News

Menlo Park: Rising housing costs threaten private school for low-income families

 

Every morning, Konstance Kirkendoll leaves her San Leandro home at 7 a.m., with her two children, an 8-year-old and a 3-month-old, in tow.

On good days, she says, she makes pancakes before they head out. Other days, they grab muffins or yogurt to eat in the car. Together, they drive anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes to get to Beechwood School in eastern Menlo Park. Ms. Kirkendoll drops off her baby at a cousin's house nearby, before they arrive at Beechwood School, located at 50 Terminal Ave. across the parking lot from the Onetta Harris Community Center.

It's the school she attended as a child and now where her daughter attends as a second-grader. It's also where she works as a teaching aide for kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students. After 24 years of learning, volunteering, teaching and parenting there, it's a place she's come to call home.

However, the private elementary school, which enrolls about 170 students from low-income families, mostly from eastern Menlo Park and East Palo Alto, faces a crisis. As housing costs skyrocket, an increasing number of families the school serves – and the teachers who serve them – find themselves priced out of nearby housing.

One recent day after school, a group of 10 stakeholders at Beechwood gathered in a staff meeting room to talk about the crisis facing the Belle Haven school, which was founded in 1984 and serves students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Those in attendance were David Laurance, the principal; Katie Fields, executive director of the school's nonprofit arm, the California Family Foundation; Helga Wild, a member of the Belle Haven Community Development Fund; plus a number of concerned teachers and academic support instructors.

At the heart of their concerns are these questions: What do you do when there are fewer and fewer low-income students left in Belle Haven and East Palo Alto to teach? How will the school continue its mission of serving local low-income students? What will the school do when even teachers can't afford to live nearby?

Mr. Laurance, the principal, says that this year there are four families he knows of that have left or will be leaving Beechwood due to the rising cost of housing. Twenty-eight students at the school who previously lived in East Palo Alto or eastern Menlo Park now live elsewhere.

There are also nine staff members experiencing financial strain due to the high cost of housing. Many other families are experiencing strain too, he says. At a school where there are only 10 to 18 students in each class, those strains and changes are seen and felt acutely.

How bad is it?

In Belle Haven, 78 percent of households are categorized in the low, very low or extremely low income categories, with the median household income being $53,971, according to statistics from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey, recently reported by the city of Menlo Park. That median income is about 47 percent of the citywide median household income of $115,650.

A 2013 infographic from Menlo Park's housing element presents various income scenarios wherein housing could be afforded. Only the hypothetical household where two adults work one in a high-earning job for a law firm and the other in a professional career (the example was as a social worker) were there a number of theoretically affordable housing options throughout the city.

In other words, anything less than two household members making moderate- to high-levels of income would render most of Menlo Park's housing stock out of reach. And those figures are from three years ago. Over the last year, home values in Belle Haven rose 18 percent and are projected to increase another 4 percent this year, according to Zillow Real Estate.

Yet pricey housing is nothing new in the region. Over the years, the teachers say they've seen the economic pressures tighten and release for families. Ms. Kirkendoll says that when she was a student at Beechwood (she graduated in 2001), she saw a gradual shift as the community changed from largely African American to largely Hispanic, as many African American families moved to more affordable areas like Tracy, Modesto or Stockton. In 2007 and 2008, things were tough for families too, the teachers say, but what they're seeing now has escalated to a new level.

"It's systematic," says Priscilla Taylor, who teaches math to middle school students, is a former principal at the school, and has been at Beechwood for 20 years.

A single mother of three Beechwood students, who wishes to remain anonymous, will be leaving the school in June to move to Texas, where she says she can live at a lower cost with family members. She works in Palo Alto as a nanny for several families. Her twin 13-year-old girls and 12-year-old son have been at the school for about eight years on a scholarship. In exchange, she volunteers at the school and takes parenting classes the school offers.

The East Palo Alto home she has been renting with her parents and two brothers will be sold, so she has to leave, and other places in the neighborhood she's looked at are out of her price range – one was about $4,000 per month.

"I don't know what else to do," she said. "It's not going to stop. Nobody's trying to control it."

"I just want the best for my kids," she said. "That's why I made the decision to move and I hope I'm okay with that decision."

