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By Stuart Soffer

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About this blog: Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I lived in high-density housing and experienced transit-oriented services first hand. During high school and college summers I worked in Manhattan drafting tenant floor plans for high-rise office buildi...  (More)

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For Whom Belle Haven Tolls

Uploaded: Oct 8, 2013
The Belle Haven School, part of the Ravenswood City School District, should be absorbed into the Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD). Whether it's absorbed entirely or transformed into a charter school, maintaining the present model has community consequences affecting more than just education. Understandably, there are complex issues for all stakeholders.

At a neighborhood meeting a few years ago with then-Superintendent Ranella, I asked "why not bring Belle Haven into MPCSD?" This question was not well-received. The superintendent and others offered several reasons why this was impossible. The Ravenswood district would not allow a school to secede, average test scores in the MPCSD would decline, and MPCSD schools are crowded enough already.

I have also heard that moving the Belle Haven school into the Menlo Park district would lead to gentrification of Belle Haven and consequent loss of lower cost housing. This logic leads to an ironic result: an implicit willingness to sacrifice a child's education to preserve inexpensive housing stock.

Realigning the Belle Haven School would enable the entire Belle Haven community to advance. The newest Belle Haven residents, including families that have moved into developments such as the one on Hamilton Avenue, are creating a new dynamic - and concerns. They are realizing that Belle Haven School will not meet their children's educational needs. I spoke with one parent living in Belle Haven who brings her child to a west side school where she teaches. We're going to see new demands for school district change.

We are facing a bond measure designed to restore the German-American School site as an MPCSD facility. One of the rationales is that a strong school system increases property values. Understood, agreed, and appreciated. But I can also argue that bringing Belle Haven school into the MPCSD will help our property values as well: improving the property values to the east will have a positive effect across our community. And it could lessen demands on other city resources.

In speaking with other friends about incorporating Belle Haven into our school district, some suggest that transferring the portion of Atherton currently in the Redwood City School district into the MPCSD would also be beneficial. The stronger property values in Atherton would provide increased property tax revenues to the entire MPCSD, offsetting the lower school district revenues from Belle Haven. Interesting concept.

No matter what I suggest, it's up to the parents of the respective localities to make their voices heard and move to make this happen if they feel strongly enough about providing an outstanding education for their children.

Should the Belle Haven elementary school join MPCSD? Should portions of Atherton currently in Redwood City join MPCSD? Discuss.

Comments

Posted by opinion, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Oct 8, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Stuart, we are impressed that you attended one meeting a few years ago, but we are disappointed that your blog post is so weak. Instead or repeating Ranella's reasons why a merger was impossible, you could have instead described the details of how a neighborhood off Willow Road recently moved out of Ravenswood to MPCSD.


Posted by Paul Bendix, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Oct 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Stuart, I confess to being naïve in this area. But it does seem that efforts like the one you describe spark a counter reaction. I am intrigued to hear that a Willows neighborhood made the move on its own. I wonder if there\'s more in the Almanac archives about this. Meanwhile, for me, I would like to see the Belle Haven moved into more of my consciousness. I have barely been there and lived in this area for three decades. It seems up to me to get more involved.


Posted by facts, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Oct 10, 2013 at 1:19 am

Moving Belle Haven from one school district to another under the rationale of unifying Menlo Park does not actually unify Menlo Park unless you also merge Las Lomitas into the mix. Also, there will be a huge loss of state revenue if Belle Haven moves out of Ravenswood, and MPCSD's current property tax revenues alone could not even come close to making up for that loss (most people don't realize that Ravenswood actually has comparable per student funding to MPCSD because it gets so much state funding -- take it out of Ravenswood, lose a LOT of state funding). Also, taking Belle Haven out of Ravenswood would devastate that district, so if you are going to move out Belle Haven, you really need to take all of Ravenswood district. But doing that would result in an even larger loss of state revenue. There is no silver bullet here.


Posted by Not so easy, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Oct 10, 2013 at 9:50 am

Interesting assumption that the problem is the Ravenswood district itself, and that any school could migrate from that district to the MPCSD and suddenly become a high-performing school.

Ravenswood receives comparable funding to other districts, as already noted. Since ousting its long-time corrupt superintendent, the district has employed competent, professional management. Teachers are no less dedicated than at MPCSD schools.

If the impetus for this article is the fact that new Belle Haven residents are concerned about their local school, well, they have the power to make it better. The only real difference between the MPCSD and the Ravenswood district is the level of parental involvement and commitment. In fact, the #1 complaint I've heard from the Ravenswood management is that parents refuse to take any responsibility for helping educate their kids. If that mindset changes, then we will see very different results. But simply transferring one school into another district is not going to fix that problem.


Posted by Stuart Soffer, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Oct 10, 2013 at 3:47 pm

Stuart Soffer is a registered user.

Thank you all for considering the issues and responding.

Several items were mentioned. I knew of the earlier transfer of a Ravenswood district to the Menlo Park District but not the details (I was informed yesterday that this was before 1981).

Regarding the loss of funding, I proposed above the concomitant move of some Atherton into the MPSD. That could offset the disparity in property tax revenues. It could have a double effect since – as friends in Atherton have suggested – so many Athertonians send kids to private schools that the MPSD would have the benefit of the increased property tax without the increase of head count to educate. Speculative – but what if?

Not so easy – no, it isn't easy – and if someone wants to sit on their hands there are many reasons to choose from. Of course I'd like positive results from Ravenswood administration. I am still concerned that Belle Haven kids are being shortchanged. Perhaps blogger Martin Lamarque would offer his observations as he's lived in Belle Haven for 16 years.


Posted by Not so easy, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Oct 10, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I believe the reference to a Willows neighborhood changing districts pertained to the 600 Willow Road townhouses transfer from Ravenswood to MPCSD in 2011: [I tried to link to the Almanac's own story, but it wouldn't let me! Anyway, it is easy enough to find via google.]

Most of the rest of the Willows moved from Ravenswood to the MPCSD in the 1980s. However, several public schools west of 101 remained in the Ravenswood district, thus requiring Belle Haven/EPA children to walk over the freeway to get to and from school.


Posted by MBL, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Oct 10, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Thats' a very brave suggestion, Stuart.

But given how obsessed we have become about home values, I can already hear people panic from the possibility of having their real state treasures downgraded if children from lower socioeconomic class were to join their headed-to-Ivy-League-colleges kids.


Posted by Carolyn Clarke, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Oct 19, 2013 at 6:56 am

Thank you Stuart for supporting our Kids...I would hope that we can clearly see what the real important issues of life are...in my opinion, our Children are the most important, and we must make other decisions around their well being. After all, we cannot take our real estate or the increase in value with us when we leave this earth...our children's education should not depend on real estate values!

Since the Ravenswood School district will lose a sizable amount of funding without keeping the schools in the MP area, perhaps we should consider having the Ravenswood School District and the MP School District join to become One Unified School District? This may be the change we need...


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