● Related story: Woodside School fails in bid to dismiss tenured teacher.
By Barbara Wood | Almanac Staff Writer
A key factor discouraging teacher dismissal hearings in California may be the cost. Even a winning district has to pay for an attorney and half the costs of the hearing. The Woodside Elementary School District, however, has more resources per student than many other public school districts.
The teacher that the district attempted to fire called Woodside a "hybrid public-private school" because the district, like many in the area, gets a good portion of its budget from parent and community donations. Woodside, in fact, gets far more of its revenue from private donations than other local districts.
According to the fundraising materials produced by the Woodside School Foundation, the foundation provides 21 percent of the district's budget, or $4,800 per student.
By comparison, the Portola Valley Schools Foundation says it provides 10 percent of the Portola Valley district's budget; the Menlo Park Atherton Education Foundation provides 9 percent of the Menlo Park City School District's budget, or about $1,500 per child; and the Las Lomitas Education Foundation tries to raise $2,000 per student. The Ravenswood Education Foundation says it raised $370 per student last year and in Palo Alto, the Partners in Education foundation provides 2.6 percent of the district's funding.
According to statistics from the California Department of Education, Woodside spends more educating each student than any other local public school. Woodside Elementary spent $19,458 per student in the 2013-14 school year, the last year for which the statistics are available, more than twice the statewide average for elementary schools that year of $8,336 per student. Woodside's average class size is 18 students, the lowest in the area.
These are statistics for the 2013-14 school year: The Ravenswood City School District spent $11,510 educating each student, with an average class size of 25; the Menlo Park City School District spent $13,006, with an average class size of 23; and the Las Lomitas School District spent $14,270, with an average class size of 24. The Portola Valley School District came closest to Woodside, spending $18,153 per child, with an average class size of 19. Palo Alto Unified School District, which also includes high schools, spent $14,954 per student, with an average class size of 25.
The Woodside Elementary School District also gets a lot of support from its taxpayers. Since 1999, the district has passed three bond measures totaling $30.7 million and two parcel taxes, with the current parcel tax rate at $242 a year. The district is now completing construction of an auditorium, a design lab and a building for the private preschool that operates on the campus. In addition to the bond money, $5 million in donations went into the new construction.
A look at the most recent contracts for local superintendents shows Superintendent Beth Polito is very well paid to run her one-school, 434-student school district, which also has two principals, a business official and a student services director on its administrative team, as well as a director for its tuition-based preschool.
Counting an annual 10 percent "longevity bonus" Superintendent Polito receives for not quitting her job, she makes more than $230,000 a year, about the same amount received by the superintendent of the Menlo Park City School District, which has 2,975 students in four (soon to be five) schools.
The acting superintendent in the Portola Valley district, with two schools and 643 students, is paid $183,000 per year, while in the Las Lomitas district, with two schools and 1,400 students, the superintendent is paid $211,000 per year.
The one area in which Woodside is not on the top is teachers' salaries. The average Woodside School teacher was paid about $90,000 a year in 2013-14, which was surpassed by the Menlo Park district ($98,507) and Las Lomitas ($95,830) as well as a couple of other San Mateo County districts, according to the California Department of Education.