Tonight: Menlo Park district school board meets again on parcel tax

Meeting starts at 6 p.m. in Hillview PAC

A discussion about the details of a parcel tax that could be placed on the March 7 ballot is the sole topic of a special meeting of the Menlo Park City School District's governing board on Wednesday, Nov. 30. The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the Hillview Middle School Performing Arts Center, located at Santa Cruz and Elder avenues in Menlo Park.

Superintendent Maurice Ghysels said the board will examine options for the amount of the parcel tax and how different tax amounts will affect reductions needed in the district's budget and reserves. Draft language for a possible measure will also be up for discussion.

The item is listed as a discussion item, not as an action item, meaning the board will not be voting on the tax that night.

The school board will also look at the latest results from an online survey now under way in the district and hear from a consultant from the Whitehurst/Mosher communications and strategy firm.

The district has been video-recording its meetings and posting them on its homepage. See a video of the Nov. 17 meeting here.

A meeting is also scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5, in the Hillview PAC. If the school board wants to put a measure on the March 7 ballot, it must take action by Dec. 9.

Earlier story: School board ponders parcel tax choices.

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16 people like this
Posted by Stephanie
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 23, 2016 at 11:04 am

I noticed that Woodside is placing a measure on the April ballot. Why is MPCSD in a situation of needing four meetings in one month to ponder this problem? Woodside supt. says that passing a tax in April is not going to affect hiring/lead to layoffs etc. That’s how it should be. When a tax is placed, it should be so urgent that the price of not passing is dismantling the district. If passing/not passing in March has this much of an impact, then something isn’t right.

I can’t say that giving an across the board raise in September turned the tide but the district made a calculation that it was absolutely needed in times of budget cuts and didn’t really know if it was.

Jennifer cited The Almanac’s reporting:

Let's review the Almanac's reporting on 25 September: 

“[MPCSD] board president Jeff Child said the district lost a number of teachers last year who could no longer afford to live in the area, and without raises the district would find itself unable to recruit new teachers or retain current employees.

Joan O'Neill, the district's human resources manager, said that 11 teachers resigned and two retired last year. The district hired 22 new teachers for the 2016-17 school year. 

Mr. Child said that many of the teachers who left either could no longer afford to live in the area, or deal with the commute if they lived elsewhere. "I'm not sure we have seen that before the last year or two," he said.

Mr. Child said that by not giving a raise to district teachers last year, the district put itself at a disadvantage in competing for teachers with all other local districts that did give raises, ranging from 2.5 percent in Hillsborough to 4 percent in Woodside and 5 percent in Palo Alto.

"We're losing ground against our competitors" in the midst of a teacher shortage, Mr. Child said. "We did look at this salary in light of our funding issues," he said, but also in light of a teacher shortage.”"

We have no idea if any of these speculations are true. We know how many teachers left and might have an idea of some of the reasons.... beyond that, what is supported by data?

There was no formation of a Teacher Recruitment and Retention committee to support most of what was said.

How do we know that this raise was needed to compete?
How do we know how the teacher shortage is impacting well paid districts?
How do we know the value of a perk such as brining one’s children vs. having a raise vs. a strong professional development program vs. working conditions (e.g. small class sizes, number of preparation periods etc.)?

We don’t know.

To make a decision to give a raise and now be in a time crunch for a March measures was not prudent. How can Mr. Child cite all these reasons without the research to support it? I don’t doubt that some of the 11 teachers left for housing reasons but there is a lot more to consider when looking at Recruitment and Retention and to base a decision on mostly unfounded assumptions, that now puts the district in a place of urgency, was hasty.

At the end of the day, Caroline was asked to step in one-month sooner than originally anticipated because of the situation I’ve described above. So she prepared some questions and it seems that rather than being receptive, two board members perhaps were caught by surprise to hear the pension problem put into the room and threw a bunch of questions back rather than answer what I’m sure they knew to which she was referring. She appeared perhaps a bit unsure of the semantics but while she may not have the wording of the pension problem well-articulated, she knows that there is a problem and appears to want to learn more before throwing more money at it. That’s what we need. Study the problem before throwing money at it. She didn’t run on a “solve the pension” platform but she did run on a Fiscal Responsibility and Transparency platform. By even suggesting that this problem be clearly explained now before writing a measure for a vote next month, shows both of these.

I wonder, why hasn’t the foreseen magnitude of the problem been brought to the public and discussed at length by the board in this marathon of meetings? I have not heard solutions for it discussed at all, only a mention that increasing pension costs are a “contributing factor”.

Regardless of how it got there, I look forward to learning more about the impact on our district. After doing some fact checking with the links provided by Train Fan and Brown Eyed Girl, it seems like the totally compensation package over time will consume 100% of the total budget if something doesn’t change and I don’t see how parcel taxes could support such an increase.

Of note: PAUSD passed a measure recently and then the incumbents were voted out of office. I believe the public felt a lack of truth in lending. I suggest we keep our measure terms closer to the terms of our governing board to build in some accountability.

I hope that the board will understand that the public has elected a board member not to block their attempts to keep our district great, but to ask questions on behalf of us. She has asked them (perhaps not with the fluency that many would like) but she is asking and those answers are what many of us need to make an informed decision on a parcel tax. So let go of the articulation focus and see the bigger pictures. Answer us.

Will my support of a tax go to pay for programs, pensions, salary increases…? other?

Spell it all out in detail and you’re more likely to get my vote.

Leave it ambiguous, or worse, misleading wording and I’ll have to pass on it altogether.

Let’s stay focused and united on the issues/challenges and work together to make sure that we keep our great schools and great property values but that we still have those in place long after this board, these teachers, and these students are gone.

