News

Menlo Park school district paints bleak picture without new parcel tax

Cuts in programs and teacher support, plus increased class sizes would be needed, district says

After failing to pass two parcel tax measures in May, with enrollment growing and the state requiring more district contributions to employee pensions, the Menlo Park City School District has been pondering how to erase a predicted $5.3 million deficit.

On Tuesday night, Oct. 18, Superintendent Maurice Ghysels presented a plan that he said could have the district back in the black within three years. It called for slashing programs, increasing class sizes and eliminating positions throughout the district, holding back on cost-of-living increases for staff, and reducing spending on everything from technology to staff training.

Only by passing a new $515 per parcel tax, would the need for cuts be eliminated, he said. If the expiring $207 per parcel tax is renewed, the district would still need to make $2.7 million in cuts he said.

Examples of the cuts that are laid out include:

• Increasing kindergarten- to fifth-grade class sizes from an average of 22 to 24 ($1 million savings).

• Increasing sixth- to eighth-grade class sizes from an average of 24 to 27 ($650,000 savings).

• Using aides supervised by teachers to teach elementary school art classes ($206,000) and run the libraries ($250,000).

• Eliminating a night custodian ($60,000).

• Cutting back on middle school elective offerings ($220,000).

• Reducing music time in fourth and fifth grade by 50 percent ($190,000).

• Eliminating the world language programs in kindergarten to fifth grades ($210,000).

• Cutting back or eliminating the program that gives an iPad to each middle school student ($150,000).

• Eliminating middle-school mini courses ($80,000).

• Reducing each site budget for supplies, professional development and training by 30 percent ($100,000).

• Eliminating summer school except for mandated programs ($120,000).

• Reducing teacher work year by 3 days, from 189 to 186 days ($375,000).

• Reducing site and district administration work days by five days per year ($45,000).

• Reducing cost-of-living compensation increases by 0.5 percent a year ($800,000 by year four).

One cut not mentioned was elimination of the assistant superintendent position, which Vince Lopez, who represents the teachers' union, had asked in an earlier meeting be done before teachers are cut.

Board members seemed to have a hard time finding any cuts they could support.

"This is a horrible night," said board member Terry Thygesen. "I'm looking at this dismantling of a really high quality education for children that this community has worked very hard to build over the last 15-plus years."

Board member Joan Lambert pointed out, however, that even if the expiring parcel tax is extended some cuts will be needed.

"I would agree with Terry ... this is crazy," she said. "I am disheartened to see the size and the magnitude of all of these cuts."

She suggested increasing class sizes and reducing the work year might hurt less than other cuts.

"As a parent, I would rather have another couple of kids in my child's class rather than get rid of all these other things you are proposing," Ms. Lambert said.

At least 47 teachers and other district staff attended the meeting, according to teachers' union representative Vince Lopez. More than 140 people were in the audience.

Among the dozens who spoke was Oak Knoll Principal Kristen Gracia, who said she is a Menlo Park homeowner and parent of three children in the district. She said she is "so disappointed" by the failure of the parcel taxes and divisive conversations that have gone on about the district. "This is not the community I know," she said.

The district now gives its educators "space to innovate to make school work for every kid," she said. "I will personally do whatever needs to happen ... to get us out of this ... to keep our teachers who are so good," she said.

"We must preserve the experience because we believe in this experience," she said. "I invite anyone to come to Oak Knoll ... and I personally will show you why we need to continue to do what we do."

Longtime district parent Kate Kennedy, who has a Hillview eighth-grader and a high school sophomore, said the district "is a special place. It truly is a family," she said. "Sitting here watching these proposed reductions, it really breaks my heart."

She, like several other speakers, called out district opponents who have used social media to fight the parcel taxes. "I see a lot of almost willful misinformation out there," she said.

Ms. Kennedy suggested the district might look at keeping less money in reserve. "I feel we are in a rather dire economic situation," she said. "It just feels weird to talk about pink-slipping teachers when we're sitting on these reserves."

Superintendent Maurice Ghysels said that if the district makes cuts of $1.5 million for each of the next three years, the district will be able to balance the budget while keeping reserves no lower than 14 percent. The state requires reserves of 3 percent, but the district has a policy of having at least two months of payroll in reserve, which is closer to 20 percent.

The total of $4.5 million in cuts is less than the predicted deficit, because the district will save money by making cuts early, he said. He laid out $5.8 million in possible cuts, meaning that all but $1.3 million of the cuts would be needed to close the budget gap without a parcel tax.

However, since the district cannot get a parcel tax on the ballot before March 2017, and there is a March 15 deadline for serving teachers with layoff notices, the district must plan to make at least $1.5 million in cuts in case a parcel tax is not approved.

The district has not decided if it will ask for a new parcel tax, and if it does, how much it will be and when it would go before the voters.

Upcoming meetings on closing the budget gap include:

Two special board meetings to take public input on the advisability and details of a new parcel tax, at 9 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 24, and at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 25, both in the Hillview Middle School Performing Arts Center, 1100 Elder Ave. in Menlo Park.

Regular board meetings on Nov. 9 and Nov. 30 will include the budget gap on their agendas. Both will be in the Hillview Performing Arts Center, starting at 6 p.m.

The Nov. 30 meeting is scheduled so the board could meet a Dec. 2 deadline to put a parcel tax measure on the March 2017 ballot.

Comments

23 people like this
Posted by Look at Overhead
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 19, 2016 at 12:42 pm

I agree that our schools are special places, and would like to keep as much of the programming as possible. It's perhaps telling that the District did not consider losing the assistant superintendent position. While I'm sure this position is useful, it may not be as critical as other people and programs. Can someone please lay out for the public all of the jobs at the TERC and their associated costs? Cutting overhead-- asst superintendent or other nonessential positions -- may be a smart strategy that keeps more of the classroom education programs intact.


33 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2016 at 1:20 pm

I have largely watched this "mess" and remained silent up to now.

It appears the primary sources of divineness are

Ballot supporter view: (1) those who opposed the recent specific parcel tax do not appreciate our excellent schools, (2) are willing do let the quality suffer rather than renew the exiting parcel tax and increase the total amount provided and (3) have continuously spread false information.

Ballot opponent view: (1) the campaign did not to a good job of explaining why it needed additional funding and why the parcel tax needed to be structured the way it was (2) conducted a campaign that appears to have targeted likely supporters (parents with school-age kids) and largely ignored everyone else (3) supporters of the ballot continuously spread false information.

The solution seem obvious: (1) stop exchanging insults (2) stop being defensive when reasonable questions are asked,
(3) proactively educate all voters and designate a single trustworthy source for answers to questions.

After this, the district should put a new "restructured" measure on the ballot and do a great job of addressing any concerns in a straightforward manner. I would be surprised if residents would not support a well-designed and well understood ballot measure.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2016 at 1:22 pm

Oops!! I meant "divisiveness", not "divineness"


33 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2016 at 1:28 pm

Instead of the school district asking for more money, maybe we should be asking the Superintendent and the CBO why they can't balance their budget?

