MP school board OKs teacher layoffs Schools & Kids, posted by Editor, The Almanac Online, on Mar 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm
Teachers in the Menlo Park City School District could start seeing preliminary layoff notices in their inboxes this week. Last night, the school board voted to end nearly 12 full-time equivalent positions in the K-8 district as a cost-cutting measure.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, March 11, 2010, 10:54 AM
Posted by WillowsGal, a resident of the Menlo Park: The Willows neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2010 at 2:41 pm
We are a community that really cares about students and schools. Let's do this! Sure, we're all fed up with the system of education finance in CA and we're all frustrated, but our reaction can't be to take that out on 7 year olds. Unlike a lot of other communities, we actually have the power to preserve a lot of what makes our schools successful--people and programs. It would be downright tragic if we didn't pull together and do what it takes to get through these challenging times. The future is in our hands and we are all responsible to the next generation. At least we have a partial solution--read the papers--many aren't so lucky and their communities and property values will be degraded.
Posted by Wondering, a resident of the Menlo Park: The Willows neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2010 at 3:35 pm
I'm sending my kids to a private school that provides, in my opinion, a better all-around education and costs substantially less than what the MPCSD quotes as revenue per attending student (~ $12k). Admittedly, the public school district does and should provide services for special-need kids that come with a higher cost/child.
In addition, I'm a relatively new homeowner and so am paying property taxes well above the average for homeowners with comparably valued homes (gee, thanks Prop 13).
Finally, the proposed parcel tax is a flat tax per parcel, and thereby a regressive tax. This is on top of an already existing flat parcel tax of ~$565 going to the schools. According to my research, this would bump MP into the position of having the highest school-destined parcel taxes of 12 neighboring communities. In my case, it would raise the school parcel tax to 5% of my total property tax bill---not a huge number but as Benjamin Franklin said, "A penny saved is a dollar earned".
This all leads me to wonder a number of things:
I wonder why a flat tax was proposed? It is possible to have a graduated tax based on square footage of the parcel but this is apparently a harder measure to pass. That doesn't seem a very good reason to me to choose a flat tax as I'm already squarely in the unfairly taxed camp.
I wonder why the school district and fundraising organization didn't choose to first make a push to have school parents shoulder the major burden of the budget shortfall? Yes, yes our property values all benefit from having good schools in MP so we should all support them but how about having a little extra pain for the direct consumers of the services? With 2500 kids, you could raise the shortfall of $1.7M for an additional $700/kid on top of the $800/kid ($2M) that is already being raised. I bet that would go a long way to increasing parent interest oversight of school expenditures! And if you can't motivate parents to contribute an average of $1500/kid then maybe you need to re-evaluate those expenditures.
I wonder how the schools ever got into this situation? How did a figure of expected 8% growth in property taxes seem reasonable to expect year after year? Why wasn't there a larger rainy-day fund built up?
Just a few things I'm wondering. Oh---and before any pro-tax posters start flaming me, ask yourselves if you really want to motivate potential opponents to the measure. I'm all for respectful discussion though.
Posted by Neth, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2010 at 4:47 pm
I'm writing to answer Wondering who asks some good questions.
I'm a district parent and here's what I know:
A flat tax parcel tax was proposed because, unfortunately, that is the only way to do a parcel tax. With a bond, it IS legal to have homeowners pay per $1 of assessed value. You can't do that with a parcel tax.
It is true as Wondering says that our district does spend more $/child on special education kids. And we have a lot of special ed kids and do a really good job educating them. The special education services are mandated by the state and the district can't reduce spending in that area.
The school district's foundation (the MPAEF is the acronym) is in the middle of a campaign to raise more money from the parents. So, yes, they are trying that. Most of us do contribute generously to the foundation. And the foundation is on track to raise more $ than last year. But the budget cuts are too big to cover by parent fundraising. Also, there are about 200 kids in the district who live in East Palo Alto and are attending our district because of a court order from the mid-1980's (the so-called "Tinsley" kids). Most of their families cannot afford to contribute to the school foundation. There are also some kids who are children of teachers (I'm not sure how many). My point is just that there are many parents in our district who just can't contribute the money per kid that Wondering mentions to cover the gap.