22 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 23, 2016 at 1:10 pm

I think at least some credibility is needed before the school board starts asking for money again. What has changed since the last time they were told NO that would make me change my mind on how they are managing the financial situation.

9 people like this
Posted by Peter F Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 23, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Well the Board approved pay increases for every employee.

4 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 23, 2016 at 6:15 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"Well the Board approved pay increases for every employee."


25 people like this
Posted by Carmen
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 23, 2016 at 7:09 pm

Carmen is a registered user.

A "raise?"

The Bay Area CPI is 3.6%. Web Link I'd hardly call a 2.5% salary increase a raise when it's below inflation. How do you expect someone to live here on a teacher's salary? Barbara Wood's previous article said the average MPCSD teacher salary is the average of similar local districts. I don't think the district is being overly extravagant with its salaries. I think the board is right in trying to retain teachers.

For comparison's sake, Menlo Park City employees received a 3% raise and our Fire Chief received an 11.5% raise!

Web Link
Web Link

Yes, the board was in a difficult position but I am glad they are doing all they can to retain teachers and I am glad they are trying to at least match inflation when it comes to teacher salaries. I think if they did not do that more teachers would leave.

11 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 23, 2016 at 7:33 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


did the board increase the wages paid? If they did, that is the commonly accepted definition of a raise. A raise is an increase in pay, it doesn't matter if it matches inflation or not. It's still a raise in pay.

The fact is, the board gave everyone a raise and a bonus even after the parcel taxes FAILED. Brilliant. Spend more money you don't have have then whine to the voters that you need more money because you spent more money than you KNEW you had. Brilliant.

This is a text book example of misfeasance.

35 people like this
Posted by Brown Eyed Girl
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 23, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Brown Eyed Girl is a registered user.

In addition to the 2.50% increase in compensation, the District's contribution to the teacher's retirement plan increased by 4.33%.

On a combined basis, this represents an increase in compensation and benefits of 6.83%. I do not know how the District has handled the increase in healthcare benefits. Many companies are passing this on to the employees and are not absorbing them. If MPCSD absorbed all the increase in healthcare for the employees, then that is an additional increase in benefits.

The staff also received a 2.50% bonus for the previous year and this was in addition to a 2.48% increase in the employer contribution to the pension plan, for a total increase in compensation of 4.98%.

Next year, the employer contribution to the pension plan rises by 6.18%. So even compensation is held flat, employer contributions to the pension plan are escalating.

These are increases in compensation that far exceed CPI.

i don't understand why the District does not provide the employees with an annual benefit statement. Many companies do this and it is clear based upon comments made by teachers on this site that they do not understand the value of their benefits.

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Posted by Robert Ham
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 24, 2016 at 9:08 am

Proofreading note. In this usage, paragraph 4, "underway" should be "under way."

12 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Nov 24, 2016 at 9:38 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

The unfunded liability of CalSTRS calls for a statewide, if not national, freeze on teachers wages. This would eliminate the "teacher retention" argument used by districts to justify unsustainable increases in compensation. Return of class size to that existing prior to the campus expansions fueled by state matching funds would mitigate the teacher shortage. This would relieve another upward pressure on wages.

When voters defeated Measures A & C, they were telling the District to live within their means. No more parcel taxes!

16 people like this
Posted by Chip B.
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 24, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Thanks for taking care to cover this issue so carefully Barbara.

It looks like, in addition to the potential parcel tax in Woodside, parcel taxes have just passed in Mill Valley, Pittsburg and San Jose. One will be on the ballot in San Mateo-Foster City in the Spring. One passed in Palo Alto last Spring. And the list goes on and on. Most of the elections have been or are planned to be in the Spring.

If we want to fight the broken state education funding system and teacher pension system, then we should band together and fight the state. But all this focus on how irresponsible our district must be because we need a parcel tax seems misplaced.

Are all the districts in the area with parcel taxes on the ballot worthy of the same viscous attacks that we've directed at our district?

Web Link
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link)

7 people like this
Posted by Peter F Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 24, 2016 at 1:03 pm

It is not that "the District needs a parcel tax" but rather, unlike any other school district, it needs FOUR parcel taxes.

25 people like this
Posted by Clear Vision
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 25, 2016 at 11:05 am

I understand why the earlier ballot measures didn't get the 66% needed to pass. They were poorly written and possibly misguided with out any sunset.

Now I don't understand why the community and all of the board members can't get behind a simple parcel tax at the same level as the existing one, or slightly higher to give the district time to manage the increased pension contributions. The mindset of tearing down the local system to voice displeasure of the state system is incredibly misguided.

This would keep intact the district, prevent cuts and allow the board(and new members David and Caroline) to focus on the long term budget solutions. Lets stabilize things and then work together for a better system.

I hope we can get a unanimous board to back simple parcel tax to give the district and community time.

9 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 28, 2016 at 7:27 am

@ Clear Vision - I agree with you that the previous measures were poorly written. However, if the District isn't managing its finances well why would I give them more money to continue its practices? Did it change anything?

If one looks to the business world, investors usually don't continue to finance a company that has poor spending practices and continues to ask for more money. While I value education, I also appreciate good financial practices. Agencies shouldn't spend beyond their means and expect the voters to back fund their expenditures -- this should apply to all government run programs.

11 people like this
Posted by Arlene
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 28, 2016 at 6:21 pm

Thanks Barbara. It's great to see the district holding all these meetings to get our input!

8 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 29, 2016 at 7:36 pm

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Why isn’t Menlo Park like Woodside?

Woodside collects 66% more base property tax funding per student than Menlo Park. Woodside’s school population has been slowly dropping. Menlo Park’s has been steadily increasing.

If you have much higher base property tax funding per student, then you can just fund ‘extras’ with parcel taxes. If you are fighting to provide reasonable class sizes and some electives on 40% less base funding, you fund teachers with parcel taxes.

