in raising money for facilities and programs at Davis schools. But she said she is concerned about the voters' appetite for another parcel tax extension and what the district would look like if the school propositions are defeated.
"We're all concerned about the fatigue of voters. That's why there's a big push to talk about the benefits of E," Peterson said. "I'm really concerned that (propositions) 30 and 38 don't pass. We're focused on a big disparity in funding across our state, and I'm concerned we will lose the richness of education in Davis."