Menlo Park mayor's 'community conversation' on education raises specter of secession | News | Almanac Online |


Menlo Park mayor's 'community conversation' on education raises specter of secession

Some want to withdraw Belle Haven from Ravenswood district, others defend it

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A discussion on the disparity in funding and educational outcomes among Menlo Park kids drew what appeared to be more than 100 people to a community meeting Sept. 18 convened by Mayor Kirsten Keith at the Menlo Park Senior Center in Belle Haven.

Some in the audience, mainly a number of people who live in Menlo Park's Belle Haven area in the Ravenswood City School District, said they no longer want their neighborhood to be part of that district.

"We're here today because a lot of people recognize that a lot of students are not getting a high-quality public education," said Sheryl Bims, a Belle Haven resident.

Two schools in Menlo Park are part of the Ravenswood district: Belle Haven Elementary and Willow Oaks Elementary. Statewide test results have long shown that a majority of Ravenswood students do not meet state learning standards.

By contrast, test results of students in the two districts serving most of Menlo Park and Atherton, the Menlo Park City and the Las Lomitas districts, are among the highest in the state.

In the Ravenswood district, about half of the students are considered homeless defined as lacking fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence, Ravenswood Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff has pointed out. Prior to the meeting, she sent a strongly worded letter to Menlo Park's mayor opposing any move to change district boundaries.

Mayor Keith said multiple times that the meeting was for informational purposes and did not represent an endorsement of any policy.

Suzanne Carrig, a Santa Clara County education official, gave a presentation about existing options for changing district boundaries, and Joe Ross, a member of the San Mateo County Board of Education, talked about what's happening countywide in the area of education.

Attendees had the chance to talk for up to two minutes about their concerns or to make comments.

Change boundaries?

Ms. Carrig, director of policy development and administrative programs in the Santa Clara County Office of Education, outlined the steps for changing the boundaries of the school district, whether by transferring territory from one district to another, consolidating a district, or creating a new one.

The process is intricate, she said, but noted that in San Mateo County, the decision would first go to an 11-member county committee on school district organization.

There are nine criteria that are considered in evaluating the potential impacts of district boundary changes. They include ascertaining whether the proposed changes would yield an equitable division of property and facilities, promote racial or ethnic segregation, affect educational programs or increase state costs. The change also can't be made for the sole purpose of increasing property values.

The matter would also go to the governing boards of the school districts involved and might go to voters.

At least two Menlo Park neighborhoods have seceded from the Ravenswood district. In 1976, the unincorporated Menlo Oaks neighborhood broke away from that district on a 3,490-to-3,290 vote. Parents wanted to leave the district and join the Menlo Park City district for "political, social and educational reasons," according to a news clipping from the San Mateo Times. The transfer included about 250 homes and an estimated 64 elementary school students, only eight of whom reportedly attended Ravenswood schools.

In 1983, the Willows neighborhood seceded from the district on a 4,440-to-2,436 vote.

Belle Haven resident Michael Hoff asked how the process might be streamlined in a territory transfer and how to avoid the topic's politicization. Ms. Carrig said the process will most likely involve the state Board of Education, which has an expected timeline of about two to two-and-a-half years to decide such matters.

Other fixes

Others at the meeting, including local educators and parents, defended the Ravenswood district. The problem isn't the district; it's the lack of funding needed to retain good teachers and improve facilities, they said.

Caroline Lucas, an educator who is on the board of the Menlo Park City School District, said she's coached a number of teachers who have started their careers in the Ravenswood district and a few years later wind up working in neighboring districts, where the pay is much better and the students' needs are less demanding.

Cecilia Taylor, a 2016 Menlo Park City Council candidate, grew up in Belle Haven attending schools in the Ravenswood district. She said that the school facilities don't appear to have changed much since she was there in the 1970s.

"That doesn't mean the education is poor, but it does mean that the facility is old," she said.

Ronda White, who was raised in East Palo Alto and teaches at Belle Haven Elementary, encouraged parents in the district to come and look at the schools instead of homeschooling their kids, applying to another district or sending their kids to parochial or private schools, as some attendees said they'd chosen to do rather than send their kids to the Ravenswood schools.

Belle Haven resident and teacher Bronwyn Alexander noted that Belle Haven Elementary has a maker space; access to an on-site public library; a yoga program; science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) education; a music program; and a workshop-based reading and math program.

Marco Duarte, father of four children in the Ravenswood district, said he is pleased with the learning outcomes he's seen for his kids so far. "We're proud to be in Ravenswood schools," he said.

Mr. Ross, the San Mateo County school board member, said that changing district boundaries is possible, but takes a lot of time. Faster changes might be made by looking at initiatives succeeding at charter or public schools that work with students similar to those in the Ravenswood district, or by pursuing a proposal made months ago by Menlo Park Councilman Ray Mueller to start a Joint Powers Authority.

Such an authority would create a cross-jurisdictional board with district and city leaders who could work together to leverage funding for capital improvements in Ravenswood schools. Identified projects needed to bring the district's schools up to the same quality level as neighboring districts are estimated to cost about $350 million, but district can raise only about $50 million through bond measures, Mr. Ross said.

"There is a wildly depressing achievement gap in this county," he said. "We've got the richest and the poorest schools in terms of disparity here."


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4 people like this
Posted by Many GO Bonds
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2017 at 5:19 pm

"[Cecilia Taylor] said that the school facilities don't appear to have changed since she was there in the 1970s"

The residents of Ravenswood passed a $26 million bond measure on June 7 2016 to fund major capital improvements throughout the Ravenswood City School District: Web Link

In 2000, voters in the district passed a $10,000,000 bond measure, meant to "improve technology."