If Woodside is “how it should be” – where parcel taxes are nice for keeping your school offering competitive with states like Massachusetts (but not necessary to keep ahead of Arkansas) – then Menlo Park needs to be more like Woodside. No students from multifamily residential apartments; a much lower percentage of properties with Prop 13 base years before 1985. If those things cannot be changed, then “how it is” is simply what it is and what the MPCSD Board and district staff has been dealing with.

The Data:
Woodside collects $13,465 in base property tax per student. Menlo Park collects $8,095, (, 2014-15 data)

Woodside’s enrollment and average daily attendance are slightly down since 2010. Menlo Park’s have increased by over 10%. (ibid)

And, over the past 15 years, Woodside’s enrollment and average daily attendance have decreased by 3+%. Menlo Park’s have increased by almost 50%. (Woodside has decreased to 438 from 458 enrolled in 2000-2001; MPCSD has increased to 2904 from 1957 in 2000-2001; for 2000-01 data)

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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 29, 2016 at 7:52 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


AND? If Menlo Park parents want a superior education they need to pay for it. Their contributions to MPEF are less than similar districts. When they start coughing up more money for their children's gold plated education I'll consider voting for a parcel tax, WITH a sunset. Also, the board needs to make some actual cuts. Not just cuts to future planned expenditures. That's like me deciding not to buy a new car because I can't afford it then claiming I've trimmed my household budget. It's BS. Show me some ACTUAL cuts.

9 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 29, 2016 at 7:54 pm

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Jeff Child, who has served on the MPCSD board for seven years, and spend thousands of hours studying state school finance, recruitment issues, and the districts' unique situation, says that a 2.5% increase in the teachers' contract was necessary to retain teachers.

Stephanie, who hasn't even registered as a user, says, "I can’t say that ..." Actually, no, why should I bother to repeat yet another unfounded attack on a group of thoughtful, well-informed citizens shouldering the lion's share of our civic duty to our schools.

Jeff, whose term ends in a few days, continues to put in a dozen hours a week trying to find the very best solution for our children and our community. He, like the other school board members, is not paid. Yet he is persevering in trying to ensure the district is able to provide a quality education to local children for years to come.

If Jeff says that a 2.5% increase to the contract rates is the right thing for the district, even if it means more lay offs or salary cuts in the future, then it's the right thing.

6 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 29, 2016 at 8:07 pm

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Menlo Votor,

Could you help me? Yesterday a British friend lamented that she will only be able to spend five days, rather than her usual week, in the sun over winter break. Apparently, the post-Brexit fall in the value of the pound means that last year's £1,500 weeklong vacation will only cover airfare plus five nights this year. I tried to tell her that it was the same £1,500 winter sun break and she should just buck up and button her stiff upper lip. But, somehow, she was looking at the program, not the price tag.

OMG, could it be that when MPCSD talks about "cuts," they are talking about program cuts? That is, cuts to actual services delivered? Do you suppose that, with more money going to pay the unfunded pension liabilities, that means increased class sizes, fewer electives, and cuts to the educational offering? Could that be what they mean by "cuts" -- five days instead of seven?

You know, I bet it is.

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Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 29, 2016 at 8:56 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.


you're missing the point. Cuts to future planned increases to expenditures are not "cuts." They are decreases to planned increased expenditure, IN other words not spending money you don't and won't have. The board needs to make REAL cuts, not just cuts to the increases in spending they planned on due to counting on the passage of parcel taxes that didn't. One doesn't plan on spending money they don't know their going to get. Doing so in this case is misfeasance. Show me REAL cuts.

10 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 30, 2016 at 8:43 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

In a period of unpredictable, but ever-increasing, headcount growth, the District and School Board have consistently tried to put numbers on the table that represent what it would cost to continue to provide the current level of education.

Cuts to existing programs -- because headcount growth, inflation, and additional state-mandated pension contributions dilute per-pupil services -- are cuts.

Reductions in a budget that assumed continuation of an existing parcel tax are cuts to that budget.

The narrative that some hypothetical stuffing was cut is ludicrous to anyone who has braved the hours of budget discussions.

11 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 30, 2016 at 9:12 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Four? FOUR? Oh my goodness, four parcel taxes.

Lo, these many years ago, I remember David Ackerman talking about children's ability to do division. Apparently, this is an ability that appears spontaneously about fourth grade. David was worried about the trend in schools to push kids to do ever harder math ever younger. Were we making our kids hate math? Were we forcing math to become a mechanical, rather than an intuitive, action?

Four quarters is worth no more, and no less, than one dollar. Sure, there are four of them -- and maybe that seems like more to some people -- but when you go to the store, they won't get you any more or less than a dollar bill. (Except in a gum ball machine.)

Practically speaking, the four, count 'em, four ... well, in a few months, three ... existing parcel taxes make absolutely no difference to any local resident, taxpayer, or voter. They're one single line item on the property tax bill. (And even that line is combined with many others into your semi-annual property tax check.)

The only people I would expect to get excited about the fact that over fifteen years (of 50% headcount growth) our community has voted for FOUR parcel taxes (rather than ONE or FIFTY-THREE) are nine year olds.

5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 30, 2016 at 9:32 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The parcel tax shills want everything to be based on comparables but somehow the number and the total $ amount of MPCSD's FOUR parcel taxes should not be compared to anything.

This double standard permeates their biased analysis of the data.

15 people like this
Posted by Karen Dearing
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 30, 2016 at 9:45 am

Karen Dearing is a registered user.

For one who is so quick to cry foul when you perceive an "attack" from someone who opposes you, you're awefuly liberal with your name calling.

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 30, 2016 at 9:50 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.


a person who publicizes or praises something or someone for reasons of self-interest, personal profit, or friendship or loyalty.

