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New school campus: Bond measure on ballot as early as November

Original post made on May 14, 2013

Although no formal action was taken, Menlo Park City School District board members agreed on two key issues they discussed last night (May 13): The district must ask voters to pass a bond measure to build new facilities on its O'Connor campus, and the private school that now occupies that campus should be allowed to remain almost a year longer than its contract allows while the district plans the new campus.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 11:55 AM

Comments (27)

Posted by Fiscal Conservative, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Thank you, Jeff Child, for being a responsible steward of public money. It's not the first time this trustee has spoken up for taking a more conservative approach to upping school taxes -- despite getting clobbered for it, I might add. It's good to know at least one person on the board isn't just ordering designer everything and expecting taxpayers to foot the bill. A Smartboard doesn't equal a smart teacher.


Posted by Sunshine, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on May 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm

I so agree with Fiscal Conservative - so important to keep your eye on the bottom line. However, technology is not the area to cut; a smart teacher uses a smart board. Technology in today's classroom is an essential instrument when teaching Algebra, the sciences, and other important subjects.


Posted by MP parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 14, 2013 at 5:05 pm

I echo the comments above. Thank you to Jeff Child for bringing a voice of reason to what is an otherwise runaway train with Terry Thygesen at the helm. She and Ghysels both have stars in their eyes and need people on the board who will stand up to them. I agree that $30 million for a smallish elementary school is completely outrageous. What is failed to be mentioned in this article is the amount of money that it will cost to run this new campus. Can we anticipate a spectacularly large parcel tax to accompany this bond?


Posted by Confused, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 14, 2013 at 9:15 pm

What is the purpose of extending the GAIS lease until April or May? So it looks as though MP is extending an olive branch to GAIS by allowing them to stay another year, but are they really? Do you expect them to end the school year in April so that you can start building in May? That is hardly giving them another year if they are unable to teach enough days to constitute a school year. Why bother extending the lease at all? More shady business on the part of the MP board and Ghysels! Another great example of their arrogance and lack of respect for anyone getting in the way of what they want.

I personally can't wait for my bond ballot to arrive in the mail so I can mark it with a big, giant NO!


Posted by Why the confusion?, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Confused, the district is considering extending the GAIS lease by 10 or 11 months, it seems. The leasee would then end in 2015, not next year. That would give GAIS a chance to modify their 2014-2015 school year, with this much notice. And from what I've heard at meetings, GAIS is willing to do that so they can have the extra time to relocate. Sounds reasonable to me.


Posted by MP taxpayer, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 14, 2013 at 10:11 pm

So, they are thinking of 360 students and saying that it is not possible to use the current facilities? Why not? There is a viable school on the site today for whom parents PAY money (i.e. not some horrid facility) which teaches 330 kids with a very low student:teacher ratio (12-16 per class). Take that to the normal MPUSD class ratio and there's plenty of room. Don't waste my money. Expect a bond veto from me if you ask for that much money


Posted by Confused, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 14, 2013 at 10:37 pm

Here is the reason for my confusion:

"The board directed Superintendent Maurice Ghysels to meet with GAIS officials to discuss a lease extension. With construction projected to begin in May 2015, the district is likely to extend the lease only until April or May of that year if an agreement can be worked out ."

April or May is not an entire school year. Do you expect that GAIS would leave before June so that MP can start construction early? That is my point. That MP is not really offering an additional year, only part of a year.


Posted by Willows Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 15, 2013 at 7:41 am

I agree it is worth keeping an eye on the bottom line, but we need to have parity between the schools - both academically and with respect to the physical plant. Would you want your children in the "old" school when all the other kids in the District are in nice schools? Not me.

Does a super nice school mean a better education over a more outdated school? Not directly, but it is a factor. It is sort of like your home - we don't need all the trappings we put in our homes (why not unfinished plywood floors - they work just fine as a floor? who needs carpets or marble tiles?), but it makes a more pleasant environment for living and makes us happy. Likewise, nice schools are just that - nice. And it is a better environment for our kids and attracts better faculty.

In the end, it is an investment in our kids future and our society's future. Yes, spend smart, but do the job right.


Posted by Window Dressing, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 15, 2013 at 12:57 pm

To "Willows Parent" and others who believe that image is everything -- kids don't care. I remember being pretty steamed back when my 1st grader ended up in a portable, but to my surprise the kids LOVED the portables and thought they were great. Stinky carpet and all.

As adults we may judge these schools in terms of "parity" and "fairness", but the kids have a different value system and they aren't spending time at the other schools to compare and contrast. At least at an early age before we poison them with an attitude of entitlement.

It's not as if the O'Connor site is dilapidated. It may need updates, but kids in The Willows are not being dissed if it isn't transformed into an architectural showplace at taxpayer expense. Enough is enough.