And in 1996, a $6,000,000 bond was passed to "improve technology."

Considering these are GO bonds and can't legally be spend on anything else but what was stipulated in the bonds, where is this money going? It's pretty clear from votes that funds for improving facilities has been spent many many times. But according to Cecilia Taylor, this is not reflected in the quality of the buildings.

what gives????

5 people like this
Posted by Reality
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 19, 2017 at 5:56 pm

Those are 3 tiny bonds to service eight school sites over decades....The loudest critics last night don't even have kids in the district and are single family homeowners. The most interesting information from last night was that students of the same background cohorts are testing the same in Ravenswood District and Menlo Park City School District.

2 people like this
Posted by dkfjasl;fjs
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Sep 19, 2017 at 6:39 pm

The article quotes a cost of $350 million to bring Ravenswood up to the same quality level as neighboring districts. That is an insane amount of money. I'd like to know how that was estimated.

I fully support equal funding per student across districts. It's only fair.

20 people like this
Posted by Ravenswood won't agree
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2017 at 7:24 pm

* Actually, Menlo Park has 3 Ravenswood schools: Belle Haven, Willow Oaks and (the closed) James Flood. In the unlikely scenario where all of Belle Haven was transferred to MPCSD, 3 school facilities would be added to MPCSD.

* Adding Belle Haven to MPCSD will result in a REDUCTION in per-student funding for all Belle Haven and MPCSD students due to thevery large reduction in state aid, since belle haven residents would now be a part of a revenue-limited district.

* Please google "O'Connor Ravenswood MPCSD". O'Connor is a street in the Willows that has some homes in the Ravenswood district; they attempted to move to MPCSD. In your search, you'll learn that Ravenswood is adamantly opposed to any reductions in the size of its district.

How to transfer:

I think the method for transferring a neighborhood to a different school district works something like this (from an almanac article): Web Link

The first step is submitting a petition to the county office of education.

If the petition meets the minimum requirements, including the signatures of more than 25 percent of the registered voters in the area to be transferred, it goes to the County Committee on School District Organization.

The committee then holds public hearings in the districts that would be affected by the boundary change. The school boards of the affected districts can support, oppose, or remain neutral on the petition.

Once the public hearings have been held, the county committee has 120 days to vote on the boundary change. The earliest it could be considered is at its May 4 meeting.

The committee's decision can be appealed to the state board of education.

If either district opposes or remains neutral about the transfer (which would be certain to happen), but it is approved by the county committee (it was denied for the O'Connor homes), an election must be held. The county board would decide which voters would take part in the election, which could include only the homes affected, or residents of either or both affected districts.

1 person likes this
Posted by Staff
a resident of Belle Haven Elementary
on Sep 20, 2017 at 12:16 am

To dkfjasl;fjs,
Here's a direct link to the Ravenswood Facilities Master Plan that answers your question: Web Link

It can also be found on the homepage at Web Link

8 people like this
Posted by Data
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 20, 2017 at 3:20 pm

The 2 strongest predictors of achievement in school for children are (1) parental level of education and (2) parental income. Changing districts will not affect either of these variables - at least in the short term. Redrawing boundaries may ultimately price poorer families out of an area to be replaced with wealthier and more educated parents, and test scores (achievement) will rise.

5 people like this
Posted by influx
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 20, 2017 at 8:38 pm

As with the previous transfers (1976 & 1983), many of the parents are not enrolling their kids in public school. If the county residents Nortb of Marsh and Belle Havan were to merge with MPCSD or create a new district, there would be a big influx of students that were previously unwilling to attend Ravenswood public schools.

11 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Sep 21, 2017 at 5:50 am

Who wouldn’t want their kid to attend a school just a couple of blocks away? That is, if the school is decent. My older son attended the Belle Haven Elementary for 1 year and we were very disappointed. His teacher and the staff were nice, but the pace of teaching was slow (in my opinion) and, most horribly, he picked up a few bad habits like speaking the D word. Since then we moved him to the Tinsley program. He now spends approximately 40 minutes on the school bus each way every day for the exchange of a better level of education I think he deserves (or every child deserves). Aside from the long ride time, he also has to sacrifice the 0 period and any afterschool activities or discussions as the school bus schedule ignores those. Still, we feel luck and we were glad to see that he made into the advanced math class and he scored at the top of the range in the advanced level for both English and math last year.

Some people may oppose the merge of Belle Haven to MPCSD, worrying the quality of education in the other part of the city may have to suffer which is unfair. It is true that we on average may not pay as much property tax as those in the west side. But remember, at the current housing prices, any new comers to this neighborhood are paying a similar level of mortgage and property tax as those in many east bay cities including Pleasanton, most of which have public school systems considerably better than ours. This is not the cheapest place to live in the bay area, but has the worst public education in the bay area. Is this fair for the residents? I can’t say for sure a merge is the magic solution, but can say for sure staying status quo is NOT the solution. We, Belle Haven parents and residents, please unite and seek, or fight if it takes, for a better future for our kids.

4 people like this
Posted by staff
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Sep 25, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Folks make some good points on both sides. I encourage all to think deeply about what will be best for students. That being said, the idea that Menlo park schools are better managed and taught really over simplifies it a good deal. The poverty of Ravenswood District is not just facilities and funding but also reflected in the students and families. That makes a massive impact and changing the school district doesn't magically change that. If you want to use that argument, than a good experiment to test that assumption would be to swap the teaching staff for a month of the schools and see if Menlo Park is able to turn things around. It's a bit like saying students who study piano are better in math. The elephant in the room is that maybe if the kids parents can afford a piano, there's more than just the music making a difference there.

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