The San Mateo County Committee on School District Organization on June 2 unanimously denied the request to move 31 homes on the north side of Menlo Park's O'Connor Street from the Ravenswood City School District to the Menlo Park City School District. Residents say they will appeal to the state board of education.
"We are all disappointed that our children will not be able to go to school with their neighborhood friends," said Stacy Keller, one of the lead petitioners for the transfer, after the meeting. "We all want what's best for our children, but we will have to wait. From the beginning we understood that this is simply a required step in the long bureaucratic process and we are looking forward to having our petition objectively considered" by the state board, she said.
County committee members cited financial burdens for both districts and the probability of worsening racial and ethnic segregation or discrimination in making their vote.
Even if the state board approves the transfer, the matter will not be settled until an election is held. The state board would decide who votes in the election. It could be only the O'Connor Street residents requesting the transfer, or all voters residing in both affected districts.
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. The Menlo Park district is building its new Upper Laurel School about a block away from the homes.
The residents of 235 to 495 O'Connor St., who are 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 addresses weren't added to the petition.
For the request to be approved, the board had to find that it met nine state-required criteria. Board members voted on each criteria and voted that three of them were not met.
The committee members unanimously agreed the transfer request did not meet two of the criteria. One of those items is that the transfer not cause a significant "increase in school facilities costs." The second is that the transfer not "cause a substantial negative effect on the fiscal status" of either district.
Representatives of the Ravenswood District had argued that losing the 31 homes would cause the district to lose some of its capacity to issue bonds for future school improvements. Nancy Magee, who is the county office of education's staff member for the committee and its secretary, confirmed that the bonding capacity of the Ravenswood District would be reduced by $257,000 of its current $36.8 million bonding capacity by the move.
The Menlo Park district had argued that the increased property taxes it would receive with the new homes in the district would not pay the costs of educating the additional students.
A divided committee voted 6-3 that the request did not meet a third criteria -- that the proposed move "will preserve each affected district's ability to educate students in an integrated environment and will not promote racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation."
The residents seeking the transfer argue that they would actually increase the diversity of the Menlo Park district.
O'Connor Street resident Ajit Jain, who said his parents are from India and Mexico, said he is personally offended by the charges of racism and pursuit of personal financial gain that some have made over the transfer request. "There's nothing here related to racism. There's nothing here related to lying about property values," he said. "If we lose this petition, we will accept it and we will move on with our lives."
But East Palo Alto resident Duane Goff said he does not believe the request has been made only for educational reasons. "Nobody I've talked to believes education is the issue," he said. "We on the other side of the freeway" would see the transfer "as you folks taking something away from people of color."
John Barksdale, one of the lead petitioners, said he spoke to his immediate neighbors in both school districts. "The general consensus from all the neighbors I talked to was -- this doesn't make sense," he said. Both sides of the street share the same municipal services, and much more, he said. "We even share the same lemon tree to make lemonade in the summer for our kids."
But Ravenswood school board president Ana Maria Pulido urged the committeee to deny the transfer for the greater good. "When I look at this, I look at the bigger picture," she said. "I'm not looking at the desire of the few; I'm looking at the needs of thousands."