School board opposes transfer of homes to Menlo Park district


Despite a last-minute tearful plea from one of the residents asking to move their homes from the Ravenswood City School District to the Menlo Park City School District, the Menlo Park governing board unanimously approved a resolution against the change on April 14.

"I urge you to consider the local educational needs of our children," said Stacey Keller. One of the Menlo Park District's guiding principles, she said, is "that our schools are organized as neighborhoods and our reason for this is that our community values the unique opportunities that neighborhood schools provide."

Not supporting the transfer denies "our children their local educational needs," she said. "I hope you will do what is right for our children," she said.

Residents of 31 Menlo Park homes, from 235 to 495 O'Connor Street, between Elliott Drive and Euclid Avenue, want to transfer to the Menlo Park district. The district boundary runs down the middle of O'Connor Street. Residents on the south side are in the Menlo Park district, and those on the north side are in the Ravenswood district.

While Menlo Park board members all voted against the transfer, several said they did not do so lightly.

"We don't like turning anybody away," said board member Terry Thygesen. However, she said, the district is already squeezing too many kids into too little space.

"We are severely under-allocated in terms of acreage per student," she said. "All the districts around us have significantly more acreage per student that we do." "

Repeated requests to move homes into the district mean "we're just not in the situation where we can say yes to any one individual request," she said. "We're already bleeding to death by a thousand cuts."

"This is a tough one," said board member Stacey Jones, who said she lives in the same Willows neighborhood as the 31 homes asking for the transfer. "These are my neighbors and I do feel for them."

However, she said, "I don't see a factual necessity for making the transfer."

The County Committee on School District Organization will make the decision on whether to transfer the homes to the Menlo Park district. However, opposition by either district board triggers an election if the county committee does approve the transfer.

The county committee makes the decision on which voters participate in an election, which can be limited to the residents of the area seeking the transfer or expanded to involved all voters in both affected districts.

The O'Connor Street residents seeking the transfer argue that it was only a historical accident that left them in the Ravenswood district when most of the rest of the Willows neighborhood transferred into the Menlo Park district in 1983. That's because their side of the street was annexed into Menlo Park soon after the original petition to change districts was filed, but their homes weren't added to the petition.

The resolution approved by the Menlo Park board says, in part, that "the petition is one in a long line of similar proposals to alter the historic boundaries between these two elementary school districts, each of which has eroded the territory of the Ravenswood City School District, and none of which has ever added new or returned previous territory to the Ravenswood City School District."

Because the residents asking to be transferred are "more ethnically diverse than the Ravenswood City School District at large," losing these families "will actually reduce the ethnic diversity in Ravenswood by reducing the population of district residents who are not Hispanic or Latino," the resolution states.

It also says that moving even a small number of students will worsen the Menlo Park district's overcrowding, while also worsening the Ravenswood district's opposite problem of not having enough students to fill its schools.

The county committee has not yet scheduled its deliberations on the transfer request. County office of education officials have said the committee probably will do so at either its May 4 or June 1 meeting.

The committee's decision can be appealed to the state board of education.

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5 people like this
Posted by Curious
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 16, 2015 at 12:39 pm

I do feel for these families who tried to make the change, but after finally looking up the map of the area (and realizing I know exactly where it is now), I don't disagree with the argument and understand the skepticism more. Is there any reason why the children of East O'Keefe or Donohoe aren't also included in this proposal to change? Are they already in the MPSD? I'm guessing not, and they are a part of the Willows community as well. The way this was presented made me think they were also geographically in some little corner that made no sense to split (like for example between Euclid and Manhattan). Lines do have to be drawn somewhere and I have found it hard to believe that some of these families never looked at school districts when they bought (yes even before having kids, but it's a huge factor in price and future value).

10 people like this
Posted by Peter
a resident of Belle Haven Elementary
on Apr 16, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Using children to 'improve' ethnic diversity is disgraceful. The Ravenswood district should take a serious look at why parents do not want their children in the Ravenswood district. Candidly, based on academic opportunities, I too would choose the Menlo Park district over Ravenswood. For Ravenswood to try to improve its district on the backs of 'more ethnically diverse' students is denying the problems that exist within its classrooms. Instead, they should face up to and tackle those issues. When the district has improved, there will be no problem creating diversity.

