School district won't suspend Tinsley transfers

Enrollment surge causing space crunch for schools

The Menlo Park City School District won't be shutting its doors to Tinsley transfer students -- at least, not this year. Facing a potentially severe shortage of classroom space in the coming school year, district officials weighed a number of strategies, including the temporary suspension of interdistrict transfers for Ravenswood district students under the Tinsley program.

Parents crowded the district board meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 12, speaking against the idea, one of several possible strategies proposed by Superintendent Ken Ranella for dealing with a projected enrollment bubble.

The Tinsley transfer program is part of a desegregation lawsuit settlement that requires Menlo Park and a half-dozen other Peninsula school districts to accept a set number of minority students from Ravenswood, a district serving East Palo Alto and Menlo Park's Belle Haven neighborhood.

Under the settlement, Menlo Park is required to offer places to 24 new kindergarten or first-grade minority students from Ravenswood each year and guarantee to keep them through eighth grade.

Following Mr. Ranella's recommendation, the board unanimously opted to find other ways to accommodate the expected surge of students. Class sizes will go up slightly in all grades, and Laurel School will expand from 400 to about 475 students with the addition of three or four modular classrooms.

"What I've heard is that the community is willing to make the trade-offs and sacrifices to educate every child who comes to this district," said board member Maria Hilton.

Suspending the Tinsley program would have required permission from a San Mateo County Superior Court judge.

The board preserved the option to open a new elementary school and evict the German-American International School from the O'Connor school site, but it's unlikely to happen, given the expense involved.

"Coming to this district has been very enriching for my daughter, and for other people," said Eduardo Hernandez, the father of a Tinsley student. "We have a chance to interact with other people and see the way they see the world."

However, the district's practice of backfilling -- replacing Tinsley students who leave the district with new kindergarteners -- could be suspended next year. This year saw about 14 Tinsley students leave the district, which is an unusually high number. Mr. Ranella recommended not backfilling those spots.

Board members said they first would like to see the size of the incoming kindergarten class before deciding, so the backfilling decision will wait until the March board meeting, once the kindergarten priority enrollment in February ends.

No one who spoke at the meeting liked the idea of suspending interdistrict transfers. Calling it a disservice to students, contrary to the community's values and "an embarrassment," people urged the board not to consider suspending the Tinsley program. One mother who lives in the Menlo Park district told the board that her two African American children benefit from having Tinsley students at their school because they like to see other kids like them, with brown skin and black hair.

Jesusita Rivera, a teacher in the Ravenswood district whose daughter is a Tinsley transfer student, told the board that children deserve the opportunity to benefit from a good education.

"I teach a class with 30 students and we don't have half the stuff that you guys have," she said. "To look at all the resources you have, you shouldn't even be discussing (suspending Tinsley)."

Ravenswood is on the right track and improving, but it still has a way to go, Ms. Rivera said. "Right now, I don't dare put my daughter in the school where I'm at," she said.

Mr. Ranella said the district is committed to educating its Tinsley students, and pointed out that the district is working hard to improve the performance of its minority and low-income students. The district's values haven't changed, he said. It's just facing an extraordinary surge in enrollment, he said.

"This is about facilities, not about values," he said, as the audience rumbled with disapproval.

Despite the district's current projects to add classrooms and reclaim playground space on all four of its campuses, projections show that climbing enrollment in the next five years will necessitate larger class sizes or the addition of portable classrooms to its elementary school campuses.

Opening a fourth elementary school campus would alleviate the space crunch, but is a costly solution in a time of shrinking education revenues. And, those same projections show that enrollment will taper off and drop back down to the current level of about 1,850 K-5 students by 2019.

The Menlo Park district is facing a budget deficit next year of about $1.3 million, said Diane White, the district's chief business official.

We can't do it without you.
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Ram Duriseti
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Jan 13, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Bravo to the Community for its generosity and open-mindedness. Bravo to the Board for listening to them. I suspect my child benefits from having kids with his skin tone in MP schools.

I still do not understand why the demographic models have been so problematic. It's a relatively trivial simulation excercise roughly equivalent to a two week homework assignment in my graduate program.