Posted by JC, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 15, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Can someone more knowledgeable than I am explain something in simple terms to me, and perhaps to other people not immersed in the intricacies of local government finance?

OK, I understand in general terms that hundreds of new families are coming to Menlo Park, and that increases enrollment at the schools, and creates pressure on the facilities and staff head-count. So those have to be expanded and consequently expenses go up in aggregate to maintain a fixed level of educational quality to each child.

But what about the other side of the ledger? Aren't all these new households generating additional property tax (and presumably without the benefit of Prop 13 reductions), as well as state sales tax and income tax that may directly or indirectly wind up in the district's coffers? And if it doesn't, then where does that money go?


Posted by new guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 15, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Excellent question JC. I asked the same thing last time around to the parents who were pushing for the last parcel tax (that was approved). There was no real answer. If someone does answer your question, if will be full of "state formulas", and other school funding wording that means nothing in the real world. "trust us, we are broke,,, its for the children,,,if you dont class size will be huge,,,your property values will fall,,,your children will fail,,,you will fail as a town....."

makes me wonder if there is anything new they will use as a slogan this time around.


Posted by Atherton mom, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 15, 2013 at 6:56 pm

Well the board lost the "trust" card when they brought in Ghysels. Good luck passing a bond with that guy in charge. He looks and acts like a slick salesman. I guarantee they won't be getting my vote so long as he's still there come election time.


Posted by cynical, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 15, 2013 at 7:42 pm

I am not in favor of this tax. I went to a shabby elementary school, and families are paying a lot of money to go to the GAIS now. So how wretched can it be?

MPCSD is a basic aid district. The parents who have volunteered to lead the campaign may not know all the financial facts, but I posed JC's question to then-sup Ranella and also to a couple of board members. The answer: the incremental prop taxes from the sale of a home to a family, all variables considered, cover less than half the cost of educating each incremental child.

I am not a Ghysels fan and I am often critical of the board. But they are smart and dedicated people who devote hundreds of hours a year to our kids. It is really nauseating for people who are probably "too busy" to do anything for others to dismiss these volunteers as a bunch of arm-waving wackos.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 15, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Let me get this straight. There is currently a private school leasing the O'Conner site. There are people pay a lot of money to send their kids their. And this site is somehow deficient as a public school? Sorry, you self entitled fools need to get a clue. You don't need a nice shiny new building to educate children. It needs to be functional and not falling apart. The O'Conner site seems to fill that bill, WITHOUT SPENDING THIRTY MILLION DOLLARS! Sorry, you get a no vote from me for a bond or a parcel tax. What's wrong with you people? If you want a private school atmosphere, send your kids to private school.


Posted by Dave, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 16, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I have to pay over $500 for "Las Lomitas" on my property taxes now. Menlo Park District bond hopefully won't be in addition to that when it passes. I will vote against it of course (no new taxes!) but they usually seem to get passed.


Posted by Dharma, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 16, 2013 at 12:32 pm

False assumption one: All Menlo homeowners have children in Menlo Park schools.
False assumption two: All Menlo Park homeowners have million dollar houses so they have a million in cash too.
Questionable assumption: All Menlo Park homeowners get wealthier when schools are better.
Conclusion: Support a school building program on parcel taxes - where the struggling middle class pay the same as facebook CFOs - instead of the progressive income tax base or real estate tax base. Thank-you (rich volunteers) school board.


Posted by facts, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 16, 2013 at 1:45 pm

Bonds and parcel taxes are two different things.

Bonds can only be used for capital expenditures. Bonds are based on the assessed value of a home. Assessed value usually is highly correlated with the wealth of the homeowner which usually means that the rich pay a lot more than the regular folks. The Atherton mansion with an assessed value of $10M pays 10 times as much for a bond as a small Menlo Park home with an assessed value of $1M. And the Atherton mansion owner in this examples pays 100 times as much as the Senior homeowner whose assessed value is only $100K because they bought it so many years ago that their home's assessed value is now way lower than the market value.

Parcel taxes are used to pay for teachers and other operating expenses. It is true that parcel taxes are "regressive" in that they are a flat rate per parcel, so the owner of a small cottage home pays the same tax as large mansion. This is state law that parcel taxes work this way, and it is not at a school district's discretion. If schools could base parcel taxes on assessed value instead of just making them a flat amount, no doubt they would do this as it would be much easier to raise operating money for the schools. Since parcel taxes require 67% approval by voters, the schools pretty much have fund the operating expenses at the lowest common denominator of a community's ability or interest in funding its public schools.


