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Bond measure would fund rebuilding of school

This would be the fifth school in the Menlo Park City School District

Being an elementary school principal can't be easy even under normal circumstances, but it's likely that Encinal School Principal Sharon Burns never expected that she'd have to hone the skills of a juggler.

"We're just having to be creative with our use of space," Ms. Burns said after describing the careful scheduling and strategic shifting of various classes and campus programs to accommodate the rapidly growing student enrollment on the K-5 campus.

The juggling act includes: the conversion of the science lab to classroom space and the subsequent adjusting of the science program to fit the new space limits; the move of the computer lab into the district office board room; the use of a new portable building for, among other things, part of the music program -- with string players squeezed out of their former space in the multipurpose building learning their instruments in a space shared with special education occupational therapy equipment.

Encinal School in Atherton is one of the Menlo Park City School District's three schools serving kindergarten through fifth-grade students, all of which have enrollments exceeding the schools' capacity. Although each of the schools has undergone major renovation in the past decade, the number of children enrolling in the high-performance, high-wealth district far exceeds demographic projections done at the time the renovation projects were undertaken.

For years, district officials have watched nervously as enrollment crept up, and counted on reaching the enrollment plateau projected for around 2015, making adjustments along the way to accommodate increases from year to year. But this year, faced with a 40 percent enrollment hike since 2000 and new projections showing continuing growth through at least 2022, the school board unanimously decided to ask district voters to approve a $23 million bond measure to rebuild the former O'Connor school in the Willows neighborhood of Menlo Park.

Measure W on the Nov. 5 ballot would fund construction of a school for third- to fifth-graders coming from the K-2 program at nearby Laurel School. The district plans to open the new school, on a campus that has been leased out to a private school for decades, in 2016.

In addition to Encinal, the district operates Laurel School in Atherton, Oak Knoll (K-5) in Menlo Park, and Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park, which opened for the 2012-13 school year after a complete reconstruction of its facilities.

Superintendent Maurice Ghysels noted that each of the pre-middle school campuses acquired for this school year a portable building to accommodate more students. The enrollment increase at these schools has created traffic congestion before and after school, particularly at Encinal, he said.

"Also, of course, our playgrounds are more crowded because Oak Knoll and Encinal schools were planned for 680 (maximum) enrollment, but they are now each above 770," he added. Laurel School, built with a 484-student capacity, how has 516 students, according to the district.

Total district enrollment is now at 2,904. Projected enrollment in 2022 is 3,000 to 3,350, the district said.

Ballot argument

No one submitted a ballot argument against Measure W, and with a strong history of community support for previous bond and parcel tax measures, school leaders are optimistic that the measure will reach the necessary 55 percent approval margin to pass.

The ballot argument in favor of the bond measure notes, among other things, that enrollment is projected to grow by up to 400 students over the next decade, and the existing building at the O'Connor site is nearly 60 years old, with only 10 classrooms. If the bond measure doesn't pass, the argument states, "core educational programs and facilities -- hands-on science, music, physical education, and art -- will be displaced to accommodate classrooms."

The district estimates that a 25-year, $23 million bond would cost district property owners an average of $8.70 per $100,000 of assessed value, and district leaders have said they're aiming for a single-series current interest bond issue.

School parents and community leaders have campaigned for the measure through neighborhood coffees and other outreach activities, said Katie Ferrick, one of five volunteers leading the Yes on W campaign committee. District children have also gotten involved by staffing neighborhood lemonade stands, where they pass out campaign fliers along with a cool drink.

Ms. Ferrick noted that building a new school would keep all district schools -- and the entire community -- "strong and vibrant."

"We wouldn't be in the position of over-enrollment" if the district hadn't worked hard over the years to offer a stellar educational program, she said. Over-enrollment "means we have great schools -- and what a great problem to have."

