Amid criticism, Ravenswood school board approves budget cuts

Community criticizes board's lack of action

At a tense, chaotic and at-times hostile meeting on Thursday night, the Ravenswood City School District Board of Education approved more than $5 million in budget cuts to remain fiscally solvent in the coming year.

The board approved, on a 4-0 vote with member Marielena Gaona-Mendoza abstaining, the elimination of 83 jobs, primarily classified staff.

The district is facing a multiyear budget shortfall due to years of declining enrollment and a corresponding loss in state revenue, compounded by several years of deficit spending.

As district leadership continued to insist that Ravenswood is not in a financial crisis, parents, staff and community members at the standing-room-only meeting criticized the board and superintendent for mismanaging the budget and being slow to take action. The district now faces tight deadlines imposed by the San Mateo County Office of Education, which provides fiscal oversight for the school district, in order to balance its budget for the next fiscal year.

"The enrollment trends have been there for years," Ruben Abrica, the mayor of East Palo Alto, told the board. "This crisis that's going on right now, you probably could have prevented it three years ago if you had done some planning."

Outraged parents hurled criticisms from the audience at some board members and at Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff out of turn, prompting board President Ana Pulido to use her gavel to regain order of the meeting several times and to ultimately ask one mother to leave the room.

Many parents and staff spoke in support of Ravenswood's preschool program, the Child Development Center (CDC). The majority of staff there — 28 out of 31 positions — could lose their jobs under the cuts the board approved on Thursday, though the district does not plan to close the center.

Hernandez-Goff said Ravenswood can no longer afford to operate the center, so the district is considering whether the county Office of Education or state Department of Education can assume operations. Some parents suggested the district approach the city of East Palo Alto to help run the program.

Multiple board members stated strong support for preserving the CDC's services, which parents described as critical for low-income, working families in East Palo Alto.

Some teachers urged the board to look to the district office for more cuts, arguing that the loss of the identified classified positions, including support staff for teachers, will have a direct impact on students.

The district plans to cut eight certificated management positions, three classified management positions, three classified confidential positions and 54 classified staff from the 2018-19 budget. Cuts will also be made to adjust the amount of special-education services, including psychological support, for which the district contracts with outside agencies proportionally to the number of students served.

The district has said no teachers will lose their jobs, but staff are planning for a reduction in 28 teacher positions through annual attrition and the conservative assumption that a parcel tax that expires in June would not be renewed by voters. The parcel tax funds 13 teaching positions, the equivalent of $1.1 million.

During a presentation on Thursday, San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Anne Campbell also characterized the Ravenswood board as slow to act. Other local districts facing budget woes due to shrinking enrollment — caused primarily by the opening of charter schools and the increasing cost of living in the region — have been more proactive, she said, citing Redwood City School District.

"The difference between Redwood City and Ravenswood right now is that over the last several years the Redwood City board has been making budget cuts as they go through to accommodate the declining enrollment and lack of revenue that's generated," Campbell said.

Ravenswood, which currently enrolls about 2,700 K-8 students, has lost about 1,100 students since 2013, Campbell said. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years. Enrollment drives state revenue, with the amount of funding Ravenswood receives determined by the district's average daily attendance, or the number of days a student attends school in a year divided by the number of instructional days.

The district is spending more than it's receiving and also faces the looming, potential loss of $1.1 million if the parcel tax is not renewed this summer, Campbell said. She warned of the more stringent oversight ahead if the district does not make the cuts required to remain fiscally solvent, including the most extreme outcome that the state would take over running the distric.

Campbell said her office is in touch with the state's Fiscal Crisis Management and Assistance Team, which provides financial assistance to counties and school districts, about Ravenswood's budget.

School leadership defended the district's position and the proposed cuts.

Board Vice President Sharifa Wilson, who said the district "looked at every single area" in the budget for cuts, criticized what she described as "the cannibalistic nature of this district."

"There are people sitting there willing to sacrifice other people," she said, referring to calls for eliminating staff in the district office.