I think the school district was turned down for additional parcel taxes because we already pay $1800/year on top of our property taxes. The new superintendent is getting a nice raise from the last $235k. In 2014 the "business officer" got $180k per year. Here's all the salaries
Web Link


27 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 19, 2016 at 1:29 pm

The district still hasn't got the message people sent when they said, "No," to the last two demands for funds. Now comes the emotional blackmail: threats about what will need to be done due to the lack of funds. Curious how it always means something negative for the students. The district needs to look at its own mismanagement of funds and ways to do that before negatively affecting the students.

We have many programs that other schools do not have and seem to do just fine without. Do we really need 'world languages' and the many elective programs being offered? There is a big difference between need to have and nice to have. The district has been spoiled by parents' willingness to pay for 'nice to have' programs but the costs have gotten out of hand.

As for the assistant superintendent position--nice to have, but really not a need to have.

When I voted no on more money, I meant it and so did the rest of us! Get your act together and stop the constant demands for more and more money.


11 people like this
Posted by School Parent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 19, 2016 at 1:35 pm

When will the administration and/or Board present a budget that takes account of more realistic projected increases in District revenues due to property tax increases?

Currently, the District's budgeted revenues beyond 2016/2017 assume 5% increase in property tax revs in year 1, then 3% annually thereafter see: . However, for 2016, District property tax revs will increase by 6.25%. Simply using a 6.25% property tax revenue escalator for District revenues eliminates >$3M of the $5M multi-year budget "gap".

Instead of focusing on scare tactics about cuts, can we have a more balanced, realistic conversation about both revenues and expenses?


10 people like this
Posted by Menlo Man
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 19, 2016 at 1:42 pm

School Parent, Chief Business Officer Ahmad Shoekleslami has projected tax revenue growth at 6.1% for the next four years. He revised and increased his projections from the numbers you stated , which were incredibly conservative.

His projections were presented at the 9/13 School Board meeting. You can find his presentation in the Board Agenda here:

Web Link


18 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 19, 2016 at 1:49 pm

This deficit didn't occur overnight -- why is this now a big problem?
And to use phrases that suggest if we don't approve a parcel tax, we don't support schools is inappropriate. I greatly support education. I also support sound financial management.

If I ask the question why the superintendent should be paid $235K to oversee 4 schools, I know what some of the responses will be -- such as, to get a quality person, we have to have a competitive salary.

It seems in financial hardship, the only alternative is usually, let's raise taxes instead of exploring other options. I have written before that San Mateo County has more than 25 school districts -- why? Cities have started to recognize the cost savings in merging fire agencies and contracting for police services; why haven't schools at least looked at ways to reduce or share some costs, etc.?

Just a thought.....


11 people like this
Posted by Step 1
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 19, 2016 at 2:10 pm

Step 1. Terminate the person doing the budget, obviously he/she can not project costs. Step 2 Terminate everyone at District making over $150,000. Step 3 let the individual schools determine what is best for their school (local students x (district budget / all students)= money available per school. Step 4 hire back district overhead if needed. No tax increase means no tax increase. To District and Board, listen to what the voters of a very wealth district are telling you. The message is clear, you are wasting our money.


16 people like this
Posted by Menlo Man
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 19, 2016 at 2:26 pm

6 out of 10 people in MP voted for a poorly executed Parcel Tax extension last spring. The District and Board are seeking input and listening to the public right now. There will a revised parcel tax with a reasonable ask and a sunset on the ballot next Spring, and MP voters will approve it....


12 people like this
Posted by RW
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 19, 2016 at 3:03 pm

The school budget woes are due in part to MP City Council's program of aggressive commercial development, with no heed to the resulting deterioration of quality of life in Menlo Park.

Traffic + pollution + larger class sizes + ...
is the legacy of the present benighted Council.


12 people like this
Posted by Publius
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm

Publius is a registered user.

Although I am usually on the side of fiscal control verses more parcel taxes, I hear the frustration of "Step 1" but I do need to stand up for Chief Business Officer Ahmad Shoekleslami. I actually think he is doing a good job and is only following the direction provided to him by the Sup and Board. He has a great grasp of how school finances work. This is not about the CBO managing the budget. Let's again keep the discussion at a higher level and propose real solutions that don't fall into the entrenched views of "what ever it takes to fund the schools" and "No More Taxes period". Such hard line thinking rarely gets a fair and equitable solution to a problem. Just look at Washington.

I ask that of every resident in the district AND of the school board. I will be very disappointed if in the end, they do not find a middle ground. The schools are excellent and WILL remain excellent even if there is a little belt tightening and SOME additional funding.


2 people like this
Posted by Publius
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Publius is a registered user.

Although I think RW has a valid concern, I am not sure the commercial development is the issue. My question is of these large multi-tenant projects proposed, are they primarily apartments (rental units) or condo (owned units). Rental units do not pay into the parcel tax pool other than the property owner is assessed the tax based solely on the parcel and not the units that sit on that property. If they are owned units, then I think the owner does pay into the parcel tax pool. So if this is correct, then rental units with families raise the enrollment with little to no contribution to the operating funding for the district.

I am not an expert on this so I invite Jennifer B., Peter C. or someone with strong knowledge on this topic to clarify for all of us.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 19, 2016 at 3:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Dana states "The solution seem obvious: (1) stop exchanging insults (2) stop being defensive when reasonable questions are asked,
(3) proactively educate all voters and designate a single trustworthy source for answers to questions."

Here is my 10 May correspondence to the Board:
10 Mav 2016
Dr. Maurice Ghysels
Superintendent
Menlo Park City School District
Dear Dr. Ghyles,
In your capacity as Secretary of the Board this is a formal written request for the placement of the following item on the Board's agenda for its regular June meeting as an Action Item:
Review, Revise and Approve the following draft policy statements in response to the decisions of the citizens to not approve Measure A and Measure C :

1 - The Board acknowledges that there is a need for improved interaction and
communication regarding MPCSD with the community, particularly with those taxpayers who do not have children in MPCSD schools,

2 -The Board is committed to full transparency as we move forward including but not limited to implementation of a redesigned web site that includes and makes easy to find all of the MPCSD financial, enrollment, academic performance, e-mail communications, compensation and union contract information,

3 - The Board will consider a Single Parcel Tax measure for a General Election thatsupersedes all of the current parcel taxes and which has a 6 year expiration date,
(note: The Board would be well advised to establish an Ad Hoc Committee of two
Board Members and a number of citizens not affiliated with the District to recommendthe specific amount of such a consolidated parcel tax and the election at which it should be considered by the voters.)

4 - The Board recognizes the potential value of sharing services with adjacent elementary school districts and of possible mergers with those adjacent elementary school districts.
Recognizing the procedural difficulties of merging school districts, the Board will immediately begin exploring entering into shared services agreements for functions such as Finance, Human Resources, IT and Facilities with one or more of our adjacent elementary school districts.

