Fernandes, Poppenga, Yes on H for Davis schools

Bob Poppenga
Bob Poppenga Photo by Don Preisler

Davis is rightfully proud of its public school system, and its quality is a perennial hot button in that city’s campaigns. This year is no different, with a hotly contested race among four candidates for two openings on the school board, and a ballot measure asking voters to approve a much-needed parcel tax.

The parcel tax, Measure H, is an easy call: Voters should approve it. It represents about $620 a year on an average parcel, with an exemption for seniors, but the money underwrites about $10 million a year in enrichment that makes all the difference for Davis children, from athletics and libraries to reading specialists and reduced elementary class sizes. It needs a two-thirds majority to pass.

One board seat is an easy call, too: Voters should absolutely re-elect incumbent Alan Fernandes, who has been a smart, calm and positive voice in the three years since a former trustee’s conflict of interest led to his appointment and subsequent election. A lawyer with two young sons in the Davis schools and a day job as head of government relations for Los Angeles County, Fernandes has worked hard to rebuild trust, transparency and consensus. His skill increased the ranks of Davis’ elementary counselors and school nurses; if re-elected, he wants to ramp up preschool enrollment and narrow the district’s achievement gap.

The parcel tax, Measure H, is an easy call: Voters should approve it.

The other seat is more of a jump ball, and is wrapped up in a bruising debate the district had last year over its popular program for gifted students in elementary and middle school. Susan Lovenburg, the veteran board member who pushed for that debate, has ended up having to fight for re-election; her desire to update the program was surely well-intentioned, but it touched a third rail of local politics in the university town, where about one child in three was in the gifted program.

As a result, the program has been narrowed considerably, the better to mingle students of varying achievement levels in classrooms. Fearing that the schools might lose their rigor and have less to offer high achievers, fans of the old gifted program have contributed amply to challenger Bob Poppenga, a UC Davis veterinarian with two children in the district.

Their fears seem exaggerated, given the community’s regard for academics. Far more pressing in Davis is the need to better serve the children who aren’t bound for the Ivies. But Lovenburg has served for nine years, and her children are grown; Poppenga – who has one child in the gifted program and another in the district’s program for English learners – brings a broad perspective, a fresh eye and perhaps a more personal stake in the district’s business. As a smart newcomer, he should be given a chance to serve.

A fourth candidate, Sacramento State professor Jose Granda, has a sincere commitment to public education, but it is undercut by his ideological opposition to the parcel tax the schools depend on.

We recommend incumbent Alan Fernandes, challenger Bob Poppenga and Measure H.