Ravenswood faces critical parcel tax decision


By Chris Kenrick

Embarcadero Media

Voters in east Menlo Park and East Palo Alto who are in the Ravenswood City School District can vote on an important parcel tax measure on the May 3 ballot.

Measure B asks voters whether to renew an existing tax of $98 a year per parcel and to add $98, bringing the total annual tax to $196 per parcel. If passed, the measure would generate about $1.2 million for the district.

This is a mail-only election. For ballots to be counted, they must arrive by 8 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, at the San Mateo County Elections Office.

Passage of the tax, which requires approval by two-thirds of the voters, would help dig the school district out of a disastrous budget hole, supporters said.

The specter of class sizes rising from 20 to as high as 30 -- or five to 10 "furlough days" in which schools would close -- haunts the district if some of the possible budget scenarios come true.

Currently, the district is planning for a $3.2 million -- or 17 percent -- cut to its $18 million unrestricted operating budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, district Business Manager Megan Curtis said.

In addition, the district receives about $22 million in highly targeted federal and state "categorical funds" to address specific conditions, including poverty and English language learning.

The budget-cut assumptions are based on the $330-per-student reduction in state funds envisioned by Gov. Jerry Brown in January, Ms. Curtis said.

She will have more information when Gov. Brown unveils the next iteration of a state budget, known as the May revise.

She has heard rumors that per-student cuts could be as high as $500 to $1,000, requiring far more drastic local adjustments, she said.

About 80 percent of Ravenswood students are considered low-income. Sixty-one percent are English language learners, and about 30 percent of students each year are new enrollees, according to the Ravenswood Education Foundation.

Community members have been working through phone banks and local churches to boost support for Measure B, said Aaron Williamson, who is a math teacher, a district-wide math teaching coach, and president of the Ravenswood Teachers Association.

"In the interests of students, we don't want to cut any of the school year away," Mr. Williamson said. "Also, increasing class size is especially difficult in a district like ours because we have full inclusion for special education students. There is no special day (separate) class."

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Like this comment
Posted by David Gross
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm

I hope this passes, but the Ravenswood district should be dismantled and absorbed into neighboring districts. The children and neighborhood suffer at the expense of local agendas between EPA and Menlo Park. In any case, it's absurd to see the disparity in education quality. And, imagine what it would do for housing prices and the local tax base.

Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

David - you are absolutely right, but be aware that there are powerful forces opposing such a move and they will not hesitate to attack those who either oppose them or who question their motives.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 29, 2011 at 5:23 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Here are some facts:

Los Lomita Elementary K-8
Enrollment 1,239
Revenues per Average Daily Attendance $13,337
% minority 29.5

Menlo Park Elementary K-8
Enrollment 2,532
Revenues per Average Daily Attendance $10,441
% minority 32.1

Ravenswood City Elementary K-8
Enrollment 4,385
Revenues per Average Daily Attendance $7,751
% minority 99.0

Maybe it is time for another Tinsley-like lawsuit with consolidation as the requested remedy.

Like this comment
Posted by No on Tax
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 29, 2011 at 8:59 pm

I live in Belle Haven and will not vote for this tax! Ravenswood wastes too much money for me to keep giving them more and more. I feel for the children but let the STATE take it over.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of another community
on Apr 29, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I'm glad that the residents of East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park can afford a 100% parcel tax increase.

Like this comment
Posted by Facts Please?
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 30, 2011 at 2:34 pm

Peter, could you provide a source for your data? I believe erroneous data is leading you to a bad conclusion.

The most comprehensive source of information on education revenues and spending in California is on the website, which uses the audited information provided to the California Department of Education. According to that website, for the latest audited year 9009-10), the following revenue amounts were generated per student for these three school districts;

Las Lomitas $14,715
MPCSD $10,441
Ravenswood $12,119

That same year, the following amounts were spent per child (usually based on earlier years' revenue):

Las Lomitas $13,413
MPCSD $11,283
Ravenswood $13,472

Note that, by either income or outgo measures, Ravenswood did significantly better than MPCSD.

What stands out from digging into this actual, detailed information is that both Las Lomitas and MPCSD are funded by local base property taxes, parcel taxes, and the extensive efforts of their Foundations. (Local sources = $13.6/$14.7 for LL; $9.4/10.4 for MPCSD)

Ravenswood received only $7.6/$12.1 locally, along with $2.8K/student from the State and $1.7K from the feds. Part of this is due to the fact that much of the Ravenswood district lies in four local Redevelopment Agencies, which pre-empt the lion's share of underlying local property taxes, leaving it dependent upon the State.

Combining, as David suggests, the three districts would have the effect of replacing the State's $2.8k/child contribution with the "excess" local property taxes in, particularly, Las Lomitas (which has no underlying RDAs). So, in toto, the effect would be to reduce the amount spent per child across all three districts. It is hard to see how that will help any child.