The problem is that the district is losing tons of state funding ($1.4 million). Districts all across the state are in the same situation. The headline of the local paper today said that Redwood City is laying off 82 teachers--20% of their workforce.
What makes our district's problem worse is that we are losing all this money PLUS our enrollment is growing at the same time.
The district did build up a large rainy day fund and they are planning to use $800,000 of that next year because this is the proverbial "rainy day" right now. They will spend that fund down more the year after, but after that, they will have to keep the rest in the bank according to legal requirements and best practices. Our district is really financially well-run. They are one of 2 or 3 school districts in the state with a AAA bond rating.
Since some of the neighboring districts' schools are not as good (i.e. Ravenswood and RWC) people are buying houses here for our schools. I know I did! There is a huge premium on having a house in the MP district as opposed to one of these districts.
The parcel tax is only for 7 years to deal with this enrollment bubble. After 7 years, hopefully the enrollment will subside and the state financial crisis will be over.
I too bought my house recently (2007) and pay much higher property taxes than any of my neighbors but I am willing to pay a little bit more to protect the value of my house.
I think we can all agreed that the whole tax system in this state is totally messed up--but we can't do anything about that right now.
We can help our local schools through this budget crisis by voting for this parcel tax (yes, obviously, I am a tax-supporter).
Wondering, I hope this helps. I'm happy to try and answer more questions if you want to post them.
Posted by Skeptic, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2010 at 5:16 pm
1. I've not heard a good argument yet for why this should be a 7-YEAR tax.
2.Why not postpone the artificial turf proposed for Hillview, with its extra $1/2 million cost?
3. I'm still bummed that because of the School Board decision, we're going to continue to pay an existing parcel tax for many years on the Hillview classrooms and buildings that will be demolished next year.
Posted by Wondering, a resident of the Menlo Park: The Willows neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2010 at 6:25 pm
Neth, thanks for your constructive response. Here are my follow-up comments:
1) A parcel tax may not be "ad valorem" but can be either flat or by square-footage (see Web Link for an informal review). Given the good school reputation benefits proportionately the higher-valued homes, it seems more fair to me to propose a per-area tax.
2) I appreciate your comments regarding the Tinsley and other less affluent parents. However, even if you increase the contribution per child to $2000, this is still an insignificant amount compared to private-school alternatives and future college bills we'll all be facing. It's also only about 20% of what the district is receiving in public funds/child (not counting the large number of bond dollars that have gone into capital infrastructure). Is it unreasonable to expect MP parents can and should step up here?
Personally, I think the community should be willing to share most of the burden of elementary education---most of will use it or have used it. However, I also think it's important in today's economy that we be cost effective with all of our public services. If the direct users (i.e. parents) need to raise/pay relatively low additional amounts for maintaining services, I think this will certainly focus user attention on cost effectiveness.
I am also willing to bet that should the parcel tax fail, the MPAEF and parents will be creative and energetic enough to find ways to cover the shortfall.
3) You're right---the MP district has a much larger reserve fund than some neighbors and a better bond rating. Could they have managed cost-escalation any better so that we have even a higher reserve fund? I don't know, but let's give them the benefit of the doubt---God knows you couldn't pay me to be a board member and they are all volunteers.
Bottom-line: I think it's not inappropriate for parents to be expected to contribute individually to the school. And not just through payment---for instance, I founded a fundraiser at our school and contribute > 100 volunteer hours every year---it builds a tighter school community as well as helps to cut costs and keeps it an excellent school. I also think a progressive tax (per parcel area) should have been proposed at least.
Nonetheless, I am a sucker for kids, so I will probably simply abstain from voting.
Posted by Wondering, a resident of the Menlo Park: The Willows neighborhood, on Mar 11, 2010 at 7:46 pm
Dear Ms. B:
I have mixed feelings about this measure, and as a result have entered into a discussion regarding its merits. A little more discussion shouldn't hurt its chances of passing if it can stand on its own. If you've been reading the discussion regarding this measure over the last few months you wouldn't think I was spending a lot of time and effort--trust me!