Isabel Jimenez, the school's office manager, says the housing crisis is escalating on a month to month basis. From last year's admissions cycle to this year's, she says she's observed noticeable changes in the affluence of people who inquire about the school. Families asking for applications now ask her why the school's tuition is so low. Tuition is $180 per month, said Principal Dave Laurance, and about 80 percent of the school's cost is subsidized by the California Family Foundation.

Strains

Ms. Taylor says about a quarter of the school's students have vocalized concerns about their family's precarious housing situations. There are likely others who don't talk about it out of embarrassment, she says.

Now, teachers say they're seeing new symptoms of the housing crisis leaking into the lives of their students.

"We have students living in garages, living with multiple families, students whose parents really struggle to find an affordable place to live, " says Katherine Magid, a kindergarten teacher at Beechwood.

That strain children feel, she says, manifests in ways that can negatively affect their schoolwork.

"It's really hard for kids to focus on learning when they're wondering where they're going to live and if they're going to have to move," Mr. Laurance says.

Ms. Kirkendoll says that long commutes impact her kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students, who sometimes come to school hungry, having skipped breakfast in a rush to get out the door, or had eaten hours prior to a lengthy commute. Oftentimes, they're sleepy from waking up so early. Those factors can make them cranky and ill-disposed toward study time. Among older kids, impacts like having to wait a long time for a ride home, or having limited study space, affect their work. One of Ms. Taylor's bright math students, she says, is underperforming in class because the only place he can do homework is on the kitchen floor.

Teachers say they're seeing their vibrant community affected. Parent participation, one of the school's central tenets, has taken a hit. Parents who used to sit and talk in the parking lot as they waited for their kids to get out of school are now passing that time coming back from a second job, picking up and dropping off students late, and spending more time commuting to increasingly far-flung residences.

"You shouldn't have to commute two hours to contribute to a community, to live or work here," says Ms. Taylor.

Even students whose housing situations are not under direct threat are affected as they witness the displacement of their friends and classmates.

Alejandro Vilchez, a parent of four children who all attend or have graduated from Beechwood, says recently some of his daughter's good friends have had to move away because of increased housing costs. His family has been based in Belle Haven since 2005, first as homeowners and now as renters. The school was a primary reason his family chose to stay nearby after losing their home in 2012.

"For the quality of education that we're getting, I would expect to be paying a lot more than we are now," he says of Beechwood. "It sounds cliche, but it really is like a family."

Teachers

Teachers are facing difficulties in making ends meet, too.

Teacher turnover isn't good for students, Ms. Taylor says. "The last thing you want is inconsistency in the classroom."

Beechwood teaching couple Diana and Nathan Pantoja say things are tough, but the school environment is unique, and worth the sacrifice. "We care about these kids all around, not just about their academic success," he says.

Diana works as an academic support coordinator and Nathan teaches middle school students and leads the school's wrestling program. They both have graduate degrees. They live in Santa Clara with three young children, and spend between 45 to 50 percent of their shared income on rent. On his own, rent would take up about 80 percent of his monthly income, he says. Even to qualify for below market rate housing, he says, their family would need about $38,000 saved for a down payment. "For me to do that, that's about five to 10 years out," he says.

Ms. Kirkendoll says she's making it work by living in San Leandro and taking on a roommate. The school's atmosphere is worth the sacrifice of a long commute, for now. If economic tightening does persist, though, she says: "Of course I'm going to have to reevaluate. That's life. Would I want to? No, because this environment is a big chunk of my life."

Solutions?

"I don't like the excuse that there's nothing we can do about it," says Ms. Magid, the kindergarten teacher. She has attended various ConnectMenlo meetings to discuss Menlo Park's general plan update and what could be done to increase affordable housing. She says she wants to see future housing planned for Menlo Park's M-2 area be a better match for the percentage of Belle Haven residents who are currently considered low-income.

"Is it possible to have rent control in Menlo Park?" asked Ms. Taylor, intoning the question as if it were rhetorical. She says she thinks it would take some kind of immediate, if temporary, policy intervention to stem further escalation of student and family displacement.

"What's the number one sign of a healthy growing community?" she asked, and then answered her own question: "What you're putting in education is number one. It always has been."

Katie Fields, executive director of the California Family Foundation, which is the school's largest nonprofit funder, says part of the issue is that "nobody wants to talk about housing," least of all housing density. Yet "houses are where jobs go to sleep," she says. When there is an imbalance, it leads to some of the problems the region is experiencing.