Respectfully submitted,

Peter Carpenter

*************
This item was never placed on the agenda.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 19, 2016 at 3:44 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Rental units do not pay into the parcel tax pool other than the property owner is assessed the tax based solely on the parcel and not the units that sit on that property. "

This is incorrect - property taxes are based on the assessed value of the land plus all improvements.

Any all new residential development must pay a school impact fee of about $3.50 per sq ft to the school district when the construction permit is issues.

"The Sequoia Union High School District collects school developer fees for new construction, remodels or additions to existing structures for all residential and commercial/industrial construction projects within the boundaries of Belmont/Redwood Shores, Las Lomitas, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Ravenswood, Redwood City, San Carlos and Woodside. The Sequoia Union High School District currently shares the developer fees with its feeder districts. The developer fee sharing arrangement between the districts is currently 40% for the high school district and 60% for the feeder districts. School Developer Fees must be paid before any building department issues a permit to applicants."

"Fees are calculated based on the total square footage of the project. As of June 19, 2016 the square footage rate for residential projects is $3.48 a square foot and $0.56 a square foot for commercial/industrial projects."


2 people like this
Posted by Publius
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2016 at 5:00 pm

Publius is a registered user.

Thanks Peter. However, are these one time developer fees? What about yearly parcel tax contributions?


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 19, 2016 at 5:09 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The impact fees are one time fees.

Parcel taxes are paid yearly but MPCSD does not charge a higher parcel tax for larger parcels than it does for smaller parcels based on what I think in incorrect legal advice.

So a 300 apartment pays the same parcel tax as a single family residence.

In contrast the Town of Atherton's parcel tax is graduated by parcel size:
MAXIMUM TAX IN GIVEN YEAR 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18
1. For each dwelling on a parcel with an area of less than 1/4 acre: 450 450 450 450
2. For each unimproved parcel with an area of less than 1/4 acre: 225 225 225 225
3. For each dwelling on a parcel with an area of 1/4 acre or more, but less than ½ acre: 570 570 570 570
4. For each unimproved parcel with an area of 1/4 acre or more, but less than ½ acre: 285 285 285 285
5. For each dwelling on a parcel with an area of 1/2 acre or more, but less than 2 acres: 750 750 750 750
6. For each unimproved parcel with an area of 1/2 acre or more, but less than 2 acres: 375 375 375 375
7. For each dwelling on a parcel with an area of 2 acres or more: 960 960 960 960
8. For each unimproved parcel with an area of 2 acres or more: 480 480 480 480
9. For each private club: 10,000 10,000 10,000 10,000


13 people like this
Posted by HelloHanalei
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 19, 2016 at 5:26 pm

HelloHanalei is a registered user.

Peter, Dr. Ghysels and Trustee Lambert met with you recently to discuss a number of your questions, and they have for months been in the process of working through some very complex issues, including some that appear in your letter. Why is this not good enough for you?

The Board and the District are not ignoring you, as you would have people believe. It was unrealistic of you to expect that they would place all of your items on the agenda of a single meeting simply because you asked them to.

How would you respond if someone sent a similar letter to you in your capacity as a member of the Fire District Board? Would you immediately agendize all of one person's questions, no matter what other business the Fire District Board had on its plate?

You are a citizen and a taxpayer, yes, but so are we all. I wouldn't expect the School Board or any other public agency, upon receipt of a letter from me, to devote a significant portion of a previously-scheduled meeting to my concerns. I think it's unfair of you to hold the District and School Board to an unreasonable standard and take them to task when they don't meet it.

Before you begin attacking the perceived weaknesses of my points, let me reiterate that no one has ignored you. The Superintendent and the School Board have responded, on an ongoing basis, to your questions and concerns, and if they haven't done so exactly to your specifications, maybe you can consider being a bit more flexible.

Side note: what's the connection between Dana's observations and your reprinting of this letter?


2 people like this
Posted by Look at Overhead
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Oct 19, 2016 at 5:27 pm

M Per, thank you for the link, which included the following salary info:

David Ackerman CERTIFICATED SUBSTITUTES
Menlo Park City Elementary, 2014 $129,222.74 $0.00 $3,363.02 $3,292.23 $135,877.99

Is this the same David Ackerman, who used to be principal of Oak Knoll and is currently running for School Board? And what is a certified substitute, and why is this position among the 20 highest paid in the district? If this is the same person, is he also getting paid a pension?


12 people like this
Posted by Brown Eyed Girl
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2016 at 6:11 pm

Brown Eyed Girl is a registered user.

CBO Ahmad Shoekleslami has done an excellent job upgrading the financial standards of the district so would not want to see him go. MPCSD has earned a AAA bond rating which saves the district enormous amount of interest expense.

More accurate forecasting/budgeting and more frequent updates would be helpful. Currently, the school district looks at the budget twice a year. In this past go around, they passed a budget and then awarded raises that were not included in the budget.

What is the point of budgeting if you are not going to adhere to the budget?


When the parcel tax failed, Maurice said there was a hiring freeze and then a few days after the budget was approved (and everyone was away on vacation) they hired an assistant for Ahmad that was not in the budget.

I am not against Ahmad having an assistant but what is the point of budgeting and hiring freezes if they are not followed and why was it done surreptitiously?

The assistant superintendent position should not be filled. That money should stay in the classroom and in programs.

All administration should be evaluated as well as merging the district with Las Lomitas.

They can find another ~ $1.0 million per year if they discontinued employees children from attending the schools.

Not saying the public will not support funding an extra $1 million through the MPAEF or taxes - just they should know where the money is going so they can make informed and educated decisions.

The extra programs should all be funded through the MPAEF. Public education is not for platinum plated programs. That comes though the public/private partnership of the community. If the community values the district - they will fund it through MPAEF.

Charital contributions are voluntary. Taxes are confiscatory.


11 people like this
Posted by Brown Eyed Girl
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 19, 2016 at 7:27 pm

Brown Eyed Girl is a registered user.

The residents of MPCSD have been extremely supportive of the school district as evidenced by the parcel taxes we currently pay compared to the parcel taxes paid by our neighboring school districts:


MPCSD Parcel Tax: $851.56
Palo Alto Parcel Tax: $758
Las Lomitas Parcel Tax: $361
Portola Valley Parcel Tax: $581
Woodside ParcelTax: $281.52

Woodside School District asks its district families to contribute $8,500 per student to the Woodside education foundation in order to fund its programs.

Las Lomitas and Portola Valley each ask their families to contribute $2,000 per student to the education foundation.

Menlo Park City School District requests a contribution of $1,500 to the MPAEF.

Perhaps, MPAEF needs to do a better job of fundraising?

If the community vales the work of the schools, they will fund the Foundation.



18 people like this
Posted by Sadden by rhetoric
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Oct 19, 2016 at 9:27 pm

The part of Mrs. Gracia's quote that is missing is she said "get off the blogs and come visit Oak Knoll. I will personally show you our school..."

