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Housing prices drive Davis teachers out of town. Legislators could give them a break from parcel taxes.

Helen Pomerleau of Woodland kisses her granddaughter Makayla, 11, as she picks her up at Willett Elementary in Davis last year. The family is one of hundreds who drive their children to Davis Joint Unified School District every day.
Helen Pomerleau of Woodland kisses her granddaughter Makayla, 11, as she picks her up at Willett Elementary in Davis last year. The family is one of hundreds who drive their children to Davis Joint Unified School District every day.

Drew Barclay has a master's degree in education and three years of experience as an English teacher, but, like most new teachers in Davis, he can't afford to live there.

Instead, Barclay, 31, shares a rental in Sacramento that costs him $950 a month — about 40 percent of the $2,550 he brings home each month after taxes.

He is so certain that he won't be able to qualify for a loan for a home in Davis on his $47,000 annual salary that he hasn't bothered to house hunt. The median price for a house in the city in March was $682,500, according to tracking firm CoreLogic. Renting also is prohibitive, with the average rent in Davis about $2,500 a month, according to Zillow, a real estate website.

Davis Joint Unified officials hope to get a little help from state legislators. Last week, the state Senate voted 24-8 to waive the annual school district parcel tax of $620 for teachers and other employees of the Yolo County school district.

Senate Bill 958 must still be approved by the Assembly.

Davis school board member Alan Fernandes said that about two-thirds of the district's teachers live outside Davis where housing is less expensive. He said the bill would encourage more of the district's teachers to live in the community they serve.

Davis Joint Unified regularly passes parcel taxes to keep class sizes down and to support classroom programs. In 2016, 71 percent of Davis voters approved Measure H, a yearly tax of $620 on each parcel of taxable real property in the district for eight years. The measure raises $9.5 million a year to support math, reading and science programs and reduced class sizes for elementary grades.

But the roughly $50 a month exemption isn't likely to help Davis Joint Unified teachers enough to make buying a house affordable. The teachers are some of the lowest-paid educators in the region, with some of the highest health care costs.

Teachers in the school district earned between $40,000 and $89,000 this school year, according to the district's salary schedule. That's less in almost every step on the salary schedule than seven comparable districts in the region.

Barclay said he knows teachers 10 or 15 years older than he is who are renting rooms in other educators' homes to get by. He said some teachers have weekend jobs to make enough money to pay their bills.

"Because I'm fairly certain I can't put down permanent roots here, I don't see this position as a permanent one," Barclay said of his job as an English teacher at Davis Senior High School.

Even Dianna Huculak, a veteran teacher of 11 years, is considering moving to Woodland or West Sacramento to find an affordable home.

"I live here, so when I go to the grocery store, I see students and parents," she said. "It is good to be visible in the community. It's sort of a weird thing to be priced out of the community you serve. We are contributing to the community in a lot of ways."

Earlier this year, Davis teachers held rallies to demand better benefits and higher wages. They said the compensation gap between their pay and that of teachers at other districts was making it hard to retain teachers and hire new ones.

Competition for teachers has become particularly fierce in recent years because of a statewide teacher shortage brought on by a shrinking supply of teachers due to retirement, leaving the profession, higher student enrollment, low salaries and high cost of living, according to the Learning Policy Institute. California also has devoted more money to schools since the recession, and districts have reduced class sizes and restored programs, which require more teachers.

California school districts have responded by offering signing bonuses, housing stipends, computers and free tuition to educators who sign up with their districts.

Huculak, who also is the president of the Davis Teachers Association, says Davis Joint Unified usually has to hire about 170 teachers a year — about a third of its 500-teacher workforce — in order to make up for attrition and retirements.

District officials recognize the compensation gap between the pay of their teachers and those at other districts, said Deputy Superintendent Matt Best. It has made retaining and recruiting high-quality teachers and employees one of its strategic goals, he said.

In order to find more money to close the compensation gap, the district has reviewed its service contracts, is considering a new parcel tax to fund salaries, started an attendance drive to increase state funding for average daily attendance and continues to offer seats to students who live in other districts in order to back-fill declining enrollment within the district's boundaries, among other things.

Best said the district uses 90 percent of its funding for salaries — 67 percent is for teacher salaries, 10 percent for administrators' salaries and 13 percent for classified staff, he said.

He said funding is especially tight because the district gets less money than most under the state's new Local Control Funding Formula, which offers additional dollars to schools with low-income students, English learners and foster children.

"Most of our money is wrapped up in our employees and we have to raise money or reduce employees," Best said.

The district ultimately decided against layoffs to improve salaries but agreed to reduce expenditures by $1 million by not filling positions emptied by retirement or attrition. "That got us about 3.5 percent on the salary schedule for the current year," Best said.

Former Assessor Kathleen Kelleher and former Assistant Assessor John Solie received significantly lower valuations than neighboring property owners during the recessionary housing crash. One difference: their properties were appraised by outside a

Staff Writer Phillip Reese contributed to this report

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