Overall, though, the teachers are wary of laying blame. Many landlords do keep rent below market rate to help out residing families, they say. It's not the fault of local tech company employees, either. They're hardly to blame for using their bigger, better paychecks – and in the case of Facebook employees, additional relocation bonuses – to move closer to eliminate soul-sucking commutes. (Facebook has roughly a year-old policy of providing relocation bonuses to some employees who move within 10 miles of its headquarters).

"They (the tech workers) want that community too," Ms. Taylor says.

"I just don't think one should have to be sacrificed for another."

Comments

3 people like this
Posted by Awful
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 7, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Maybe some dot-com benefactor could buy that $43 million, 17,000 sf Italian Villa in Atherton to house all the firefighters, police officers and teachers who can't afford to live anywhere near here anymore.


7 people like this
Posted by Solution
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 7, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Maybe Facebook can put in low income housing in proportion to the additional office space they are adding? Their unbridled addition of space and people to the town is creating much of this problem.


12 people like this
Posted by Finger pointing
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 7, 2016 at 1:08 pm

The Almanac has steadfastly supported the passage of every project in town that has contributed to this problem. And no surprise, since real estate advertising dominates their revenues. Why run this bleeding hearts cover story now? Does the newspaper not understand the unintended consequences of its own actions, or is there a mote of guilt/responsibility involved?


8 people like this
Posted by Eastof101
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 7, 2016 at 4:38 pm

My kid attends this school and it offers superb education with small class sizes.Out of 3 kids at least my youngest child can enjoy walking or biking to her community school . This is as close as my child can get to enjoy a quality education in a community setting just like what kids in rich neighborhoods do or are destined to have because of their well paid parents and high valued homes. People like us (middle-class) get gentrified to other communities which end our short-lived closenit feelings and turn into absent family time and our family quality of life plummets and long commute hours to affordable communities begin. Kids should grow up with this feeling of living around their school.It should be their right not luxury! 🤔


3 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 7, 2016 at 9:21 pm

Good grief! Was there no requirement by the Menlo politicos to have Facebook preserve the community somewhat as it was by providing low income housing and restrictions on development? Even I knew what was coming for real estate in this area.

The low level of community responsiveness to ALL its citizens is appalling and will backfire in one way or another.


2 people like this
Posted by Vicky
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 8, 2016 at 11:55 am

As a resident of Belle Haven and a resident born and raised in the bay area. I think it is time that our Council members put a stop to housing that is not affordable by local residents! It is a shame that our children, and educators cannot longer live in the areas they want too. I agree that Facebook and the City of Menlo Park should include affordable housing for all families and not jsut seniors in Menlo Park.. Shame on our City !!


Like this comment
Posted by Victoria
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Apr 8, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Enough of the City catering to FB !! Their here now take care of the residents and stop selling us out ! We need people at our council meetings. We need teachers, students, teens, parents and residents voicing their concerns NOW !!! NO MORE HIGH RISE


Like this comment
Posted by Boardermom
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 8, 2016 at 2:03 pm

Hey Guys, Not to point out the obvious, but the communities of East Palo Alto and Belle Haven, etc. are low income affordable housing alternatives, except many of the rooms in those homes are being rented out for $1,000/month to Facebook commuters.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 9, 2016 at 11:10 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

As a long time supporter of choice in education I have observed the plight of private alternatives to the government schooling system. There should be a natural continuum of such alternatives from which families can choose.
One need only look at the Menlo Park City School District(MPCSD), which spends ~$14,000/year per student, to understand why that continuum does not exist. If half that $14,000 were provided to the families sending their children to Beechwood at no cost to the taxpayer, those families would have the financial relief they so sorely need.
There have been several proposals made in that direction. Income tax credits, property tax credits, school vouchers, education vouchers, etc.

A common refrain from apologists for the government schooling system is: "Private schools could not accommodate all those newly empowered customers." Hogwash!

The financial empowerment of families to choose education alternatives would give rise to a continuum of alternatives from Beechwood to Sacred Heart to German-American International School and all points in-between. Many could use surplus facilities of school districts such as MPCSD.

Government schools would then be relegated to their proper role as schools of last resort.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 9, 2016 at 11:18 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

I forgot to mention the financial impact which MPCSD's parcel taxes have on low income homeowners and renters. If their latest Measures A and C pass, they will have 5 permanent parcel taxes projected to total >$1400/year per parcel by 2020.