6 people like this
Posted by Richard Hine
editor of The Almanac
on Nov 30, 2016 at 10:23 am

Richard Hine is a registered user.

All posters: Please focus on making your points without negative characterizations of those who disagree with you.

14 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 30, 2016 at 10:40 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Hmmm, let's not shilly sally around here!

Self-interest: I no longer have a child in the district, nor (at my advanced age) am I likely to produce another. That said, my child is 'full young' to produce an heir (or spare) ... indeed, if he can produce a winning college application it would be nice. So I am even unlikely to be a grandparent, enrolling grandchildren in the district supported only by a meagre Prop 13-protected property tax contribution (i.e., heavily subsidized by my neighbors).

Personal profit: Nah, I don't even think I've gotten a free lunch out of all my advocacy for adequate public school education statewide, let alone here in MPCSD. (Let alone four quarters, or a dollar.)

Friendship: Nope, I respect many current and past MPCSD board members, district staff, teachers, etc., but I wouldn't call one of them a friend even, with one exception, on Facebook. (And then, not a "Close Friend.")

Loyalty: Gosh, you can't support anything out of loyalty without being a shill? Interesting. But, no, not even loyalty.

I support MPCSD and its efforts to offer a quality education to every child in its boundaries because:
(a) I believe a strong local school district creates a strong community around my own family (oops, is that self interest?),
(b) I have studied California school finance in great breadth and depth and found MPCSD to be exemplary in their actions within this extraordinarily complex field, and
(c) I have observed the application of willful ignorance and calumny against MPCSD -- behavior that threatens our community and its values.

Or is this song not about me? After all, I do believe the total amount of parcel tax paid in the district is important. Just not whether it resulted from four, or fourteen, or forty, different voter actions.

9 people like this
Posted by Karen Dearing
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 30, 2016 at 11:37 am

Karen Dearing is a registered user.

SHILL: an accomplice of a hawker, gambler, or swindler who acts as an enthusiastic customer to entice or encourage others; a plant or a stooge, is a person who publicly helps or gives credibility to a person or organization without disclosing that they have a close relationship with the person or organization.

Back to the content...

Present and future cuts are cuts to planned programs, not padded programs and expansions. But the cost of present and planned programs and the associated increases in the cost to implement those programs due to projected increasing enrollment and increasing expenses (in part because of the state-required increases in pension contributions).

14 people like this
Posted by HelloHanalei
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Nov 30, 2016 at 1:17 pm

HelloHanalei is a registered user.

Menlo Voter:

Hillview mini-courses were cut this year. The kids who were looking forward to mini-courses, and who now won't have them, would assure you that this is an "actual cut."

Does this meet your criteria, and satisfy your desire to see a "REAL" cut?

You're the one missing the point, and I suspect you're doing it deliberately, in furtherance of the narrative you wish to propagate here.

17 people like this
Posted by Karen Dearing
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 30, 2016 at 1:42 pm

Karen Dearing is a registered user.

The teacher shortage is real. The risk of losing quality teachers is real.

Web Link

Promoting the notion that the district failed the community by proceeding with planned increases (and once again, the district was not advised by anyone it would consider to be an advisor to freeze compensation) is misplaced when one considers how the district would have been failing the students and the community it serves if it froze wages and lost quality teachers to other districts.

1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 30, 2016 at 1:53 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The issues are:
1 - What quality of K-8 education does the community (not just the parents) want to provide?
2 - Is the District currently providing that level of education?
3 - What is the cost of providing that level of education with maximum efficiency?
4 - How much is the community willing to contribute to the cost of providing that level of education?

In my opinion a new parcel tax, question 4, will fail (even if I personally support it and I vote for it) IF the non-parent voters do not have sufficient information so that they can answer questions 1, 2 and 3.

There is little doubt that the parent taxpayers want the best possible education - particulary since they only bear a small portion of the cost of that education.

The non-parent taxpayers will approach the question from a very different perspective - just how great do they want our K-8 schools to be and are they willing to pay the price for that level of excellence?

It is difficult to sell someone something unless you can define the product that you want them to buy.

So far I have seen very little discussion on what exactly is the current level of education ( defined by outcome measures whenever possible) being provided by the District.

"Trust me, we are provided an exemplary education" will not satisfy most buyers/taxpayers.

16 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 30, 2016 at 2:11 pm

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

BEG, the concept of unfunded pension liabilities is a complex financial matter. People unfamiliar with pensions and actuarial calculations can be forgiven for misunderstanding the increase in pension contributions that the district is having to pay.

However, no, there was NOT an increase in compensation to teachers this year -- their pension benefits did not increase, even though the District is having to pay more.

Why? Because the majority of the dramatic increase in district contribution is directed at unfunded past liabliilties -- generated over the PAST fifteen years. These were pension obligations created to teachers -- for their teaching from 2000 - 2013.

Put differently, imagine moving here 15 tears ago and putting a child into MPCSD. That child's teachers received a compensation package (including specific guaranteed pension benefits) that cost MORE than the amount the district (and teacher) paid for it. For 13 years, those children got teachers who were recruited with and received a better compensation package than was 'on the books.' (No, this was not bad MPCSD management, it was all dictated by the Governor/Dept of Finance in Sacramento -- first Gray Davis, then Arnold Schwarzenegger, then Jerry Brown -- who finally moved to resolve it.)

Furthermore, on top of the contribution deficit for each of those years, that missing contribution/investment earned no income. So there was an income deficit on TOP of the contribution deficit. So the "spending per child" over the next 28 years includes an amount that really funded children from 2000-2013.

Perhaps now you understand why I am offended by those who had kids in MPCSD schools during that period, but are now screaming, "LIVE WITHIN YOUR MEANS." They lived well outside of theirs -- and are dumping the debts on the next generation. (Did they demand the schools cut spending and create a pension fund then? No. Just now, when other people's kids are entering.)