Posted by facts, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 16, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Also, to "Las Lomitas": homeowners that reside in the Las Lomitas District not pay for the bonds or parcel taxes of the Menlo Park District. And homeowners that reside within the Menlo Park City School District do not pay for the bonds or parcel taxes of the Las Lomitas District.


Posted by Willows Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 16, 2013 at 2:27 pm

To say that a school must just be functional to educate may be true but do they do the BEST job they could do if they were a more pleasant environment? Do most folks drive any old car or wear any old clothes because they are functional if they can afford something nicer? No they don't. So why should we have "only functional" schools if we can afford something nicer and help our kids get a higher quality education?

As for being entitled, that presumes someone expects something for nothing. In this case, by supporting a bond, that means the supporter is willing to pay their portion. That is not being entitled, that is putting their money where their mouth is.

Lets keep the discussion higher than name calling and unfounded assumptions.


Posted by double whammy, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on May 16, 2013 at 3:04 pm

I hope that Menlo Park is being mindful of the fact that the Sequoia School District is also looking to pass a bond. That will be a double dose for residents. I hope that the two districts are talking so that they can keep in mind how much the two together will cost PLUS the parcel taxes that may be issued by BOTH districts.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 16, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Willows Parent:

So why should we have "only functional" schools if we can afford something nicer and help our kids get a higher quality education?

Pure and simple because we CAN'T afford it. Bonds and more bonds is part of what has put this state in the financial condition it is in today. The well is dry. We can't afford it. As I said, if you want a private school environment and you can afford it, send your kids to private school. Don't expect the rest of us to pick up the tab for you.


Posted by reality check, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 16, 2013 at 7:48 pm

A good education has absolutely nothing to do with the building. Menlo Park was a high performing school district even when many schools were filled with portables. It's about good teaching, not the buildings. What is a multi-million dollar gym really going to do for our children? Put your money where it should go not to fancy new buildings.


Posted by cynical, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 16, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Until the last rebuilding phase, most of the MPCSD schools looked pretty grungy and showed their age. Encinal is an attractive school now, but for years it resembled a military barracks.

I remember a few years ago, when Menlo Park was determined to build a child care center that some of us nicknamed the Taj Mahal. It had four kitchens and ultra-modern everything. After much community pressure, they simply remodeled the old police station, a functional and cost-sensitive solution.

Silly to spend that kind of money on a building when there are greater needs elsewhere.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 17, 2013 at 7:37 am

cynical:

those old schools may have looked grungy or like military barracks, but they were turning out students with high achievment scores. Clearly, a fancy campus isn't prerequisite to a good education.


Posted by Hold it, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 17, 2013 at 2:09 pm

Not to get off track but misinformation demeans the value of these threads. The Children's center did not have 4 kitchens and the cost was under$7M for a 14,000 sq ft space. $5M came from the General Fund and $1.7M from Measure T which passed with 70% of the voter's approval. The Children's Center was the center piece of Measure T. The renovated police station which now serves as the city's child care center is much smaller than what was proposed and the waiting list tells us that the City needed a larger space.

After killing the Children's Center and throwing away over $800K architectural and construction plans, Council Member Lee Duboc took $2.6M from the General Fund and gave it to the Sequoia School district for the new Theatre at M.A. Why? Probably because as a stay at home mother who didn't need child care, she valued high school more than day care.

BTW has any of you attended a performance at this theatre? The city used to have its own theatre and theatre group. No more.

Council Member Lee Duboc and Micki Winkler were thrown out of office within 2 years of this move. What we know about Menlo Park is that its residents value education and the well being of its children. I will vote for this Bond and if we can count on history, this bond will pass.


Posted by TK parent, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 17, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I don't think there should be any assumptions that the bond will pass just because they always have in the past. There is a new administration in place and one that has done little to earn the trust of the parent community. We've all heard plenty about Mr. Ghysels and now we are having the same experience with Allison Liner. She provided information about the TK program, and an informational meeting was held to reassure parents that the program was solid, so many of us gave up places at preschools knowing our kids would be in good hands. Now there is a change of heart and the entire TK program is being turned upside down without any reasons why. You convinced us it was the right program and now you're doing something completely different. Is there an ounce of truth in anything either Mr. Ghysels or Ms. Liner say?

How can we trust that they have the best interest of students in mind while building/renovating this school? I don't right now! And it sounds as if many others agree by reading the other posts that this bond may be more about building another crown jewel for the district instead of focusing on the instructional program.


Posted by Another TK Parent, a resident of Atherton: other
on May 21, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I agree with your comments, TK Parent. I hope all of the TK parents attend the "TK Parent Coffee" tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 9:30 a.m. at the TERC. We need to share our concerns about Mr. Ghysels' and Ms. Liner's decision to not provide TK classes next year. Mr. Ghysels purports that he is an advocate for early education. Once again, his actions belie his proclamations.


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