Comments

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Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Oct 9, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Yes, great schools. But what is being done about district leadership? With each meeting I attend, it is becoming abundantly clear that Mr. Ghysels is not an intelligent man. He comes prepared with speeches and is unable to answer questions with any sort of validity outside of his script. While I would love to see my children attend a brand new school, I will not be supporting this bond as long as current leadership in the district exists as it is. I would have fully supported a bond to renovate the school and add new classrooms. But to spend $25 million to level the school and build a new one just to satisfy the egos of Ghysels and board members is not something that I will support.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by stats
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Oct 9, 2013 at 11:15 pm

@District Parent,
Seems like you are conflating two things, your disrespect for the superintendent (perhaps understandable) and your beliefs on the economies of revamping the O'Connor site for the needed capacity. Just looking objectively at the existing O'Connor building plus all the messy and expensive short term capacity patches that were made at Hillview before it had to be demolished to do the right thing, I don't see the the renovation you envision as a serious option.


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Posted by Bigger picture
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 10, 2013 at 8:29 am

I don't see any other choice at this point than to renovate the O'Connor site. As a homeowner with four kids in the schools, I've always supported the district and will vote for this measure.

That said, I also have issues not only with Ghysels but with the board as a whole. Part of the voter pushback on this measure is occurring because the board is widely perceived as a clique of handpicked members. (Speaking as one who considered running and was informed that you have to wait to be asked!) If residents from across the district were encouraged to run, and if the board truly represented a range of residents, many of us would feel better about their deliberations and decisions, especially those related to bonds and hiring.


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Posted by No Easy Solutions
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 10, 2013 at 4:49 pm

This is not a $23M bond. Think of the interest paid to finance this bond. When it is fully amortized, the interest is:
$14.5M at 4%
$18.8M at 5%
$23.0M at 6%

The $8.70 per $100,000 in property is too make it sound palatable. Is this really the most efficient and best way to educate children due to enrollment growth? How much is needed for construction? Won't you rather spend the money on what really educates the children vs buildings? I'll be voting No on W.


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Posted by Doing the math
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 10, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I have a concern about the cost to us home owners. When they say the cost is: $8.70 per $100,000, I think they mean for each year that the Bond is outstanding, I believe. That comes to $114.94 for a 1M assessed value home (which is less than the average cost, I think) PER YEAR. If you have a $2M home, which would be more typical for a lot of Menlo Park, it would be $229.89 extra PER YEAR.

This is a 25 year bond, so we'd be paying that amount for 25 years. For a 1M assessed value property, it would cost you: $114.94 x 25 years = $2,873.56 total. For a 2M assessed property, it would be $5,747.13. For a 3M assessed property, it would be: $8,620.69. For a 4M assessed property, you'd be paying $11,494.25, and for a 5M property, you'd be paying $14,367.82. And, those amounts assume your property value never goes up. Your home value is likely to go up over 25 years by the 3% allowed increase, so you need to do the math with increasing property values each year.

All I am saying is that this is not chump change, even for residents of Menlo Park, who tend to be fairly well off.


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Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Oct 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm

To stats:

Sorry for the confusion. My point is that I don't think that Ghysels has the capacity to lead this school district. I have not agreed with many of the decisions he has made while at the helm nor do I think he is capable of making important decisions. So I don't trust the he will be making the best decisions with OUR $23 million. Look at what happened at Hillview. There is someone on Ghysels' staff whose sole purpose is to oversee the construction and he MISSED what was happening with the building of the fields at Hillview last year, which had to be torn up and rebuilt. Only because of public outcry on the Almanac is Ghysels trying to recoup the money from contractors that was lost because of this huge oversight. We need someone who can actually lead this district, then I will happily vote for any school bond/parcel tax measure as I have always done in the past.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Ms. B
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 10, 2013 at 7:56 pm

I will vote YES on Measure W. This actually should have been done years ago. My kids will be out of elementary school by the time the O'Connor campus is complete - so our family will not see direct benefit of the additional elementary campus. But we are seeing, and will continue to see in the future, direct benefit from the Hillview rebuild - which was decided upon before we got there (Thank you!!!) We will also see indirect benefits of the rebuilt O'Connor campus in the form of reduced traffic during school commute times, as the Willows kids stay in the Willows rather than commuting across town to Encinal or Laurel. Neighborhood schools are the way to go, and this will be good for Menlo Park. Are we awash in taxes? Well, yes. And it hurts. But of all the dumb things our tax dollars are sometimes spent on, I view Measure W as worthy of the spending. I am fully in support of Measure W.


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