Do you have kids in the school program? I don't and am paying for mine to go somewhere else. I think you would be happy I'm abstaining.
Posted by Publius, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2010 at 12:14 am
The staff cuts proposed seem very reasonable.
"The layoffs affect two librarians, an assistant principal, two Spanish teachers, a counselor, an instructional technology coordinator and a couple of physical education teachers. Several other positions will have their hours reduced."
Again, I don't see where all this "the sky is falling" talk is coming from. These are minor compared to what other districts in the state and even around the country are facing.
It is to bad that teachers may be let go just because of seniority when their performance may be better than some veteran teacher, but that is the fault of the union system we live with in education. That is another topic all together that contributes the some of the systemic problems in our education system.
If they need to increase class size from 20 to 25, so be it, I doubt we will find student test scores falling by any statistical relevance.
Finally, I would like to see real estate market data one year after these cuts. I hardly think these small cuts will have ANY impact on our property values. Potential buyers that are looking at school districts are looking at test score results and not does the school have a librarian or PE teacher.
Always coming to the tax well to solve financial problems needs to end and government agencies need to learn to live within their means.
Cutting 12 positions and increasing class size is small compared to closing schools or eliminating basic services as other districts are being forced to seriously consider.
Posted by MPCSD Parent, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2010 at 9:07 am
I'm going to step back from the big picture here for a moment (and I know Skeptic and Publius will probably jump in and say something like stop wimpering), but I just recieved an email this morning that my older daughter's amazing new teacher will receive his pink slip today. I knew this was coming, but it's still bringing tears to my eyes. There are very few people in a child's life who have the ability to seriously impact the course they take. This teacher is one of these people. His loss will not just be a loss for him or his family, it will be a loss for our entire community and society at large.
It's horrible that this is happening all over the place. It's unfortunate that you can't just shift funds from building bonds to a district operating budget, but you can't. We can't change the union issues now, we can't merge numerous local school districts together now, we can't change Prop 13 now, we can't make the state government, or all government for that matter, more efficient now. BUT, the one thing we can do now, the one thing we, in this community, are fortunate enough to be able to do, is to VOTE YES ON MEASURE C to keep our schools strong, our children strong and our future strong!
Posted by MPCSD Parent, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2010 at 10:09 am
Skeptical - I know you've asked a few times why the term of Measure C is 7 years. Neth answered it above and I saw it answered more than once on previous forums but I'll try to elaborate.
The term of the Parcel Tax was set at 7 years to correspond with the district's demographers report showing that the enrollment bubble will begin to subside in 7 years. Because we don't receive any additional funding from the state per additional student and we can't count on property taxes (which are the main source of revenue to fund our schools)to keep pace with this growth, it was determined this was the prudent thing to do.
Regarding your question on the turf at Hillview: In Janaury, because The city and school district share use of the existing Hillview field, the Menlo Park City council voted unanimously to contribute $500,000 to install artifical turf on the new field if they could come to agreement with the school district on terms etc. Those funds would come out of the city's recreation-in-lieu fund which developers pay to mitigate the effects of development. I don't know if final agreement was ever reached. But the bottom line is that the city can't contribute those funds to the school district's general operating budget since they're town funds, not school funds. And, likewise, it's not legal for the district to place funds generated from the Measure U Facilities Bond, into its general operating budget.
Posted by MP Mom, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2010 at 10:33 am
I totally agree with the prior post.
I also got that e-mail this morning and think we are talking about the same teacher.. and if its not the same teacher then there are at least two of them!
Almost every day at lunch, I see our dedicated 2nd year teacher (first at our school)working with a small group of kids on math. These are kids that need just a little bit of extra attention to keep up. He makes it fun with activities to bring math to life and parents of these kids report it is making a difference in their attitude towards math and ability. This is also the one of the few teachers I have seen on the playground in several years actually playing with the kids, throwing the ball and engaging them on a social level. This is in contrast to some more tenured teachers that use these break times for themselves.