Alternatively, extending the Tinsley program -- that is, busing more children out of Ravenswood to Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Las Lomitas, Woodside, etc. -- is also a lose-lose proposition. Not only are these schools bursting at the seams already, but a major structural problem in Ravenswood is a large number of schools per relative population. Lowering population per school means fewer kids to spread the fixed costs of maintaining and running individual schools over. (LL and MPCSD averaged 625 students per school, Ravenswood 440.)

Finally, I'd like to ask whether, perhaps, educating LL and MPCSD kids might be a little different from educating Ravenswood kids and, therefore, whether the skill sets required of administration, staff and teachers aren't different?

Specifically, about well over half of LL and MPCSD resident families have graduate degrees. With that comes school-ready kids, active parents and high expectations. Half of all Ravenswood familes do not have a *high school* graduate in the family (source: website) and only a quarter of the children are English fluent (same source).

The only winners from throwing these groups together and saying, "Sort it out," might be private schools (though the existing ones are already oversubscribed). I suppose having the 50% of MPCSD/LL families who highly value education bail out would solve the budget problem, but at the cost of eviscerating the idea of a quality public school education in Menlo Park. New homeowners would have to add $20,000/child of annual private school fees to their family budgets and, given the expense of housing, would probably settle elsewhere. Businesses would also locate elsewhere, given the impossibility of attracting new employees to settle here.

The bottom line is that Ravenswood has become dependent on an increasingly broke state to educate children who are unprepared in terms of language and family experience to thrive at school. It is paying now for the decision to commit large amounts of underlying property tax over to EPA and MP Redevelopment Agencies. If you feel that the rest of Menlo Park (and Atherton?) should step up to funding Ravenswood Schools, rather than the local residents, perhaps you could champion a parcel tax to do so. It might be a first in California! But, before you do that, please double check your facts.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2011 at 12:04 am

My data source is:

Web Link

Note that I used Revenues per Average Daily Attendance

I would propose the consolidation of these three districts and then a parcel tax election for the entire new district and the establishment of magnet schools thought out the district for students with different talents and interests.

Like this comment
Posted by Elizabeth M.
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on May 1, 2011 at 8:24 am

You left out Woodside School District.

Like this comment
Posted by Facts Please?
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 1, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Wow, Peter, you are either very generous with your neighbors' money or their children's education. Or bloviating.

The good news is, we're using the same source, the interesting news is that you have selectively chosen not to include state categorical or federal funding which make up a large portion of Ravenswood funding.

However, just looking at your "local" funding, you can see Ravenswood receives $1200 from property taxes and $4,884 per child from the State to back fill its property tax revenues up to $6K/child. This backfill totals $13.1M. Merging the districts would mean that all 6300 children would get only $6K -- a loss of $3900 per Las Lomitas child and $2300 per MPCSD child. This would relieve the state of $10M of costs.

Replacing the $10M would require an additional parcel tax of about $575 for every Menlo Park and Atherton parcel (assuming about 17000 parcels in the three districts). Added to existing parcel taxes, this would mean $885 per Las Lomitas parcel, $1,327 per MPCSD, and $672 per Ravenswood parcel. All just to get back to Square One financially from the merger. (Alternatively, we could level it for all parcels, which would be about $1027 each -- a steal at just an additional $275 for MPCSD taxpayers.)

Thus, you are either assuming that the creation of magnet schools (most of which will have to be east of 101) will make up for $2300-3900 of funding or, paternalistically, that the injection of non-minority parents and school board members will result in the sudden turnaround of Ravenswood.

Sell that to the voters.

Like this comment
Posted by peter c.
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2011 at 4:00 pm

[Post removed. This is not likely Peter Carpenter's post.]

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm

For those of you who are deliberately using confusing pseudonyms, please understand that you will only destroy this valuable community forum.

Nice show of citizenship...

Like this comment
Posted by peter c.
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2011 at 4:57 pm

[Post removed. Please use a name other than "peter c." Too easy to confuse with Peter Carpenter, a frequent posters who also lives in Atherton's Lindenwood neighborhood.]

Like this comment
Posted by peter carter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Editors, please stop deleting my posts. Do you want me to make up some phony name? You ask us to use our real name, which I am doing.

I am stating that I agree with Facts Please and appreciate his comments.

Like this comment
Posted by peter carter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2011 at 8:24 pm


I am not responsible for my name. You would need to talk to my parents about that. Why all the venom? I was just making a simple comment.

Like this comment
Posted by peter carter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 2, 2011 at 8:32 am

Thank you to the editors for removing the posts of Mr/Ms Pogo. It was surprising to see such language used on a public forum; and such off-topic commentary. To the subject above, Facts Please makes some valid observations. The money Ravenswood receives is much different from that of Menlo Park. Ravenswood could be very resistant losing especially these federal funds. It will be interesting to see what comes of the proposal now on the board for the combination 2 school districts. I have heard that it is possibly moving forward quickly.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 2, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I would hope that everyone who is committed to equality in education will look beyond their narrow financial interests and find a way to provide a quality education for all of our children - they are our collective future.

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

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