I encourage you to do that. It is easy to say we can make cuts when they are just words on a page come see for yourself.


10 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 19, 2016 at 9:56 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"It is easy to say we can make cuts when they are just words on a page come see for yourself."

It is easy to propose taxing other people to educate your children but very difficult to get those "other people" to support your special privilege.


22 people like this
Posted by HelloHanalei
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 19, 2016 at 11:09 pm

HelloHanalei is a registered user.

1) It's a specious argument to compare Foundation asks per student in Woodside, Portola Valley, and Las Lomitas to MPAEF's ask per student. Put bluntly, the former are pretty much uniformly affluent communities, while MPCSD comprises a much wider cross-section of economic circumstances. We have families in the District who can afford to give more — and in some cases, far more — than the recommended ask, and are generous enough to do so. We also have families who are hard pressed to give $25, but they still give. The MPAEF simply cannot look to its donors to close a $5MM gap, and to suggest otherwise is uninformed and out of touch with reality.

2) Phrases like "special privilege," "platinum education," and "educating other peoples' children," tap in to peoples' worst, most selfish impulses, and turn this into an us-versus-them argument. I find that incredibly disheartening, and it's showing me an ugly side of this community that I was naive enough not to be aware of before now. All I can say is that when my children age out of the school system, I'll gladly continue to pay the taxes that will ensure a high-quality education for the children coming up behind mine. I've always just assumed that's what people DO as part of a community.


30 people like this
Posted by Jayd Almquist
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 20, 2016 at 12:43 am

My name is Jayd Almquist the students refer to me as “Mr. A”. I have had the privilege of teaching elementary art for the past thirteen years, five of those wonderful years have been spent at Oak Knoll Elementary. When I read these proposed cuts the first thing that comes to mind is OUR KIDS. OUR KIDS would be the ones who suffer from these massive cuts, and OUR KIDS deserve a well-rounded education provided by highly qualified teachers.

I would like to clarify a potential misconception about art education. Art education is more than creating “finger paintings” and making “popsicle sculptures”. Art education is a way to build confidence, fine motor skills, and promotes creative independent thinking. For example, first grade students at Oak Knoll who range in ages 5-7 could identify and make all three primary and secondary colors, they could show you a painting they created that was inspired by Vincent Van Gogh. The first grade students at Oak Knoll can explain the process clay goes through before and after it has entered the kiln, all while showing you a bug they created with their tiny hands….and this is just first grade. I teach and touch the lives of over 750 kids per week. This is not the job of an aide (as proposed in the budget cuts) this is the job of a highly qualified art teacher.

I teach alongside some of the most talented music teachers you will ever meet. Imagine having a room full of students eager and excited to play drums and violins at 8:15 on a Monday morning, and having the ability to direct and make beautiful music with these talented kids. I’ve witnessed on a number of occasions, 50 plus kids ranging in ages 9-12 all playing music all at the same time…and it sounds amazing. 10 kids are playing xylophones, 5 are playing drums, 5 are playing bass drums, 5 are rhythm dancing, and the rest are singing….and this is happening all at the same time and it sounds amazing.

I would like to extend the invitation as mentioned in this article by Oak Knolls principal Kristin Gracia, to come visit our school. See first hand the excitement and exceptional learning that is happening right now for OUR KIDS.


18 people like this
Posted by The Onion
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 20, 2016 at 7:43 am

I have a suggestion. Let's give everyone in the school district a nice salary raise, while we sit and try to figure out how to balance the budget. YOU CAN NOT BE SERIOUS! If you want to be serious, stop acting like clowns. Every day the school district news literally reads like headlines from the Onion. I understand that sometimes life imitates art, but the Onion? Really, School Board, please do better. Don't give everyone in the district a raise and then cry Po Boy. Face palm.


8 people like this
Posted by Brown Eyed Girl
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 20, 2016 at 8:04 am

Brown Eyed Girl is a registered user.

To Hello Hanalei,

The point that you fail to see is that we are supporting our schools at the very highest level.

1) We already pay the highest parcel taxes of any neighboring school district
2) Our teachers and administrators are the highest paid of any neighboring school district
3) The MPAEF has done a great job contributing millions of dollars each year to the schools to support extra programs

Why do we ned MORE funding if our increased property tax revenue fully supports the enrollment growth of our own district?

The answer is very simple: The new money requested is going to pay pensions.

The pension system is broken and this is just the first step. The pensions system needs to be reformed and the Governor of the State of California refuses to do it so he just pushes it on the local community.

If the state will not reform pensions, then the school district needs to restructure itself first. Taxes should be the LAST resort. Not an open blank check.


2 people like this
Posted by Brown Eyed Girl
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 20, 2016 at 8:09 am

Brown Eyed Girl is a registered user.

To HelloHanalei:

They can find another ~ $1.0 million per year if they discontinued employees children from attending the schools.

Not saying the public will not support funding an extra $1 million through the MPAEF or taxes - just they should know where the money is going so they can make informed and educated decisions.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 20, 2016 at 8:41 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is a myth the the district has no control over pension costs.

The district's pension costs are the direct result of:
- the number of people employed in the district and
- the salary paid to each of those people

If the district wants to reduce its pension costs it can:
- hire fewer people
- pay lower salaries or, at least, not increase existing salaries


15 people like this
Posted by The Logic Doesn't Make Sense
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 20, 2016 at 10:13 am

@HelloHanalei

"It's a specious argument to compare Foundation asks per student in Woodside, Portola Valley, and Las Lomitas to MPAEF's ask per student. Put bluntly, the former are pretty much uniformly affluent communities, while MPCSD comprises a much wider cross-section of economic circumstances."


Since that's the case, why is the district asking MPCSD residents to contribute more in parcel taxes? The wider community is also not as affluent either. They too have an upper limit in the parcel tax level they feel comfortable with.

Moreover, if the parents won't step up their giving, the rest of the community is not likely to. The more affluent parents can contribute much more if the programs are truly vital. MPAEF funding per student has been flat for the last four years. That speaks volumes that the parents are tapped out. The no vote on the parcel taxes are an indication that the taxpayers are tapped out or are unhappy with the district for whatever reason.

And if we shouldn't compare MPAEF asks to donations in other more affluent districts, then we shouldn't compare spending levels and programs with those districts. MPCSD teacher salaries are already better than these richer districts. Now, you want program quality to also be better. There's no way we can give the districts the best salaries AND the best programs when we're not as rich.


"All I can say is that when my children age out of the school system, I'll gladly continue to pay the taxes that will ensure a high-quality education for the children coming up behind mine."


It's interesting that you will continue to pay your taxes, but NOT mention anything about contributing to MPAEF after your children age out. If all parents of former MPCSD students continue their yearly MPAEF donations, then we wouldn't need to ask the other residents to increase their parcel taxes.

I'm curious how much MPAEF gets per ex-MPCSD student each year. If the programs are as valuable as you say they are, then the former parents would still keep giving. If they were only contributing for the direct benefit of their own children, then it begs the question why other residents should through their parcel taxes.