Don't get me wrong, our teachers work hard and deserve some time out during the day...however it is sad that some of our up and comers who make a difference today may not be here tomorrow because of our financial situation and an antiquated system that rewards years in system automatically over future potential/performance.
I intend to support Measure C in the hopes of keeping our pipeline of great teachers in place.
Posted by fall kinder parent, a resident of the Menlo Park: Downtown neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2010 at 1:52 pm
In my former company, all employees were given a 10% pay cut, plus a mandatory 5 day unpaid vacation, instead of layoffs. All employees VP and up were given a 20% pay cut, and still expected to work during their unpaid vacation. No one was happy about it, but agreed it was better than the alternative. Even HP did something similar a while back.
Can't actions like this be done in a school district? You'd think even unions could be convinced.
And to add to the comments above about $2000 per child expected donation... we're in an environment of 20% "real" unemployment in silicon valley. I know many formerly highly paid individuals who are near to blowing through their savings since the post-layoff job search is taking 1-2 YEARS! These folks don't have $2,4,6k to donate to the foundation.
Posted by Publius, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2010 at 2:20 pm
I am the first to agree with the comments about those teachers who are exceptional being the one potentially impacted by these cuts. However, the reason they must go verses other more senior teachers has to do with the systemic problems with the teacher unions. As a side note, did you know the that state teacher union has given more polical donations than any other lobbying group in the state this past year. Do you think they do it for the kids? Doubt it.
As terrible as it is, why continue to prop up a broken system. TENURE IS A THING OF THE PAST.
Again, these cuts are nothing compared to other districts. Maybe we should help them instead. That is where the bigger impact would be.
Posted by MPCSD Parent, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2010 at 4:14 pm
Anon - I’m definitely squeaking on this one. And, I’ll continue to fight for a change to the tenure system long after the Parcel Tax election. But, we can‘t change the system quickly enough to save the jobs of our fantastic new teachers. The only way we can do that is by passing the Parcel Tax. If the Tax passes, the district will have the funds to retain these teachers. The district will rescind the pink slips and hopefully the teachers will not have already decided to change professions or move out of state.
Posted by Mel, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Mar 12, 2010 at 10:04 pm
While I completey agree it's important to help the children of other districts too, and many of us who are passionate about passing the parcel tax in our district also volunteer our time and resources to helping children in other districts, but we can't vote on and pass parcel taxes for other districts. We can only pass the one here.
Many people are well-meaning, but it's impractical to think that a large majority of the owners of the close to 8000 parcels that pay parcel taxes in Menlo Park will instead send their money to another district. At least if we pass our Parcel Tax, we can continue to give the children in our district a great education and they can have the where-with-all to make a difference when they grow up. Otherwise, we're just dragging all children down to the least common denominator, not to mention making our nation's economic situation even worse by contributing to greater unemployment.
Firing good teachers isn't the answer to our problems. And, while our school district may not be perfect, and there may be room for a few further refinements to increase efficiency and decrease costs, for the most part it's very well run. For now, the best solution for Menlo Park and for the greater good is to pass Measure C.
Posted by Publius, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 13, 2010 at 5:34 pm
Sorry Mel, I just cannot see the logic in your comments. I realize this is a passionate issue and respect your opinion but just supporting a tax without looking at the larger picture does not make since.
First, I should have made it clear that my comment about passing a tax and sending it to another district was more sarcastic then real. I realize that this would most likely not be legal. I was just making a point about the real problems facing districts in our greater community.
Second, these cuts will not “drag all children down” and 12 positions will be less than a .00000% of the unemployment. The children in this district, of which I have two, will go on to college regardless of whether the class size is 20 or 30. It is not only the schools that are responsible for this; it is the parent involvement in their children development. Most parents I know directly and thus probably a very go chance this applies to most parents in the district, all are using some type of out of school tutoring or other academic programs to support their children. Our kids come ready to learn when they enter Kindergarten and are given an educational silver spoon all the way through. Thus, thinking that these cuts will somehow impact the educational growth of our children is not supported.