Acknowledging that the board has been talking about the budget since at least the start of this school year, Wilson said she's "not willing to kick the can down the road anymore."

In contrast with Campbell — whose presentation included a photograph of a stormy, foreboding sky with lightning in the background, titled "Ravenswood's current financial picture" — Hernandez-Goff said that "what is happening tonight is not a crisis but rather the application of new fiscal principles that will strengthen the future of our district."

Gaona-Mendoza was the only critical board member. She also urged the district to trim the central administration or contracted services such as public relations. She argued that the cuts as proposed could result in further loss of students.

"When we fail the students, parents are going to go somewhere else," she said.

The other two sitting board members, Marcelino Lopez and Charlie Knight, made no comments throughout the meeting.

Some teachers also blasted the district for not soliciting sufficient input from its unions prior to taking action on the reductions. The proposals were presented to the teachers and classified employee unions in negotiations sessions on Jan. 31, but teachers said it was not enough time to provide feedback.

The district is required to bargain over the effect of any layoffs or a decision to reduce a person's hours, but not the actual layoffs, Chief Budget Official Steve Eichman said.

The school district is required to meet certain deadlines set by the county Office of Education, including to present layoff resolutions to the school board on Feb. 22 in advance of a March 15 legal deadline to notify staff who might lose their jobs.

The board will next discuss the budget at a retreat on Saturday, Feb. 17, at 9 a.m. at the district office, 2120 Euclid Ave., East Palo Alto.

Related content:

Webcast: Ravenswood's budget crisis

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10 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 10, 2018 at 11:11 am

Another mis-managed government agency. Combine all these school districts into one large county one. It could save money and get the board of supervisors involved since the board is broken down into districts now. Still get their individual needs satisfied at a less price tag. Involve the city and town councils too. Something like a JPA, where everyone gets a seat at the table! Wait, this makes too much sense!

9 people like this
Posted by Kendra
a resident of Belle Haven Elementary
on Feb 10, 2018 at 9:47 pm

They should have been cutting all along rather than waiting and creating a crisis atmosphere. Wonder how many relatives of board members and administrators will lose their jobs?

16 people like this
Posted by Hans D.
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 12, 2018 at 7:16 pm

Other people have said this, but it bears repeating- we really should unify the elementary school districts that feed into Menlo-Atherton High School. Doing so would reduce overhead (1 Superintendent instead of 3, for example) and create a shared sense of purpose. Anything short of that is a waste of valuable reform effort.

9 people like this
Posted by P. Phan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2018 at 9:13 am

I was surprised by the reduction in enrollment (down 1100 students since 2013). I would have thought that enrollment would have increased -- to track with rising population there. Is the reduction due to fewer Ravenswood families having kids, or due to all of the kids that get bused out of the Ravenswood District to attend Menlo Park schools? Maybe some combination of the two?

6 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 13, 2018 at 11:16 am

Ravenswood schools are terrible, e.g. Belle Haven gets a 2/10 on Greatschools - Web Link has the details.

Parents who are engaged will take any option they can to get their kids out of terrible schools - transfers (e.g. Tinsley), charters, moving to another district, etc. Also, high schoolers go to M-A, which is solid.

At this point, the district has self-selected down to kids of parents who either aren't engaged enough to find another option, or aren't capable of finding another option and can't move.

8 people like this
Posted by P. Phan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2018 at 1:15 pm

MP Resident, thank you for the information. I had no idea -- no kids. I'm sure there are many aspects to this problem that I'm not aware of, but it seems that if the District were to rescind all these transfers then many problems would be solved -- both in MP schools and in Ravenswood -- they influx of students and $$ would shore up their District and boost the quality. It seems that both districts would want that, no?

4 people like this
Posted by Steve_J
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2018 at 2:04 pm

Steve_J is a registered user.

The superintendent need to be removed for allowing this. She would rather fight with city councils the take hold of the reign's of here district. Each board member needs to be recalled, and the district combined with a completely functioning district. There is no excuse for this to happen.