1 person likes this
Posted by Willow Oaks Alumn
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 16, 2015 at 7:10 pm

I grew up on Laurel Avenue and attended school in the Ravenswood City School District throughout elementary school in the 1970s. At the time, most white parents in the neighborhood lied and schemed to get their kids into Encinal, Hillview, and so forth. Of course, that was illegal, but the only difference between then and now is that some families figured out how to make it legal by getting the district lines redrawn. I wish they had been more like my parents: fair-minded, public-spirited, and humanitarian enough in their impulses to stick with the school to which we were assigned, and invest time, social capital, and other resources into the school to help not only their own children but the children of the entire district. My parents' example of civic engagement was one of the best educations I could have received as a child, and I wish the same for the children of these parents. Unfortunately, it appears that the parents pleading to have the lines further redrawn are carrying on an ugly local tradition of small-minded selfishness, and have decided to apply their social capital to a project that will only lead to further neglect of the district. I imagine that once they get their precious snowflakes into Encinal, these families will throw themselves into the PTA, school fund-raisers and all else. I would hope they would do the same for Willow Oaks Elementary.

3 people like this
Posted by Let Them In
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 16, 2015 at 8:29 pm

I had no problem letting them into the district. I am sure there are long time residents or other residents paying lower taxes due to props 13 and/or 52 on the west side of Menlo Park than the 31 homeowners. Single family homes will resell eventually, and bring in more revenue through increased property taxes assessed nearer today's values. There seems to be all this concern about overcrowding, but 500 new apts. are going up on El Camino Real alone on land held in family trusts or by Stanford, therefore affording little increased property taxes. There is no property tax accessed on rent either. Children live in apts too. There should be at least 100 new students in MP elementary schools when this construction is completed. Additionally, it was pretty recent that the Ravenswood kids or Tinsley kids were guaranteed assignment to Menlo Atherton. Would that be another 50 students or so? I appreciate the Willow Oaks Alum's comments about her parents and their involvement. But I don't see villainy in the 31 homeowners. In view of all the recent additions that will be coming to Menlo Park schools without hope of additional property tax or significant sales tax, I think 31 homes that could be resold over and over to get into MP schools was a good investment. Particularly, as the homes are not in the poshest neighborhood of Menlo Park, some might even say a higher crime area, prices may even be a little on the affordable side, for today's dollars that is. Thus, a higher turnover rate is likely, and the homes can keep generating property taxes based on today's and tomorrow's prices.

2 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 16, 2015 at 9:01 pm

I have to disagree with "Willow Oaks Alum". I also attended Willow Oaks School in the 70's and even with being in the "Gifted" program called Harambe it was a pitiful education. There were many of us from the Willows who went there. In fact I only knew of a couple other kids in the neighborhood that went to private schools, there were not many children in the Willows at that time. Most of our parents were fed up and finally put many of us in private schools by the late 70's. Some teachers were good and tried hard, others just didn't care. Many of the students did not want to learn and class was often disrupted. I remember well when I was in 6th grade some of the teachers preparing students for a standardized test by having them remember what letters to fill in. Days of memorizing "adcbcdab...". Their attitude was "Why bother to teach the subject when you can just have them memorize the answers?"

I really don't see that it has gotten a lot better. If you look at school ratings, Laurel, Encinal and Hillview are rated a 10 (the highest score) by the state. Willow Oaks Elementary gets a 2. If I were in that district I would not consider sending my child there. Sure the school needs improvement but not at the cost of my child's education and future. The parents of the kids going there need to do something to make that happen. They need to get involved and demand better.

4 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Apr 16, 2015 at 10:26 pm

> Using children to 'improve' ethnic diversity is disgraceful.

I agree, I thought the racial makeup of the residents should be a non-factor.

> Single family homes will resell eventually, and bring in more revenue through increased property taxes assessed nearer today's values.

Property taxes do not fully cover the cost of the kids.

> There should be at least 100 new students in MP elementary schools when this construction is completed.

Yes, and if MPCSD had any say, those wouldn't have been built. But MPCSD can only control what it can control; it doesn't have a say on those construction projects, but does have say on boundary changes.

Apples and oranges.

The issue is that the petition only addresses part of 1 problem, without addressing other issues that are even more important. In a nutshell, there are more people clamoring to get into MPCSD than the existing schools support, even after Upper Laurel comes online. If this petition was approved, you'd see a line of similar neighborhoods requesting the same transfer.

This, on top of the new construction + the organic growth in student enrollment + the specter of Mandarin Immersion potentially adding to the student population made this petition a reluctant but easy "no."

I hold no ill will towards the petitioners, and am willing to believe their motives could be more than money and/or race. But until capacity issues are resolved, MPCSD has to do what little it can to manage the projected explosion in student enrollment.

3 people like this
Posted by Unity
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 18, 2015 at 10:51 am

Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, and Atherton should come together and merge the Ravenswood, Menlo City, and Las Lomitas districts. It'd be fairer, save money (one superintendent vs. three, for example), and be similar to other service districts like MP Fire. No more excuses- let's do this!

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