12 people like this
Posted by HelloHanalei
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 20, 2016 at 12:38 pm

HelloHanalei is a registered user.

To answer your question, Logic: yes, I plan to continue giving to MPAEF after my children graduate from MPCSD.


33 people like this
Posted by Julie Hilborn
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Oct 20, 2016 at 1:24 pm

I have been a teacher at Hillview since 2002. In those 14 years I have witnessed an amazing transformation for the better within our MPCSD schools, in large part because of the parcel taxes that the Menlo Park community has supported. I have a unique perspective because I worked with 9 other school districts when I was a teacher on special assignment, and my husband works in a district that has been far less financially supported than ours. MPCSD is a magical place. It's a family; a place of innovation and greatness that other districts look to as a model. And that is largely because of the support of the community, and its ability to attract the best teachers and administrators.

The people who are going to be hurt most by these proposed cuts are the students, especially those who are disadvantaged in one way or another. Yes, it would help if the district would look at the possibility of further cuts at the district office. Yes, there are changes to the pension system that are making things more difficult for teachers and the district, who are having to pay a larger share. Yes, the board and the district made some mistakes in regards to passing the last parcel tax. But the reality is that the cuts needed much run deeper than just the positions at the district office, and the pension hikes.. Having to pink slip teachers is a huge demoralizer for all of us at school. It affects our climate and our relationships with students, regardless of whether it is us who receive the pink slip. And most of those teachers will not wait around to find out if they will keep their jobs; they will go somewhere else.

On the issue of class size, my classroom doesn't have room for "a couple more students" which to most people, doesn't sound like a lot. But even one student changes the dynamic of the class, making it harder for us to build a community where every kid feels like they matter and has a strong connection to an adult. Without that, students cannot learn. In addition, students need art, music, foreign language, PE, science, and other enrichment programs to keep them motivated at school. These are not extra programs that we can do without in hard times; these are essential programs that will keep kids wanting to come to school, wanting to achieve, and building character and self-esteem that will take them into their lives as adults.

Let's keep the magic in MPCSD. From the front lines as a long-time teacher in the district, I urge everyone in our community to come together to support another parcel tax.


21 people like this
Posted by Vic
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm

I find it frustrating that people are complaining about rampant spending and fiscal mismanagement without properly benchmarking nationally. We are in a little provincial bubble here. MPCSD spends just over $13k per student. The national average spending per student is around $11k-$12.5k depending on what data you choose. BUT, Menlo Park is 99th percentile in terms of cost of operations nationally (mostly land and salaries)! So we are around 55th percentile in terms of spending and 99th percentile in terms of cost, that is actually very efficient!

California is always in the bottom quartile of states in terms of spending per student (we were 49th out of 50 in 2009 with only Alabama being lower, and that's not adjusting for cost of operations!), so we are the highest of the lowest bunch. In reality our peer districts up and down the North East and Mid-Atlantic are all spending $18k-$21k per student. And those places are still cheaper in terms of cost of operations. I visit schools all over the country, and districts in affluent areas outside of cities like Newton, MA, Lower Merion, PA, Stamford, CT....etc are all spending $18k-$21k per student. Menlo is WAY below these districts, and I visit many, many areas less affluent than Menlo that are still consistently spending $17k per student. If anything, Menlo is one of the lowest spending affluent districts I've ever visited. You can always cherry pick a school here or there, but when you benchmark nationally (which is who our kids will be competing with), we are way below the benchmarks and within totally reasonable spending. I even just visited a similar district outside of Pittsburgh, PA where $250k buys 4500sq ft house on an acre, and they were spending $17,500 per kid!

Let's lift our heads out of this bubble and look at this a little more reasonably, having schools as good as ours at barely above national average spending in an area where land and salaries (bulk of costs) is more than double the national average is pretty phenomenal.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 20, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Let's keep the magic in MPCSD."

I agree.

But to do that the taxpayers have to be convinced to keep paying more and more. Unfortunately that case has not yet been made.


13 people like this
Posted by Brown Eyed Girl
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 20, 2016 at 3:08 pm

Brown Eyed Girl is a registered user.

My charitable donations go to the Ravenswood Education Foundation as that is the community that truly needs the money.

Personally, I believe the disadvantaged need greater support. If Menlo Park causes my real estate taxes to go up, I have less funds available to contribute to Ravenswood.

Perhaps we should merge MPCSD with Ravenswood?. If HelloHanalei is disheartened by the conversation, he/she should have no issue with a merger of this type.


11 people like this
Posted by I voted no
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 20, 2016 at 3:40 pm

Dana is right.
Rather than speculate about the rationale of those who voted against the parcel tax measures, why not have a conversation? You might find out that we support (yes, financially) our schools, even long after our children have graduated. You might find out that this is the first time we have voted against a parcel tax.
You might find out that we did not like the permanency or the regressiveness of the parcel taxes. There are many in our community who are really struggling to afford any housing in this crazy housing shortage; a parcel tax affects them more harshly than the rest of us.
Transparency is not the biggest issue to winning my vote
Address the concerns.


10 people like this
Posted by HelloHanalei
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 20, 2016 at 4:02 pm

HelloHanalei is a registered user.

BEG, what does my being disheartened by the vitriol I've seen around this conversation have to do with the idea of merging MPCSD and Ravenswood? I'm not sure why you directed your comment to me.

I think it's great that you contribute to the Ravenswood Foundation. I know a lot of people who do the same, and who volunteer in Ravenswood schools as well. If an increase in the MPCSD parcel tax would mean you wouldn't be able to give as much to Ravenswood, that's a shame. My family might have to cut back somewhere as well. It probably wouldn't be in our charitable contributions, but everyone has to make their own decisions.

There's really no upside to posting here that I can discern, but I would like to point something out before I take a break for a while.

If peoples' main concern is dollars and cents, they should remind themselves that if the quality of the educational experience that MPCSD is able to offer suffers through a lack of funding, our homes will decline in value a LOT more than the ~$500 that we might be assessed in a new parcel tax. Dollars and cents isn't my primary consideration, but if it were, that might be a valuable reality check.


23 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Oct 20, 2016 at 5:56 pm

Train Fan is a registered user.

A few comments:

1:

In my opinion, parents without kids in MPCSD do not have any form of obligation to donate to MPAEF. It's amazingly generous if they do, but judging their after-MPCSD financial commitments to the district is a bit orthogonal to the issues.


2:

"If peoples' main concern is dollars and cents, they should remind themselves that if the quality of the educational experience that MPCSD is able to offer suffers through a lack of funding,

This argument has been made many times before, and it drives me absolutely batty.

The community is already supporting a quality educational experience by supporting:

1: property taxes
2: prop 13 increases in property taxes
3: permanent parcel tax #1
4: CPI increases in permanent parcel tax #1
5: permanent parcel tax #2
6: CPI increases in permanent parcel tax #2
7: permanent parcel tax #3
8: CPI increases in permanent parcel tax #3

If you review all the prior parcel tax elections, all of them were targeted for small class sizes. MPCSD is NOT underfunded.