Third, I agree that firing good teachers isn’t the answer. It is the fall out of larger systemic problems on the local, state, federal and union levels.
Fourth, I completely agree with you on the importance of volunteers. I volunteer many hours at my kids schools. Volunteerism a critical component of a school education system, but you need to have a volunteer base to pull from. We are lucky in this area. Many families are single income households with one parent at home. This provides ample time to provide volunteers. This even supports my argument that we could reduce some positions such as full time credential librarians, and parent volunteers could take up most of the responsibilities. The parents at our school do a tremendous amount of work in the library, and given they all are college educated, they all have the skill to run the library. Now contrast this with districts like Ravenswood or Redwood city where most families are dual income in hourly or low salary jobs and volunteerism is probably not nearly as high as in our district. So that begs the questions; where would a librarian have more of an impact? MPCSD with all its educated volunteers or Ravenswood with few if any college educated volunteers.
In fact, what we could do as the 8000 parcels paying into the MPCSD, is to also right a donation check in the amount of the parcel tax and send it to a needed district in the area. And we could do it for 7 years. Now that would potentially make more of an impact and you could take the tax deduction. Wouldn’t that make a story for the press?
Posted by teacher, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Mar 14, 2010 at 9:04 am
The record here paints the portrait of "fantastic new teachers" and complacent, lazy, tenured teachers who sit back and smirk behind the force field of tenure and unions. Let's not forget that there are many, many fantastic, committed veteran teachers. Along with parents and the foundation, they are a major factor for mpcsd's sustained reputation for excellence. These school's eat non performing teacher's for breakfast. I've seen many crash and burn under the intense expectations over the years.
If I could afford to live in Menlo Park, I'd be skeptical too, but please do your research on this one. In my neck of the woods, parcel taxes never pass and in turn, you see the price that local schools pay. Layoffs are terrible, but program cuts will bleed mpcsd out. Before you oppose the measure, please look at what makes these schools unique. Test scores aside (of which the top 5% is remarkable) Look at the innovative programs that local support has enabled over the years. Please consider supporting measure C.
Posted by exasperated, a resident of the Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle neighborhood, on Mar 14, 2010 at 3:09 pm
Well, it didn't take long before the bash the union types to start blaming lack of money for schools on teachers’ unions. As a talented new teacher, I brought both enthusiasm and ignorance to my students. Nevertheless, I survived and thanks to tenure, I was able to turn my talents into enthusiasm and experience, much to the benefit of my students.
I still work in the poor, urban school where I began my career. The student population has grown considerably more challenging in the last years. (I'm saying this as nicely as I can.) Many of our sparkling, eager, new teachers quit teaching altogether after a few years because they are overwhelmed by their working conditions. I don't blame them for quitting.
Despite caring greatly for my students, the main reason I haven't moved to a better district is that I would lose my tenure. Without tenure motivating me to stay, my district would lose an excellent, though veteran, teacher.
You've just got to hate those unions for motivating me and other talented teachers to stay in teaching.
By the way, what do you think teachers should be paid? If you feel inclined to reduce pay because teachers supposedly have summers off, then add in a compensatory amount for evenings and weekends worked during the school year. Also, please calculate how much we should be paid for vacation time spent researching and planning lessons.
Posted by reality bites, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 15, 2010 at 9:19 am
"By the way, what do you think teachers should be paid? If you feel inclined to reduce pay because teachers supposedly have summers off, then add in a compensatory amount for evenings and weekends worked during the school year."
exasperated, let me tell you about the real world for which you are presumably preparing our children. Most of us with full-time jobs work evenings and weekends for no extra pay or "compensatory amounts." I don't know any full-time professionals --other than public employees or union members -- who work only 40 hours/week. Nights and weekends are the norm.
Wondering and Publius make very good points. The district has been quick to ramp up spending when times were good, did not save adequately when it should have, and has plenty of fat to cut now. Bringing parents back into the classroom, library, lab, and gym to volunteer -- common until a few years ago when Ken increased his empire by hiring professionals to handle everything--will benefit, not hurt our students.