The strong stock market and record state personal income tax receipts meant that CalSTRS (the teachers' pension fund) appeared 120% funded in 2000. As a result, the Legislature reduced contributions to CalSTRS in 2000 -- without changing the benefit schedule. When the stock market and state tax receipts collapsed later in that year, contributions were not reinstated. Thus, a large unfunded liability grew. Initially, this was on the State's books. Jerry Brown, in announcing how this unfunded liability would be paid down -- overwhelmingly by the districts, not the Legislature (that had changed the rules!) -- also divided up the liability and shifted it off the State's ledgers and onto the districts' books. Still interested: Ed-Source has a number of articles during the spring of 2013, as does CalPensions. Two representative links:

Web Link
Web Link

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 30, 2016 at 2:25 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Because the majority of the dramatic increase in district contribution is directed at unfunded past liabliilties -- generated over the PAST fifteen years. These were pension obligations created to teachers -- for their teaching from 2000 - 2013."

This is a perfect example of why many taxpayers are uncomfortable with just approving an endless string of parcel taxes.

Why were these pension OBLIGATIONS not funded in those years in which those obligations were incurred?

And why does the District not now create reserves for the inevitable increases in pension rates that will come from the State?

Here is what the Fire District does:

"Along with many other local agencies, the District contracts with the California Public Employees
Retirement System (CalPERS) for the defined benefit retirement plan, which covers all
regular/permanent employees. Even before most District employees received a wage increase, labor
costs had continued to rise. The labor cost increases in FY 2016-17 are partially due to the rising
cost of pension and health care benefits. Chart 2, below, shows a history of the District’s CalPERS
employer contribution rates. The significant decline in FY 2010-11 reflects the District’s payoff of
the CalPERS Safety Side Fund obligation in 2010 and 2011 in the amount of $12,501,969.
The decline in FY 2015-16 is due to the $12 million payment made in March 2015, authorized by
Resolution #1779-2015, towards the District’s CalPERS unfunded actuarial liability (UAL) paid
using funds set aside in the PERS Rate Stabilization reserve.

CalPERS experienced significant investment losses in FY 2008-09 and consequently the employer
rates have been increasing. In FY 2007-08, the Board of Directors approved setting aside funds in
a reserve to mitigate the impact of CalPERS employer rate fluctuations on the General Fund. In FY
2010-11, the Finance Committee recommended a new budgeting structure to better manage and plan
for employer rate fluctuations. The budgeted employer rate was set at a higher rate than the actual
rate and the difference was allocated to the reserve fund. As illustrated below, the budgeted amounts
(shown in purple) ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent. The District will continue to budget at the
higher rate to pay off the UAL in the future."

"FY 2016-17 proposed budgeted retirement increased by 28 percent which is in line with the increase in positions
and salaries. There have been two significant changes in the last couple years that offset the cost to the District.
The employer contribution amount has decreased due to the amended MOU for the AFSCME represented
Group. The employee contribution (EPMC) rate of eight percent has been reverted back and is paid by the
employees. The CalPERS budgeted employer contribution rate for the Safety group remains at 41percent rather
than the actual rate to allow for excess budgeted funds over the actual rate to be added to the PERS Rate
Stabilization Fund to help pay down the unfunded liability. In addition, the safety IAFF members are now
contributing 3 percent of the employer’s portion due to the IAFF MOU."

16 people like this
Posted by Karen Dearing
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 30, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Karen Dearing is a registered user.

Peter Carpenter, you and I agree that voters should understand what they are funding. I also agree the district can and should do more to share the outcome data they have as part of whatever parcel tax effort is to come (if any, though that certainly seems to be where we're headed).

While I'm sure the district has other data at their disposal to share, some general evidence of the high quality of education being provided is in the district FAQs.

Web Link

As can be viewed at the above link, whereas the change in API (Academic Performance Index) of our peer districts over an 8-year period (2005-2013) ranged from -6 to +29, MPCSD achieved a +41 shift in that same time period. In 2013, the last year this metric was used, MPCSD received a score of 944. Our peer districts received scores ranging from 932 (Palo Alto) to 969 (Hillsborough). Our district achieved this improvement and comparable overall academic performance while spending less per student than these peer districts. While API is a general metric, I certainly find these numbers compelling.

31 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Nov 30, 2016 at 4:11 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

A clarification: There seems to be a misconception that school district pensions are managed by the same rules that govern the pensions of special districts, such as the fire district, and municipalities.
The rules are completely different for school districts.

Here is how the district answered recent questions on this topic from new board member Caroline Lucas.

For those who do not want to do a lot of reading, this is the main point:
"MPCSD cannot unilaterally take further action to resolve the unfunded pension liability. Unlike cities, counties, and states across the US who are wrestling with their own underfunded public pensions, MPCSD cannot renegotiate pension benefits packages. It cannot raise the level of annual
contributions. It cannot alter the fund’s investment strategy. The only lever the District has is to set payroll, and, as previously stated, MPCSD is somewhat constrained even there."

Here are the full excerpts on pensions:

What is the amount of the unfunded pension liability?