"our homes will decline in value a LOT more than the ~$500 that we might be assessed"

Not true. This is irresponsibly not true, actually.

Certainly, once a school district is in the "good" category, it opens it up to more people, which results in more demand and higher values. But the impact on property values is not linear: you're implying that higher and higher spending on schools results in higher and higher rates of property value increases. Not true.


3:

While we're talking past each other, let's remember who the real bad guys are in this discussion. It's not the pro-multi-tax community, it's not the pro-fiscal-responsibility community.

Badguy #1: The state. The state under funds the schools. Some of you may belly-ache about Prop 13, but the truth is that the property tax revenue was backfilled with sales and income taxes, which the state has decided to trickle-down to the schools.

Badguy #2: CalSTRS. If I could be king-for-a-day, I would put the money that districts put into CalSTRS and pay it to the teachers. Pro-tax proponents keeps saying we have excellent, smart teachers; I agree, and they're fully capable of planning their own retirement just like almost everyone else in America. We wouldn't be having these discussions about allegedly "underpaid" teachers if their pay actually reflected what the community actually provides.


13 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:07 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Publi,

You are correct. Condos and single family homes are individual properties for parcel tax purposes. A multi-unit rental building only pays one parcel’s worth of tax.

Furthermore, multi-unit buildings turn over much less frequently than single-family residences. While 40% of single-family residences in the district have been reassessed in the past 10 years, only 28% of multi-family properties have. Similarly, a much larger percentage of apartment complexes enjoys a pre-1985 tax basis than single-family homes.

And a variant on Atherton’s gradated solution, when applied to school parcel tax, was rejected by the courts when tried in Alameda a few years ago. I don’t remember the exact issue, but commercial property was treated differently from single-family residences. (Atherton has no commercial property within MPCSD, except the Circus Club, which may explain why only ‘dwellings’ and ‘unimproved parcels’ are mentioned.) Not to discourage you from thinking about it — just pointing you towards an option that didn’t work.


20 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:14 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

And now to general topics:

Teachers’ Children:
Baldly stating that the district would save $1M by ejecting teachers’ children makes the economic assumption that this benefit has no value in recruitment/retention and provides no financial benefit to the schools.

In Tuesday’s presentation on this subject, it was noted that every local basic aid district — except Mill Valley* — provides this accommodation. Eliminating this allowance therefore shrinks an already-tight applicant pool. Economic suggest that this either raises the price (= salary cost) or lowers the quality of new hires.

Given that the state has begun to face a severe teacher shortage, it is unlikely that MPCSD will escape this cost/quality effect. Between 19 and 23% of San Mateo County teachers are projected to retire within seven years (WestEd, “Projections of California teacher retirements,” October 2016). The situation is the same in Santa Clara County — and steeper in the attractive counties just south of us (Santa Cruz: 27-36%; Monterey: 36-60%). So there are plenty of areas nearby, with considerably lower housing costs, that will be competing with MPCSD for talent.

Those teachers who remain (having shifted their children into their residence districts) will be less likely to spend discretionary time at our schools or at local after-school sport events, and teachers who plan to start families will be more likely to move onto areas where they can teach/raise kids in a single district. Turnover has its own costs.

(*Note, however, that Mill Valley has not been a basic-aid district for 2+ years. Its basic property tax base does not provide funding over the state minimum. Ahmad alluded to an issue, I suspect that some of it lies in this borderline situation, since flipping between LCFF and basic-aid status has a whole set of costs and complications of its own. Thus, a few more or less kids may introduce disproportionate conversion costs.)

“Extras”:
Donors ARE funding many of the “extra” programs through the MPAEF. A key flaw that I pointed out in the budget discussion was to assume that MPAEF donors will be as enthusiastic to backfill a voters decision to cut parcel tax contributions by $200 as they are now to provide the “extras.”

Pensions:
It is tragically naive to assume that parcel tax foot stomping in Menlo Park will have any push-back effect whatsoever on the state’s belated (and therefore, of necessity, draconian) increases in pension charges to the district. MPCSD educates 3,000 out of 6,000,000 children in the state. Which could not care less about our 0.05%.

History, for those who can’t be bothered to go to the Legislative Analyst’s Office site:
During the dot.com boom, CalSTRS (the teachers’ pension fund) looked slightly over-funded due to the rapid stock-market run-up. The State increased pension benefits and decreased contributions. Then the bottom fell out in 2000. Increasing contributions was unfeasible when the state was cutting funding to schools, so those changes were not rescinded … and the shortfall grew like Topsy until 2014.

In May, 2014, Governor Brown abruptly announced that districts would make an additional 1.25% pension contribution in the 2014-15 school year, which began six weeks later, on top of the existing 8.25, for a total of 9.5%. This would increase to:

11.1% in 2015-16
12.7% in 2016-17 (this school year)
14.3% in 2017-18
15.9% in 2018-19
17.5% in 2019-20
19.1% in 2020-21

He did not ask. He simply announced. And It Was Done.

Mr. Carpenter is incorrect that the district can reduce its pension costs by simply hiring fewer people or paying lower salaries. Given the rapid escalation of pension contribution rates, the district would have to start by laying off current employees and/or cut their existing salaries. Given the contractual process, this would mean a disproportionate cut in headcount, since the most experienced, i.e., expensive, employees go last.


23 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:18 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Parcel Tax Differentials:
Now let’s turn to the shocking ideas that ‘wealthier’ districts have lower parcel taxes. Why could that be?

Well, let’s look at the districts someone listed:

MPCSD: $852
PAUSD: $758
Las Lomitas: $361
Portola Valley: $581
Woodside: $282

Can anyone guess why they might collect differing rates? I will give you three possibilities:

(A) their boards are wise managers, while ours is profligate
(B) they have higher base per-pupil property tax collections
(C) they can make their per-pupil targets with those parcel-tax rates

Got your answers ready?

Well, the correct answers are (B) and (C).

I will begin by noting that each of these districts has roughly the same LCFF target expenditure per ADA for K-8 as MPCSD — about $7,800. That is the point where the state would begin to back fill funding. MPCSD was about $1000 per student above that in 2014-15. (Note, I am using ADA — average daily attendance —- now, not enrollment, to keep my calculations consistent with state standards and ed-data reporting. I have also adjusted PAUSD for K-8 only. Happily, all five districts are fortunate to have relatively low absentee rates, so ADA is about 95% of Enrollment.)

So let’s look at everyone’s base property tax and state (LCFF) funding from Ed-data for 2014-15

MPCSD: $ 8,905
PAUSD K-8: $11,578 (=$12,205 x 94.9%*)
Las Lomitas: $11,468
Portola Valley: $16,440
Woodside: $14,984

Do you notice that the others come out of the gate a lot stronger than we do? (There are interesting reasons why, by the way. None of which is under anyone's control.)

