Schools - March 24, 2010

Summer school set for major changes in Menlo Park district

by Andrea Gemmet

Traditional summer school is a thing of the past in the Menlo Park City School District. At the March 10 meeting, the board voted 5-0 to drop the existing program, due to budget cuts. It will be replaced with yet-to-be-created programs specific to each of the K-8 district's schools.

Superintendent Ken Ranella originally suggested eliminating summer school entirely, but that idea didn't sit well with school board members.

Menlo Park isn't the only local district that contemplated dropping summer school entirely. State funding restrictions on summer school money were loosened, so that the cash can be spent on other programs. With California districts bracing for big cuts in state funding, the option to use summer school funding for other purposes has been very tempting.

Menlo Park will receive $42,000 in state funding for summer school, according to Mr. Ranella.

"I've always been highly supportive of our summer school. I think most of it was my idea," he said. "But there comes a time when you can't afford it."

Instead of a program that costs almost $97,000 to serve 90 regular education students in grades K-5, each of the district's principals has been given $10,000 and leeway to create a program.

The summer "academic intervention" could take place on each school's campus, or off-site in the students' own communities. Rather than lasting a typical half-day for several weeks, it could be spread out over the summer, with students getting small-group or individual tutoring. There are a lot of possibilities, but as yet, no solid plan of action has been articulated to the public.

Several parents at the meeting expressed doubts about ending a well-liked and successful program and replacing it with an unknown.

"It worries me that on one side, there is a great program, and on the other side, there is big question mark," said district parent Lisa de Avila.

Board president Jeff Child pointed out that the bulk of the cuts for summer school are coming from budgets for transportation and administrative costs.

"Last year, we spent $51,000 on teachers, this year we'll spend $40,000, and if (the principals) need more, we'll give it to them," Mr. Child said.

Encinal Principal Allison Liner called the opportunity to create a new summer program "exciting."

"I think we will do a good job of instructing children through this model," said Mr. Ranella. "I think it will become a model for other districts that are cutting summer school."


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