When we lived in the Willows it was so clearly an "entry level" (relativly speaking of course) community for young families with young children priced out of Palo Alto and West Menlo. I would hope that demographic models in use parameterize existing local real estate trends. How much is the district demographer paid? What are their methods/tools? Are they the only game in town s.t. poor performance is still rewarded with contract renewal? Why should anyone, especially the Board, be confident in their prognostications for 2019?

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 13, 2010 at 1:37 pm

I totally agree. Who ARE these demographers who continue to miss the mark? They are looking at existing families and average house sales, but they are not projecting the number of people over the age of 75 who will probably sell to builders or young, growing families.

Like this comment
Posted by Don't Forget....
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 13, 2010 at 1:46 pm

The demographer is actually extremely well respected and is the demographer that has been used in many other peninsula cities. MP, in recent years, has the complication of private school children converting to public (there was a great article about this in USA Today), and also this year specifically many families moved into the city and rented. This number, apparently, was somewhat a bigger bump than typical new renting and/or private to public conversions. Honestly, in my opinion it's a good problem for all of us, and I think if we all support the process, without it getting too out of control, MP will be in great shape. It is a fantastic feeling knowing that people want to come to this town for it's schools. High test scores (15th in the state), beautiful new education facilities and community neighborhood kids that all get to play AND go to school together, is a tough combination to have in this state. It does incredible things to our home appreciation too!

Like this comment
Posted by storks on steroids
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 13, 2010 at 7:39 pm

Notice how many prams and pregos around the downtown and parks lately?
Declining K-5 enrollment by the end of the decade?
Shades of the Fifties.

Like this comment
Posted by It is what it is
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 13, 2010 at 10:07 pm

I suspect my kid gets zero benefits from having kids with different skin tones or hair or eye colors in our schools. I also know that the graduation rate or "success" rate of Tinsley students is abysmal. The district won't release the actual number because it reveals how few of the Tinsley students get a diploma.

The district will state that the graduation rate is so low for a wide variety of reasons including families moving out of the area. We get to feel good for providing an opportunity for a great education for about 122 kids from the other side of the tracks. Yes, we are being generous. The agreement to accept 24 kids a year providing we have the space, when we do not have the space is kind. Is the program a success if just one Tinsley student graduates a year? Its hard to argue about feeling good about this program, but it appears that it is not making a difference, and causing a severe classroom crunch for our students.

Is this the greater good?

Like this comment
Posted by traffic school
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 3:10 pm

The district's enrollment consultant stated in a report last year that there was a disproportionate number of Tinsley students at Oak Knoll.
Oak Knoll is bursting at the seams with 750 kids and will likely top 800 this coming year. At 8 acres, it's a much smaller campus than Encinal (10 acres), not much larger than OConnor (7 acres) and is in the far corner of the district with narrow winding residential streets. Access and parking is a pain and the city streets are deteriorating rapidly around the Oak Knoll neighborhood.
Time for the district to bite the bullet, fix up OConnor as best can, take over the existing portables there that GAIS uses. Get over this $10 million "comparable" build out at OConnor for a luxury elementary school.
Take back the old Fremont School site on Middle that was given to the city for FREE, move the senior center to Nealon or maybe Allied Arts if there is still space. Open a K-2 school at Fremont asap.

Like this comment
Posted by U Had 2 Play The Race Card
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 14, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Posted by It is what it is, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, 20 hours ago
"I suspect my kid gets zero benefits from having kids with different skin tones or hair or eye colors in our schools."

I suppose you would prefer purely White, Blue and Blond only?
This is the sad part of Menlo Park, it is a great community and could be greater were it not for comments as this.

Like this comment
Posted by It is what it is
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 14, 2010 at 7:16 pm

"I suppose you would prefer purely White, Blue and Blond only?"

I agree that comments like yours are the sad part of Menlo Park. My kids get NO benefit from your kids hair color, eye color or skin color. That is not how we judge the excellence of a school or its program.

I think it is a shame that we have school districts like Ravenswood and teachers there that would not and do not send their kids to the schools they work at. How is that a vote of "no confidence". One should remember that the Tinsley arrangement was accepted only because our school districts feared the court would impose bussing in this region due to the outrageous differences in quality of education provided to the kids of East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park and one could argue large areas of Redwood City.

The Tinsley Agreement, allowed us in the Menlo Park School District to avoid bussing, feel good about ourselves, while essentially doing nothing about the inequality of the education system literally across the highway.