Now let’s look at parcel tax per student, rather than per parcel:

MPCSD: $2,255
PAUSD K-8: $ 971 ($1,024 adjusted)
Las Lomitas: $ 885
Portola Valley: $1,941
Woodside: $ 669

For a combined total of:

MPCSD: $11,160
PAUSD K-8: $13,833
Las Lomitas: $12,353
Portola Valley: $18,381
Woodside: $15,653

Now, does everybody see why other districts levy smaller parcel taxes than MPCSD? Does everybody see the difference that the parcel taxes might possibly make in educating Menlo Park children? And that the $200 loss per parcel will actually turn into a $500+ loss per child? ($2255/852=2.6 times $200 = $520 per child.) And please remember, by the way, that the teachers in each of these districts are offered in-district placement for their children, and that these districts are included in the Tinsley lawsuit. (Before we hare off after shibboleths.)

* 94.9% is the weighted LCFF target by grade times PAUSD’s enrollment by grade; comparing just the LCFF target for the upper grades to the lower grades without weighting would yield 88%, which would result in $10,740 and $901, which I have used in a different comparison somewhere else.


16 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:21 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

And Brown Eyed Girl, I am so glad your donations go to Ravenswood.

But I don’t understand why you want to take $5 MILLION away from Ravenswood by merging it with MPCSD.

Oh, I get it, you care deeply about disadvantaged children — so deeply that you haven’t bothered to learn anything about the Local Control Funding Formula. Well, something's been going on since 2013 in California school funding that you might want to learn about. Or not.


22 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 21, 2016 at 12:27 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

HelloHanalei,

I’m tired, too. I find I can only take this once a day, at most. It’s a bizarre combo of watching people slinging mud against the wall and tossing it at others.

I actually gave up a couple of years ago — I spent hours trying to explain to Mr. Carpenter why his pet idea of merging Ravenswood and MPCSD simply drained property tax out of Menlo Park without putting it into Ravenswood. I made calculations, I laboriously typed in the answers, and I waited for follow-up questions … only to discover that, once I'd definitely shown it would impoverish both districts ... he’d had gone on to another thread — same old same old ("just merge MPCSD and Ravenswood” ta da! problem solved …), same complete ignorance of school finance issues despite the plethora of good information at EdSource and the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

So I gave up. And, whenever I came back, this place was just ranker. However, somewhere in here the bullies got their teeth into someone who’d oppose Measure A and C. Frankly, I have no idea if it made any difference, or if the problem was that the committee was too complacent or arrogant, or if the Almanac has changed since Tom Gibboney retired, or what.

In any case, I came back to fight another day. At least now I know that, by tomorrow, most of the naysayers will be on another thread, saying exactly the same things, having ignored this data because it didn’t suit them. It particularly amazes me how many posters blather on about “more and more” parcel tax -- having fought tooth and nail against simply re-upping at the existing rate (Measure A).

But you know what? The harder they press, the harder I have to dig into MPCSD numbers, and the more I find that the district has been decently run by our board. (And, if it helps you, the people who complain the most and present themselves as taxpayer advocates pay the least in property taxes. Seriously. Also the people who insist that MPCSD is ‘platinum’ or ‘gold-plated.’) I don’t have a kid in the district any more. But I’m back in this fight because I feel this echo-chamber deceit is what’s killing this country. If no one challenges lies, they become pseudo-truth. But it’s like keeping two sets of books, eventually the piper has to be paid. And he might rid you of the rats, but he walks off with your first-born.

Night night. Hope to see you tomorrow.


5 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 21, 2016 at 7:31 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

" simply re-upping at the existing rate (Measure A)."

This misstates the facts. It wasn't about simply re-upping the existing rate, it was that it made it PERMANENT. Had they not tried to make it permanent, it might have passed. Measure C was asking for MORE and it was also permanent. That doomed that one.


15 people like this
Posted by Parent graduating out this year
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 21, 2016 at 3:22 pm

Jennifer Bestor,

Thank you so much for digging into the numbers, sharing your analysis and staying involved!!!

It is exactly this sort of accurate analysis that is needed to point out the misconceptions that some highly vocal members of this site have. I really hope Peter Carpenter and other activists stay on this thread, correct any falsehoods they may have mis-knowingly (I hope not knowingly) spread, and have a civil discussion about the realities of our district's finances.

I echo the suggestion that the parcel tax committee create a position whose responsibility is to respond publicly to all the questions and falsehoods shared on these forums and throughout the community.

And, I agree with others that a MAJOR issue, and probably the KEY issue with measures A and C was their lack of a sunset clause. My family has supported all past parcel taxes, but for the first time, the votes of my spouse and I canceled each other out. He couldn't get past the lack of a sunset, and while I voted for the measures, I too had a serious issue with the lack of sunset.

Yes, it's a huge time commitment for all the volunteers needed to pass each parcel tax, but trying to avoid that time commitment isn't reasonable rational to make the taxes permanent.





2 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Oct 21, 2016 at 5:44 pm

Train Fan is a registered user.

@ Jennifer Bestor

"Teachers’ Children"
This response is really great. Thank you. This now clarifies my concerns about the district enrolling district teachers children. I agree that if it's a standard practice for teacher's children to be accepted into the district they teach in, that it would put the district at a competitive disadvantage to remove the perk. Speaking only for myself, I consider that issue resolved.

As a side note, I'd also like to thank "Brown Eyed Girl" for the information on how much of the teacher's children make up the enrollment growth.

Jennifer Bestor's comments on teachers children were so good, it gave me hope we could have a thoughtful discussion that arrived at a consensus in other areas. Sadly, after reading your subsequent comments, that's unlikely to happen...


"A key flaw that I pointed out in the budget discussion was to assume that MPAEF donors will be as enthusiastic to backfill...parcel tax contributions"

Well, the exact same assumption holds true for parcel taxes: A key flaw by pro-4-parcel tax proponents is to assume that property owners will be enthusiastic about paying almost $1200 in parcel taxes (+CPI increases) on top of what they already pay in property taxes, considering that there are other districts that offer comparable quality at lower costs.


"Pensions: It is tragically naive to assume that parcel tax foot stomping in Menlo Park"

(define: snide - derogatory or mocking in an indirect way.)

Oh, stop it. You were doing so well, then you had to throw in this snide remark. Do you see the hypocrisy of making this snide remark, then following it up with this: "watching people slinging mud against the wall and tossing it at others". Pot. Kettle. Black.

The pro-4-parcel tax crowd and the crowd that has slung mud at Caroline Lucas (which from my observations are one-and-the-same) have exhibited the worse behavior in our online discussions. It's not even close.

The state underfunds schools in California. That was my point, which SHOULD have been something we could agree on. But no, you decided to go low.


I'll respond to your "Parcel Tax Differentials" post separately.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 21, 2016 at 6:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" I agree that if it's a standard practice for teacher's children to be accepted into the district they teach in, that it would put the district at a competitive disadvantage to remove the perk. Speaking only for myself, I consider that issue resolved."