The District participates in the State Teachers' Retirement System (STRS) and Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS). These are statewide pension plans for which the District does not have the authority to set benefit levels, determine contribution levels, nor make investment decisions.
These are parameters controlled by the state. The pensions are funded by contributions from the employee, the employer, and the state based on current earnings. Recent years have seen a growing disparity between the projected future costs of the pensions versus the amount of income generated from contributions and investment returns. This is termed the "unfunded pension liability."
The Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) issued a statement (GASB 68) that changes the reporting requirements for pension liabilities. It prescribes that employers must include in its audit report the pro-rata share of the state's unfunded pension liability beginning in 2015 (for the 2014/15 fiscal year). Prior to this, the unfunded liability for STRS and PERS was only recorded by the respective pension plan. GASB 68 is a reporting requirement only and is only reported in the District's audit report. These audit reports can be found on the District website.
A related reporting requirement that does affect the District's budget is the recording of the state's contribution towards “STRS on behalf” of local employees. This is essentially a pass-through that is recorded as both a revenue and expenditure, with a net effect of zero. A notable consequence of
recording the “on behalf” payments is that it distorts the revenues and expenditures of recent years (2014/15 and forward) when compared with those of prior years before the District was required to do so.
In its audit report for the period ending June 30, 2015, the District reported a net pension liability of $32.7 million, including $28.1 million related to CalSTRS and $4.6 million related to CalPERS. It is important to note that:
● Even though this line item appears on the District’s balance sheet, this liability belongs to the state of California, not MPCSD.
● The “net pension liability” is an accounting convention that does not yet reflect the 2014 Funding Plan that was passed to address the CalSTRS unfunded liabilities.
What does “net pension liability” mean? Net pension liability is an accounting standard that calculates the difference between the total assets and total obligations of a plan:
● Total assets: all funds held to pay current benefits and invested to cover future benefits
● Total obligations: all the benefits already earned by employees and retirees
If assets exceed obligations, the program is “fully funded.” If obligations exceed assets, there is a “net pension liability.” CalSTRS unfunded liability is estimated to be approximately $70 billion.

What is the current plan to eliminate it?
The state has the responsibility to ensure the solvency of the system. CalSTRS has been in existence for over 100 years, and it has historically been underfunded. After decade-long efforts to fill the gap, lawmakers took two important actions. First, the state reformed pensions in 2013 to reduce benefits for a employees hired after January 1, 2013 (prior benefit levels were grandfathered in for all employees hired prior to that date). Second, and more significantly, lawmakers successfully included a plan to fully fund CalSTRS as part of California’s 2014-15 Budget Package. The CalSTRS 2014 Funding Plan mandates significant contribution rate increases across all sources of funding--teachers, school districts, and the state.
Prior to 2014, annual CalSTRS funding from all sources totaled approximately 19.3% of total teacher payroll. The 2014 Funding Plan established a schedule to nearly double that funding rate over time, to approximately 38.2% by 2021. (Employer, or district, rates were raised from 8.25% to 19.1% over seven years, teachers’ contribution rates were raised from 8% to 10.25% over three years, and the state’s rates were raised from 3% to 8.8% over three years.) This near-doubling of contribution rates is projected to remain in place for over thirty years -- permanent, for all intents and purposes. Prior to the 2014 Funding Plan, CalSTRS had expected to fully exhaust its assets by the mid-2040s. After the Funding Plan, it projected itself to be fully funded in that same timeframe. Any future adjustments and changes will be the responsibility of the state.
If the 2014 Funding Plan fails to fully address CalSTRS’s unfunded liability, the state has very few potential levers to pull.
All would require new legislation:
● Draw more from the state’s general funds
● Raise the contribution rates of employees and/or employers
● Reform/cut the benefits package (more challenging for current employees and retirees, less challenging for future employees; already done once in 2013)
Under any circumstance, potential adverse consequences for MPCSD are unlikely to be realized until after 2021 at the earliest. If the 2014 Funding Plan fails to achieve its targets, the primary risk to MPCSD is that the state passes new legislation that increases employers’ contribution rates beyond
the level set by the current schedule. Because rate increases have already been mandated through 2021, any potential further increases are highly unlikely to take place until after 2021. In fact, CalSTRS has already amended its policy once in November 2015 to hold district contribution rates at higher levels after 2021 (20.25% of payroll) in scenarios where investments underperform projections.
Furthermore, year-to-year investment performance is highly unpredictable, so it would likely take several years before the state could even determine whether long-term investment performance is meeting expectations, and, consequently, whether changes in the Funding Plan are required.
MPCSD cannot unilaterally take further action to resolve the unfunded pension liability. Unlike cities, counties, and states across the US who are wrestling with their own underfunded public pensions, MPCSD cannot renegotiate pension benefits packages. It cannot raise the level of annual
contributions. It cannot alter the fund’s investment strategy. The only lever the District has is to set payroll, and, as previously stated, MPCSD is somewhat constrained even there.
Just as no individual taxpayer can eliminate the federal government’s debt, no single school district has either the financial resources or the legal authority to eliminate CalSTRS and CalPERS unfunded pension liabilities. That power and responsibility rests with the state alone, and the state has
implemented the 2014 Funding Plan for that purpose.
If community members feel strongly that underfunded public teachers pensions are an important policy problem, then the appropriate venue for addressing those concerns is the California state legislature. There is no alternative venue that can have a meaningful impact on pension fund
solvency. To state the obvious, changing school district budgets has zero impact on pension fund solvency.
The best and most important action that MPCSD can take to address the STRS/PERS unfunded pension liability is to have a multi-year financial plan in place that (1) has adequate funding to cover all projected expenses, taking into account rising pension costs, and (2) builds and maintains an
adequate reserve that provides the District with enough short-term flexibility to react to adverse financial events. Measures A and C would have addressed that need. Similarly, current consideration of a potential parcel tax and/or budget cuts is in direct response to a structural deficit that is, in part, a result of these rising pension costs.