I find it a great evil to think that this agreement solves or helps in any way, except for making people feel good for a short period of time. As I said previously, if your definition of success is a high number of Tinsley Agreement student getting a quality education and a diploma, then the program is a failure. If you want to feel good about giving just one kid from the wrong side of the tracks an opportunity to succeed, then the program is a tremendous success.

I think the program is a failure and that we should do more. I think that a lot of people are using this program under the cover of diversity to say "See what great people we are. This program makes our schools more diverse, hence enhances the educational experience for all of us." The Tinsley Agreement graduation rates are abysmal, and the program simply allows this region to not face the horrible inequality of education that exists in the Ravenswood District.

I think that the school district is entirely within its rights to curtail additional Tinsley students, now that we face a classroom shortage. I do not think the Tinsley program makes a difference, but I would be glad to read differing opinions and points of view on the program.

Like this comment
Posted by Willows resident
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 20, 2010 at 9:56 pm

If the Tinsley program doesn't help the kids that are enrolled in it, canceling the program altogether, with no other solution is quite shameful for now. It helps bridge 2 communities, and one of my kids' best friend is a Tinsley child. What's hard is that he can't participate in any of the local leagues and playdates are rare, or only happen in my house.

I don't see why opening O'Connor would cost so many $$millions to remodel, when the existing German American school is able to provide a high quality education in the current buildings. Students drive from all over the South Bay to go to that school. Laurel 8 years ago looked very much like O'Connor right now, a small low key school, with excellent teachers, a great community, and really that's all that's needed.

In terms of access, O'Connor would not be any worse than Oak Knoll. The benefits for The Willows residents would be ease of access and a lovely pedestrian community, not having to drive to Laurel or Encinal, through streets that offer little bike and pedestrian safety (Coleman), with the County of San Mateo that has been playing politics at the expense of Kids safety, and our environment for close to a decade now (!)
I also understand that Willows residents are afraid of loosing the money that Atherton residents put into Laurel and Encinal, turning O'Connor into a not so well funded school, with a poorer PTO. Somehow, it's hard to imagine that the Willows neighborhood is not wealthy enough to support its own school.

Like this comment
Posted by wondering
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2010 at 9:22 am

I was wondering too why it would cost so much to renovate O'Connor if it's now being used as a school. Has anyone analyzed that figure? The district surely must have a breakdown of costs.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2010 at 12:55 pm

I wonder if anyone has looked at converting the new "Teacher Education Resource Center" and district offices at Encinal into classrooms. A quick look on google earth reveals that the building is as big as the O'Conner school and takes up about 1 acre of our most centrally located campus.

It's a shame that the district did not have the foresight to reserve that space for more class rooms rather than spending millions building a storage facility and administrative offices on a school campus.

Like this comment
Posted by Ram Duriseti
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Jan 21, 2010 at 1:13 pm

"Willows resident", you are exactly correct in your assessment of the benefits of opening O'Connor. There are community benefits, environmental benefits, and traffic safety benefits. I suspect the concern of the district would be distributing staff accordingly. In a traditional model, administrative staff and structure needs to be created at every school that opens. If this is an impediment, it seems worth asking whether or not some "out-of-the-box" thinking will present a solution to this.

"It is what it is", while I support the Tinsley program, I think you are giving voice to what many people are too afraid to say. Feel good solutions, like welfare programs, rarely provide a true solution. The problem is that the affliction in EPA has more to do with family support of the educational enterprise than the facilities, or teachers. It's the same story in almost any blighted school system. The families of Tinsley students generally care more about education and its value than the average parent in EPA. I can say this with confidence having interacted socially with Tinsley student parents and having heard testimonials from a sister-in-law who taught in the Ravenswood district. Is the program, like welfare, a patch solution? Yes. Does it offer an out for kids with great promise who otherwise might be shorted? Yes. Is it important for well to do Menlo Park kids to at least have the opportunity interact with folks of different socioeconomic backgrounds? I think so. Is that the primary purpose of our educational system? No. But neither are athletic fields and large gymnasiums. Having said that, it's a hard topic to have a reasoned discussion about because people will tend to question your intentions before you have an opportunity to provide the rational basis for your position. I understand where you are coming from.