If this benefit is offered then:
1 - It should be part of the negotiated union agreements as a costed benefit
2 - The cost should be a line item in the budget
3 - The value should be part of the reported income of the individual employee- parent whose child is in the school


26 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Oct 21, 2016 at 7:21 pm

Train Fan is a registered user.

"Now let’s turn to the shocking ideas that ‘wealthier’ districts have lower parcel taxes."

(define: strawman - A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent's argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not advanced by that opponent.)

I don't recall anyone from the fiscal-responsibility crowd actually asking the question you're refuting. Unless you can show that this question was actually asked, this is a strawman.


"Well, let’s look at the districts someone listed"

Sigh, this list again. You're cherrypicking, and using districts of substantially different size (Woodside, 438 students in 2014)) and type (PAUSD is Unified).

Comparing MPCSD to all nearby* elementary districts with a minimum size of 1/2 of MPCSD shows it has the 2nd highest "General fund revenues-per-student" in both counties, based on 2014/2015 data (source: Web Link ). And that's if you generously include Hillsborough**, which as of this year is less than half the size of MPCSD.

Here is a far less cherrypicked list of districts,revenue/student,enrollment. Note that I made an effort to include both nearby comparably-sized districts and/or nearby comparably-sized districts that have comparable API scores based on 2011 data:

HCSD $16584 1546
MPCSD $13745 2904
Saratoga Union $13316 2069
Ravenswood $13060 4216
Los Altos Elementary $11401 4675
San Carlos $10149 3457
Los Gatos Union $9990 3320
Belmont-RWS $9591 3900


(nearby* - elementary school districts in Santa Clara and San Mateo)

(Hillsborough** - Based on 2014 data, Hillsborough is slight larger than 1/2 the size of of MPCSD: 1546/2904*100=53.24%. However, as Jennifer Bestor pointed out some districts are shrinking in enrollment; this includes Hillsborough, which has a current enrollment of 1489 Web Link 1489/2996*100=49.7% )


13 people like this
Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2016 at 10:14 pm

"It should be part of the negotiated union agreements as a costed benefit"

The problem is that the president of the school board doesn't see this as a "benefit". He said that he saw it as an "expense" but not as a "benefit". If it's not a benefit, then why does Vince Lopez want the district to preserve it? If it's not a benefit, then we don't we offer it to anybody? It may be a benefit that other districts offer but other districts are not facing the deficit that we are facing.

We may decide that it's a benefit that we want to keep but let's at least put it out there and call it a benefit, a benefit that costs the taxpayers approximately 1 million dollars a year. It's a benefit, that if eliminated, would offset the reduction by the same amount as raising class size by two students.

Is the public going to be informed of the choices that it has so that it can decide for itself? Why is the question "should we pursue another parcel tax" instead of "What are the priorities for spending?"

When the public and parents are asked to prioritize, it forces everyone to take stock on what matters. When they are asked if we should pursue another tax, it allows the option of saying, "every single thing matters of equal importance and I can't live without it all." Let's prioritize first and then let's decide if we can live with A B C or D.

Community members and parents?

How important is it to hire a new assistant superintendent?
How important is it to maintain current class sizes?
How important is it to maintain art, music etc. as they are now?
How important is it to keep the foundation's asking under 2K?
How important is it to have mini courses, ipads, para professionals beyond the legal requirements?
The list goes on and on.... Is the answer to every single question, "Of high importance"?

How about to the teachers:

How important is it to have a raise during a year that property taxes revenue remained flat or close to flat?
How important is it to bring your children to our district?
How important is it to have a work year of 189 days?
How important is it to have class sizes lower than 26?

Again, is everything marked, "Of high importance"?

I think the question should be to both the teacher and the parents/community,

Please RANK the importance of the following expenditures. Let's start by simply asking everyone to prioritize and then put the priorities together to find a win win.

If some groups however won't rank and won't accept anything less than what they want, we don't have a good starting place.


5 people like this
Posted by HelloHanalei
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 21, 2016 at 11:53 pm

HelloHanalei is a registered user.

Stephanie, in addition to posting on Town Square, please attend one of the public input sessions being held at the Hillview PAC on Mon. 10/24 @9am and Tu. 10/25 @6pm. If you aren't able to make either of these meetingsv, you can submit your input to the District via the form on the front page of the MPCSD website at district.mpcsd.org.

Your questions and observations are directly germane to the task of addressing the structural deficit, and I urge you to join the real conversation that's taking place right now. The District wants the community to be aware of options and to have a voice in making decisions. It just honestly doesn't accomplish anything just to post your (very good) questions here.


3 people like this
Posted by Brown Eyed Girl
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 22, 2016 at 9:52 am

Brown Eyed Girl is a registered user.

Stephanie,

Thank you for joining the conversation. Your questions are pertinent and are exactly what I have been asking the district to do.


2 people like this
Posted by Brown Eyed Girl
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 22, 2016 at 10:29 am

Brown Eyed Girl is a registered user.

Train Fan,

Thank you for your participation in this ongoing conversation. I find your contributions constructive and helpful.

This is no straw man argument. Proponents of higher taxes refer to these communities when it advances their agenda.

The reason I compared MPCSD parcel taxes to Palo Alto, Las Lomitas, Portola Valley and Woodside is because that is the peer group that our own school district uses most in their arguments that we need higher parcel taxes to be competitive.

The district is now circulating their narrative that the structural deficit is caused by three main factors:

1) Increased enrollment growth
2) Rising retirement contributions (this was absent when they floated the failed parcel taxes)
3) Sunsetting of Measure C parcel tax revenue

I dispute their position that ongoing enrollment growth is causing the deficit.

Increased property tax revenue is more than adequate to absorb the higher enrollment.

Between 2014/2015 and 2015/2016, revenue to the district increased by $4,764,309 (11.62%) while enrollment growth was only 37 students (1.2% of which 46% was attributed to district employees). The prior school year had enrollment growth of only 1 student and if it were not for employee students entering the district, we would have had a loss of 5 students.

I will repeat that I am not against employees bringing students to the district, but I agree with Peter Carpenter, Stephanie and others, that it is a benefit to the employees and a cost to the district that should be disclosed and considered when negotiating all other benefits.

According to the district website, annual spending per student is $14,543 so in aggregate, enrollment growth would account for $538,091 in direct costs.

How am I supposed to believe this narrative that we need higher parcel taxes because we have enrollment growth?

Increased revenue from property taxes has grown faster than enrollment.

I just received in yesterday's mail a real estate update form Alain Pinel on the 3rd quarter update for West Menlo Park property sales.

The median sales price increased 12.70% in the third quarter.

Currently, there are 9 homes under contract for pending sale and 22 homes are listed for sale with prices between $1.498 million to $7.95 million.

These all represent a higher level of ongoing revenue to the district.

It is time for government to start living within its means.




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