What information has the public been given about the amount of the unfunded pension liability?
The District fulfills its statutory obligation for both plans with the contributions to STRS and PERS made each year. These contributions are included in the District's operating expenditures and are projected to increase in future years as prescribed by the state in its effort to address the unfunded pension liability as described above. These increases are included in the District's long-range budget model and are one of the driving forces behind the District’s structural deficit in future years.
Staff has been discussing the impact from STRS Pension Reform 2014 from the outset at School Board meetings, clearly identifying the financial impact to the District in the coming years. The information about the STRS and PERS unfunded pension liability is a new reporting requirement under GASB 68. It is shown and made available in the District's audit report which is discussed in a public Board meeting and at the FA Committee Meeting. The 2015 Audit Report is the first year of implementation for reporting the unfunded pension liability and it includes in it the latest accounting requirements. The data is available on the District website: Web Link .

What venues have been used for this education?
Like all issues related to the financial management of the district, the following avenues for transparent communication and education are always available: Board meeting attendance and minutes, Finance and Audit Committee attendance and minutes, and During the current discussions to address the District's structural deficit, education and communication has
also included: six special Board meetings and minutes, three regular Board meetings and minutes, paid advertisement in local newspapers for attendance at these meetings, videotaping and posting of meetings, transcription of public comment, comprehensive FAQ's site, an online input form, a special email address to address specific questions, and a community wide survey sent to 20,000 residents and district parents.

What information has been given to the public about the plan to eliminate it?
The plan to eliminate the unfunded liability is the state's plan. This plan was put into action in the 2014/15 State Budget. Staff has been discussing the implications to the District at school board meetings and various other venues. Any member of the public has access to the information provided to the public simply by accessing; Board meeting minutes, videos, and
presentations on the District website; community input transcription, FAQ's on district website, and input documentation presented at the November 9 Board meeting.

What feedback, if any, has been received from the public about the plan to eliminate it?
We have not received specific feedback on the state's plan, however we have received general comments about the district’s responsibility and increased burden under the plan. Feedback was submitted in writing to the Board on November 9. Any member of the public has access to the feedback in the November 9 Board meeting minutes.

Given the current parcel tax options the district is considering, please clarify if these are taxes to address the unfunded pension liability, the salary increases or just enrollment growth/measure C renewal. How?
The proposed parcel taxes and/or reductions are necessary to address the District's structural deficit and expenditures, which include all the district's liabilities including pension costs and enrollment growth. The expiration of the 2010 Measure C will further reduce the District's revenue and will need to be addressed through a new parcel tax or reductions. Increased cost related to enrollment growth and increases to the District's pension obligation will need to be addressed regardless of whether or not the Board chooses to move forward with a parcel tax. Consideration of a parcel tax can be part of the solution to address these issues.

This document, which also includes answers to additional questions, is posted here: Web Link

32 people like this
Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 30, 2016 at 4:37 pm

Getting your support for a parcel tax, given you often speak for many of the fiscal conservatives in the community is incredibly important. Hopefully we see the board propose a modest parcel tax that is acceptable to many in the community.

I think it is also important for new board member, Caroline Lucas to support it. At the last Board meeting she had lots of questions and needed some time to get up to speed on the issues. This clearly frustrated many who were there(per the video).

As you were a significant backer of her campaign perhaps you can help her in understanding the broader issues and the impact a failed parcel tax vote will have on the district finances. I don't think it is acceptable for her to abstain or sit out of the discussion.

If the Board is not able to show a united front to the community the chances of it passing will be significantly lower.

30 people like this
Posted by Richard Vaughan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Nov 30, 2016 at 4:44 pm

Thanks to Barbara for the complete description on pensions. Truly appreciate the information. I hope everyone who has posted here will make sure to either come to the board meeting tonite at Hillview or review the video. Kudos to the district on making these available. A fully informed citizen is a wise voter.
PS - Come see how Menlo Park's children excell in music education! The Hillview Winter Concert is Wed., 12/14 @ 7PM in the Hillview PAC. Bring a friend - or 3!

49 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Nov 30, 2016 at 7:07 pm

"these peer districts"

Those are not peer districts. Those are cherrypicked districts.

Here's a list of elementary school districts comparable to MPCSD, based on more objective criteria:

* API > 900 (2011, the most recent data in ed-data);
* Student population at least 1/2 the size of MPCSD;
* In Santa Clara County or San Mateo County;

Here's the list, with revenue/student:

District Revenue/student student pop.
HCSD $16584 1546
MPCSD $13745 2904
Saratoga Union $13316 2069
Los Altos Elementary $11401 4675
San Carlos $10149 3457
Los Gatos Union $9990 3320
Belmont-RWS $9591 3900

(note that as of this year, Hillsborough City School district is less than half the size of MPCSD, but I kept it on the list for transparency and consistency)

I'll reiterate that I'm a supporter of a renewal of the existing 4th parcel tax with a sunset, due to the increased contribution requirements to CalSTRS which Jennifer Bestor and MPCSD have made a compelling case needs funding, and I will continue to support a renewal provided the funds are used for that purpose.

However, other arguments used by 4-parcel-tax proponents supporting additional parcel taxes are debatable at best, particularly the use of their "peers/comparable districts" list, and I'll continue to counter what I view as cherrypicked data.

Stick to the CalSTRS funding and you'll easily get the 4th parcel tax renewed. It has the benefit of being an easily defend-able reason for a renewal in my opinion, and to the credit of MPCSD their FAQ (that Barbara pointed out in another thread) is quite excellent on this matter.

6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 30, 2016 at 8:10 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Getting your support for a parcel tax, given you often speak for many of the fiscal conservatives in the community is incredibly important."

I fully anticipate that I will be able to support the next parcel tax proposal.

My concern is that voters who have not had the time that I have had to study the issue and to discuss it with well informed staff may well not feel comfortable supporting another tax.

The Board has an incredible challenge over the next 4 months in educating the voters to understand the facts. And a data dump is not the answer. A few carefully chosen and well articulated facts are essential.

I do not believe the voters will approve a parcel tax that they do not understand or a parcel tax which, as happened with the Palo Alto Unified School District, simply serves to pass through the additional revenue as a compensation increase for the staff.