Like this comment
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Jack Hickey -- "A common refrain from apologists for the government schooling system is: 'Private schools could not accommodate all those newly empowered customers.' Hogwash!"

And yet, no actual proof for your so-called thesis -- only more rhetoric that ignores the true issues involved.

Same old same old.


12 people like this
Posted by Hoover
a resident of Willow Oaks Elementary
on Apr 9, 2016 at 3:48 pm

No public money for private schools.

That's as insane as taking Social Security money and giving it to the wall street banksters.


8 people like this
Posted by Hoover
a resident of Willow Oaks Elementary
on Apr 9, 2016 at 3:51 pm

Besides - Hickeys vouchers would immediately drive up tuition to private schools, still laving them out of reach.

It's just welfare for those already sending their kids to Menlo.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 10, 2016 at 2:50 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Referring to tax credits and vouchers for funding education, Hoover said: "It's just welfare for those already sending their kids to Menlo."

Families who are already sending their kids to Menlo, save districts like MPCSD $14,000 for each student not taking up space in their posh facilities. A property tax credit of half that amount, which I have proposed for families who choose and pay for alternative education for their children, could produce a savings of $7,000/year in the cost of tax-funded public education per child.(after compensating for pre-existing students receiving their education outside the government schooling system.)

With my proposal, property tax credits, up to a total of $7,000 per designated child, could be taken by any property taxpayer interested in promoting sources of alternative education. A side benefit would be removing the burden of growing enrollment from districts such as MPCSD, while simultaneously freeing up space in their posh facilities for private school expansion.

Under such a program, families who send their children to Beechwood (Tuition $180 per month) could wind up with a surplus of nearly $5,000 per child. That ought to help with their housing situation. Families who have their children tutored at home could have the full $7,000/child to cover expenses.

There should be a natural continuum of education alternatives.



12 people like this
Posted by Sir Walter
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 10, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Give it up. Vouchers will never happen in CA. They couldn't even make it work in Brownbach's Kansas, supposedly the Libertarian Laboratory of the Free Market. Web Link

That's going down the tubes since they took over. The Kochs were going to show everyone how great it would be, till it blew up, as it always does when you get government haters in charge of government.

What could possibly go wrong.




The Great Kansas Tea Party Disaster
Extremist Republicans turned their government into a lab experiment of tax cuts and privatization. And now they may be losing control of one of the reddest states in the nation

I'M A BROWNBACKER

Read more: Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Sir Walter
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 10, 2016 at 4:03 pm

"The governor promised his "pro-growth tax policy" would act "like a shot of adrenaline in the heart of the Kansas economy," but, instead, state revenues plummeted by nearly $700 million in a single fiscal year, both Moody's and Standard & Poor's downgraded the state's credit rating, and job growth sagged behind all four of Kansas' neighbors. Brownback wound up nixing a planned sales-tax cut to make up for some of the shortfall, but not before he'd enacted what his opponents call the largest cuts in education spending in the history of Kansas."


I'M A BROWNBACKER


Read more: Web Link

Never has Libertarian voodoo worked. Same bs as Trickle Down. We all know what trickles down.


2 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 11, 2016 at 11:01 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Don't tax low income property owners more to support a bloated Menlo Park City School District. See:Web Link
Vote NO on Measures A and C.


7 people like this
Posted by Sir Walter
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 11, 2016 at 1:21 pm

low income property owners? What's that? Someone who bought 30 years ago, paid off their property and has ultra low property taxes due to Prop 13?

Their property value has shot through the roof over 30 years, yet they pay next to nothing compared to the guy who just bought next door.

Prop 13 is good, but does the Get Out of Jail Free card get to cover everything that contributed to their massive windfall in property values, like the education systems that everyone craves to be part of in MP/A?.

"low income property owners"

Now you're just being selfish about your huge win. Support the community that made you.


Like this comment
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Apr 15, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

After having been evicted from facilities leased for many years from the Menlo Park City School District, The German American International School has new digs with room for 400 students and current enrollment of 270. They could absorb a significant number of the projected enrollment which MPCSD uses in an attempt to justify two new parcel taxes(Measures A and C on an all-mail ballot)


Like this comment
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2016 at 4:19 pm

@Jack Hickey: Once again, it's a swiiiiiing and a miss...


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jul 24, 2017 at 5:08 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jul 26, 2017 at 3:57 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jul 29, 2017 at 7:23 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Sep 21, 2017 at 5:40 pm

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

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