I am sorry that some people will lose their jobs. Unemployment is rampant now in the real world, over 20% last I heard. I hate to lose a good teacher, but also don't think teachers should be immune from the effects of the depression.
I also object to the extremely high-handed marketing approach of the district, totally selfish and oblivious to the fact that so many are suffering. In another thread, a pro-C poster said that the only people for whom the tax would be a burden are the homeless beggars. That kind of arrogance will defeat this measure.
Posted by Publius, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Mar 16, 2010 at 10:35 am
Thank you “teacher” and “exasperated” for your contributions, however once again I must highlight the realities verses the passions that I read in many of these comments. I will not go down the path of arguing what teachers should or should not be paid. Let just suffice to say that everyone usually feels under paid and over worked. Instead, let’s look at the numbers. This will also highlight the inequity in the current system.
First, I took the liberty to look at the salary grades for the districts in the area, as this is public information. Below are the numbers from four districts. What I have done is to list the start salary (right out college with a BA) then I listed the max salary a teacher could make. To also be fair, I put in the 10 year salary for a teacher with a BA plus 45 educational units. These numbers however do not include all of the stipends given for masters, doctorates, or National Board Certification. These tend to be about $1,500 per degree/certification per year. Here are the numbers. Any one is welcome to go to these any district to view salary schedules.
$50,942 (Start BA)
$101,029 (22 year BA+90)
$78,399 (10 years BA+45)
$51,422 (Start BA)
$100,751 (25 years BA+90)
$78,689 (10 years BA+45)
$43,817 (Start BA)
$79,325 (23 years BA+75)
$60,741 (10 years BA+45)
$43,879 (Start BA)
$85,395 (23 years BA+90)
$66,328 (10 years BA+45)
Now that we have the data for the salaries, let look at the overall theme that “Reality Bites” tried to bring up, although with a little too much passion. Below I have calculated the hourly rate of pay for teachers in the four districts. Here are the assumptions made, I am sure there are some minor inaccuracies so please only comment on the assumptions if they are way off.
First, I believe the school year mandated by the state is 180 days, I added 10 days for to allow for teacher work days before and after the school year. Second, I used an 8 hour day to calculate the hourly rate. Again for argument sake, this is a standard work day, I know most people do not work a standard 8 hour day but this is the true whether you are a teacher or a white collar professional. Third, I used 2080 hours (56 weeks a year, less two weeks’ vacation and another 2 weeks’ paid holidays) and times that by the hourly rate to calculate what that salary would be for someone working in the year around job. Below is the break out.
$78,399 / 190 days = $412.63/day / 8hr = $51.58/hr
So, here is what I see, the “haves” are paying very good salaries while the “have not’s” are having trouble attracting the best and brightest as they cannot compete with the “haves”. This does not even look at the benefits package at these districts. Conservatively, I figure they comprise about an additional 30% of the salary. Let be realistic, people are attracted to the best paying salaries.
Here is an idea I have not heard, why doesn’t the school board negotiate with the teacher union to reduce the salary bands by 5% to 10% for certificated employees and 10% to 15% for administration. Again, using the 10 year number (I assume this is a good middle number, although I would venture to say that is low for the MPCSD) and that there are 100 teachers in the district, at 5%, that would be $3,920 per teacher saving for a $390,200 savings and at 10% that would be $784,000 savings. Add in the saving of 10% to 15% of administration salaries, you could get close to $1M. Teachers could then be part of the solution to help save the jobs of their fellow teachers. Even if the salaries were at par with Ravenswood or Redwood City, I hardly think we would see teachers leave for these districts as working conditions are not nearly as posh as in MPCSD.
So MPCSD board, why don’t you first exhaust all these options. You can renegotiate the contract. Cities, counties, municipal agencies all across the country are asking for their unions to help offset budget issues before coming to the taxpayers again. Companies in the valley have for years used the practice of either eliminating pay raises or cutting salaries by X% as a way to contain costs and/or save jobs. Come knocking when we are talking about cuts that compare with those being proposed in Ravenswood, Redwood City and other like districts in the state.