Like this comment
Posted by narnia
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 22, 2010 at 9:14 am

Unlike the great majority of the posters if not all, I was part of a group of Willows parents who in the early 1980's asked to move from Ravenswood school district to the Menlo Park S D and succeeding in doing so. Our children were then bused to Oak KNoll. If MPSD succeeds in displacing the Tinsley children I would like to argue for the displacement and return of the Willows section to Ravenswood S D. The arguments are the same exactly for both groups and seeing the ugly bias of some posters makes me think that their ignorance overtakes the best of their thought processes.
The Tinsley agreement is NOT a court mandate. It is a CONTRACT and cannot be denounced at will by any of the parties. There are some conditions under which the agreement will cease: the city of Menlo Park isn't anywhere near achieving those. Live with it, move or send your children to schools more to your liking. The agreement is not making your children "un"smart if they aren't so to begin . It's none of your business what the Tinsley parents or children do or do not do. But the nasty tone and disturbing behavior of some of the Menlo Park parents should be enough for a class action suit. Or is it that we can't penalize stupidity?

Like this comment
Posted by Rayleen
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 22, 2010 at 10:13 am

The Teacher Education Resource Center at Encinal is currently housing one or two classes. The former computer lab is now a classroom, and I think that music lessons are being held in the TERC. I remember hearing at a board meeting that it was designed as flex-space so it could be used as classrooms when necessary.

Like this comment
Posted by Interesting Topic
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 29, 2010 at 1:04 pm

This is an interesting topic, and I have mixed feelings. It's always nice to help out others, but I'm not exactly sure when it became one school district's responsibility to make sacrifices within its district to help out another district. I also am not convinced at the benefit of this program. I grew up during a period of this philosophical "balancing and intermingling" of students all over a city. I rode a school bus miles from my home and miles away from the closest school as a result. I didn't notice any benefit from it. In these times of two income families, it's reasonable to want to send your child to the closest school from where you live. Color of skin has nothing to do with this. And I agree with the concern that a teacher of a lower quality is self-righteously demanding that his child be sent to a higher quality school. When did that become his right? The parents of the Menlo Park school district put a lot into their kids' schools. Way more than some districts we've been a part of before. That's their choice and time spent making things better during a tough economic time. Does the Ravenswood district have similar neighborhood and parental support? If not, why not. Parents and citizens have a responsibility to put an effort into their communities. Not just complaining about and demanding what they perceive they're entitled to - without putting in any effort. A lot of this comes down to choices. Parents in some district demand better for their kids. When the district is falling on hard times, parents in the Menlo Park district are refusing to allow that to affect their kids' schools. It takes a lot of hard work to make that happen.

Like this comment
Posted by Bianca
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Jan 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm

The Menlo Park City School District gets a boatload more money than the Ravenswood District does, thanks to the myriad inequities in California's education funding.

It's easy to blame the lower income people in the poor school district for not pulling themselves up by the boot-straps, but it's not a compelling argument.

Ravenswood deals with a much larger percentage of kids who are socio-economically disadvantaged, who don't speak English as a first language, are struggling with poverty and hunger and who don't have the benefit of college educated parents who know how to work the system and who have plenty of money to contribute. If the world was fair, those kids would be getting the boatloads of money, the excellent teachers, the resources and support services they need to be successful at school.

I think the big picture is that the Tinsley program is not done out of a sense of noblesse oblige by the good people of the Menlo Park district. It's a court order that attempts to give a few kids each year a chance at a better education. As a country, we've decided that there's a public benefit to educating our children -- that's why we have public schools.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Be the first to know

Get the latest headlines sent straight to your inbox every day.

First Sunnyvale, then Australia: Mountain View's Le Plonc plots expansion
By Elena Kadvany | 1 comment | 2,454 views

Juggling Renewables
By Sherry Listgarten | 35 comments | 1,948 views

Premarital and Couples: Living as Roommates?
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,408 views

Homestead Faire at Hidden Villa 4/27
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 693 views

A trial run
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 528 views


The Almanac Readers' Choice ballot is here

It's time to decide what local business is worthy of the title "The Almanac Readers' Choice" — and you get to decide! Cast your ballot online. Voting ends May 27th. Stay tuned for the results in the July 17th issue of The Almanac.