4 people like this
Posted by MPCSD/Atherton resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 30, 2016 at 11:04 pm

MPCSD/Atherton resident is a registered user.


I'm Sincerely happy, no, actually thrilled to hear you "anticipate being able to support the next parcel tax proposal"!!!

What carefully chosen and well articulated facts do you recommend the board and/or a parcel tax committee share?

3 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 1, 2016 at 8:50 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Karen Dearing and Train Fan,

I have to take issue, AGAIN, with (a) the use of three-year-old APIs to impute changes in academic performance and (b) the argument over comparable districts.

Karen (and, psst, anyone involved in the new parcel tax campaign), the State chucked the STAR tests and APIs four years ago. Why? Because they were not measuring educational effectiveness. They were measuring ethnic differences, socio-economic differences, and teaching-to-the-test, among other extraneous factors. Having been a parent in the district when the MPCSD improvement jump occurred, I share the State’s skepticism. I understand the desire to quantify the (IMHO, very real) improvements in MPCSD education as a result of past parcel tax investments but this obsolete, ineffective measure doesn’t pass the straight-face test.

Train Fan, your comparables share the same weakness as Karen’s APIs. They aren’t comparable. When will y’all bind your ears to the siren song seduction of’s standardized format? The same format is NOT the same information.

Both of you – I spent 37 tedious paragraphs explaining these issues four weeks ago. Search for “Manure TF” on the Almanac website and it will take you there. (Sorry, Train Fan! But that search combo only brings up one extraneous option, a restaurant review where the “odor of manure permeates the air, creating an irresistible olfactory lure” that serves lunch T-F … frankly, I can’t wait to try the place.)

If you’re willing to spend all this time attacking/defending the district, could I ask that you please READ it? If you disagree with my conclusions, let’s hash out those differences rather than just reposting the SOS.

And, an update: Wednesday I attended the Public Policy Institute of California’s presentation of its just-released study on Special Education Funding. A panel debated the findings, which included Michael Kirst (president of the statewide Board of Education and father of the current school finance mechanism, the Local Control Funding Formula). What is clear is that Special Education funding differs dramatically, not just between counties, but between SELPAs (Special Education Local Plan Areas).

There is one SELPA covering all San Mateo County districts. There are six in Santa Clara County: different ones cover Los Altos/Palo Alto vs. Cupertino vs. Campbell/Los Gatos/Saratoga.

Special Education is the most expensive factor in public school education. A single Special Ed kid with an extreme disability can easily cost a school $85,000+ a year. Whether a district has to bear that cost, or the County Office of Education picks it up, has significant per-student spending effects. Santa Clara County bears the cost for 4% of the children in its districts. San Mateo bears the cost for only 0.4%. Unless you know that Special Education is being handled comparably in your comparables, they aren’t comparable.

7 people like this
Posted by Matt
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 1, 2016 at 9:52 am

Menlo Voter;
"If Menlo Park parents want a superior education they need to pay for it. Their contributions to MPEF are less than similar districts. When they start coughing up more money for their children's gold plated education I'll consider voting for a parcel tax"

I was surprised by your comment that the MPAEF/parents were not doing their part in funding the district vs similar districts. With a little research I learned that you are incorrect, while the MPAEF is not the highest "ask" in the area it is near the top. Each district is different in size so the totals are not perfectly comparable, but again MPAEF is near the top in total dollars raised as well and participation rate at 79%. The parent community has consistently supported the district with volunteer time and hard earned dollars and to call that into question is disingenuous. I hope you come to realize it is not just the families of school aged children who benefit from a strong school district. The community benefits from the bond a school system brings and your property values benefit as our community is considered desirable to live in driving housing demand. This is a fact that is hard to see in this housing market but a day will come where the value of your house will be more dependent on the town and schools than proximity to Facebook.

These numbers are not audited, but just what I could find easily on each foundations website in good faith.

HCSD $2,300 per student, $3.3mm total
Portola Valley $2,000 per, $ 900k total
Menlo Park $1500 per, $3.6mm total
Belmont/RWS $1,500 per, $2.0mm total
Los Altos $1,200 per, $3.7mm
San Carlos $1000 per, $2.5mm
Palo Alto $1,000 per, $5.6mm
Saratoga $800 per, $850k
Mountain View $500 per, $750k

In full disclosure I am parent of school aged kids in the district and you can expect my views to be biased but the facts speak for themselves.

10 people like this
Posted by Jayd Almquist
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 1, 2016 at 10:43 am

We're in a unique position to positively impact the lives of over 3000 kids, not to mention the greater community, we need to make that our focus when having these conversations.

Like this comment
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Dec 1, 2016 at 7:39 pm

"I have to take issue, AGAIN, with (a) the use of three-year-old APIs to impute changes in academic performance"

Well, in fairness to Karen (and myself) I think we both know that APIs are imperfect and no longer generated. Its usage in our discussions is an attempt to apply some measure of academic quality (imperfect as APIs are) into comparisons without the biases of those in this discussion affecting the list; in that context using APIs is fair.

That said, I'm more than happy to remove them as a discussion skin of my nose :)

"and (b) the argument over comparable districts...your comparables share the same weakness as Karen’s APIs. They aren’t comparable."

I am going to have to bite my tongue very hard on this statement and the others to avoid the wrath of the editor/moderator. Since you *defended* the MPCSD list in the other discussion (yes, I read it), it's fair to conclude that you think the MPCSD list of districts IS comparable.

Ugh, this is a new level of wrong.

I think I need to make a followup post, showing the ridiculousness of the MPCSD "comparables" list that you stridently defend. I'm sure you won't agree, but you're not the vote I'm talking to.

The people that look at the true comps and your comps are unlikely to agree with you.

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

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