6 people like this
Posted by Great Lakes
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 13, 2018 at 2:26 pm

I've wondered the same as the post from Phan. Why are so many kids being shipped all over the city for school when they have half-full schools in their own backyard -- the Ravenswood schools. Traffic is terrible. Can't imagine how much time is wasted sitting in traffic. As Phan said, if the Ravenswood kids stayed in their district then the district will have funding to fix up the schools. If the schools are fixed up -- there is no need to force all these kids on the bus. With the way its going now, pretty soon all of the kids in Ravenswood will be going to school out of their district. Certainly this can't be good. The District should take action to stop all of this.

4 people like this
Posted by Fix the schools
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Feb 13, 2018 at 3:00 pm

One fix would be to cap the transfers of students between Districts. If a cap is in place already, then consider lowering it. Maybe to no more than 5% of registered students, then determine eligibility through a combination of merit testing (2/3rs of that) and a lottery (1/3rd), or something similar. I imagine there would be a backlash if this were made retroactive, but putting something like this in place now would stop the student drain out of Ravens Wood moving forward.

2 people like this
Posted by new in town
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2018 at 3:40 pm

Ravenswood is a Basic Aid district meaning their funding is given on a per-student basis. When students leave the district schools, the funding decreases.

Two primary reasons for the drop are:
1) Cost of living is driving many families with children to leave the area. Pop growth is possibly more young tech workers.
2) Charter schools which are good for the students, but pull resources from the district.

Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by Crazy
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2018 at 7:35 pm

Meanwhile, in Menlo Park, they want another 60 million dollars so they can demolish and rebuild La Entrada and Las Lomitas. And in Portola Valley, they want something like 70 or 80 million to demolish and rebuild their two tiny little schools. Woodside just rebuilt theirs.

What is wrong with this picture? Wouldn’t you send your child out of Ravenswood, too, if you had the chance? I’m appalled by all of this.

4 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 14, 2018 at 6:22 am

Phan and Great Lakes, how about you volunteer your kids to be the first?

The kids are not being bused because buses they're being forced to, they're being bused to get an actual education, and bused because they or their parents want to (because one's future is more important than avoiding some time on a bus)

Once a school system hits this sort of death spiral, you really need a clean reboot. Trying to force kids with a choice into Ravenswood won't work; they'll just move first.

4 people like this
Posted by P. Phan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 14, 2018 at 9:14 am

Regarding the last comment -- I don't have kids, just trying to understand what the issues are and what is presently being done. To me, busing kids out of Ravenswood doesn't seem like a good solution for Ravenswood. Its more like the District is avoiding meaningful structural changes that would help all of them.

Maybe the Ravenswood district could work with State so that the community could reappropriate some of the piles of taxpayers cash that the fire District has.

2 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 14, 2018 at 8:12 pm

Ravenswood has avoided meaningful structural change for many years. At this point, it's beyond meaningful structural change - despite historically high spending, the buildings are dilapidated, the leadership is inept (see above), and most of the good teachers are gone. Without a clean reboot, it's really unlikely to get better.

Like this comment
Posted by Kids first
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on May 7, 2018 at 1:22 pm

Very, very sad. Our school funding scheme, as it stands, helps the children of rich property owners get a better education and denies the children of those without means a quality education. It ensures that the disadvantaged stay disadvantaged. That's why parents yank their kids from Ravenswood and send them to schools on the "right side" of the tracks - schools whose funding is supplemented by the likes of the MPAEF, which raises over $3,000,000 a year to help fund the Menlo Park City School District. How can a district like Ravenswood possibly survive? I agree with MP Resident about the clean reboot. Unfortunately, I think the only way that is going to happen is with the gentrification of East Menlo and EPA. The young techies who come to work for Facebook will buy up and remodel properties, have children, and then demand better schools. Eventually, Ravenswood will join the ranks of Menlo Park, Belmont, and San Carlos. But not because the disadvantaged students were saved by their community, or by the State, but because they don't live there anymore. Reality bites.

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

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