This year, 67 students in the Menlo Park City School District live outside the district, but have parents who work for the district. Board member Terry Thygesen figures it could be costing the district $1 million a year.
The cost of teaching non-resident students of district employees is among the issues that have arisen in the community before and after two school parcel tax measures failed to pass in May.
Allowing the children of school district employees to attend district schools isn't unusual every other local district, and, in fact, most districts in California do the same assistant superintendent Erik Burmeister told the school board at an Oct. 18 board meeting.
Mr. Burmeister said district policy allows children of any district employee working half-time or more to attend district schools, which in the past two years has been about 2 percent of enrollment. The number of such students has steadily increased in the past five school years from 25 in 2012-13 to the current 67.
The numbers have fluctuated, he said: Enrollment of non-resident district employee's children was 52 in 2004-05 but only 23 in 2007-08.
Mr. Burmeister said it's difficult to know the costs of allowing the transfers to the district, but he promised to bring more information back to the school board.
Teachers made it clear what value they give to being able to bring their kids to district schools.
Rachel Naishtut, a third-grade teacher at Encinal School with two small children, said she's been in the district 12 years, since she was 22.
"I've walked around with anxiety in the pit of my stomach since this has been a topic," she said, fighting off tears. "I'm balancing my job that I love and my family that I love more than anything. I don't want to have to weigh those things."
Jarrod Coombes, a resident of Pleasanton, said he "came to Menlo Park because I needed a job. I stayed because my daughter needed an education." Having his daughter in Menlo Park schools "keeps me working here," he said.
Nicole Scott, a counselor at Oak Knoll, said that a deciding factor in her taking a job with the district "was that my kids got to come to school here." She said they get on the road at 6:40 every morning for an hour-long commute. "It is the reason I'm here. If that is taken away, I'd be gone in a heartbeat," she said.
"I rarely miss a day of work," Ms. Scott said. "It's our school. We love it and we are invested in it completely."
Teacher Aimee Oprandy said she worked in three other districts before "I decided to land and stay here." Having her kids attend district schools allows her to both spend more time in her job, and donate more time to the district as a parent, she said.
Pam Musladin said the practice is "very important for recruitment and it's a wonderful benefit to give to your staff." Her children "are so proud to be here. They have thrived," she said.
Teacher Alison Howard, who has been at Oak Knoll for 10 years, said she might leave the district if she couldn't bring her kids to district schools.
Mr. Burmeister said the practice helps recruit and retain teachers, but also allows teachers to spend more time working. District employees who are also district parents may feel more invested in the quality of programs and services, he said, and their students may bring some socio-economic diversity to schools.
Some other districts allow attendance by out-of-district employees' children only for full-time employees (the San Carlos, Los Altos and Los Gatos districts) but others allow the children of any employee, no matter how much they work, to attend school in the district (the Las Lomitas and Belmont-Redwood Shores districts). The Palo Alto Unified district requires at least 80 percent work status to allow out-of-district attendance for employee's children.
However, Mr. Burmeister said, in the Menlo Park district, only five of the out-of-district parents whose kids attend district schools are part-time workers.
Board member Maria Hilton said the district needs to put a dollar value on the transfers, and it needs to be reported as a benefit when union contracts are negotiated.
Board members Terry Thygesen said she figures it cost the district $1 million this year to educate the out-of-district employee's children. She said after the meeting that she got the figure by multiplying the district's average cost of educating each student by the number of employee interdistrict transfers.
"Is that the best way to spend that amount of money?" she asked. "It's part of our staff compensation."
Board member Joan Lambert said that if any changes are made, the out-of-district employee families should be grandfathered in. "I know a lot of them come early and stay late," she said. "I don't want to get rid of the benefit at all."