For the second time in the past 25 years, the California State Board of Education is deciding the fate of an appeal to transfer 31 households from the Ravenswood City School District into the Menlo Park City School District.
The board was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the matter starting around 10:30 a.m. today (Sept. 6). Access the live stream here.
Representatives of those 31 households, located along the north side of O'Connor Street in the Willows neighborhood and making up the Menlo Park-East Palo Alto border, petitioned in 1992 for their properties to be added to the Menlo Park City School District. The San Mateo County Committee on School District Organization, which is responsible for deciding district boundaries, denied the petition. The petitioners appealed the denial to the state Board of Education, which upheld the county committee's decision.
In December 2014, three residents — Susan Stacy Keller, John Barksdale and Lansing Scriven — created a new petition, gathering signatures and submitting them to the county's education department, requesting that the properties from 235 to 295 O'Connor St. be moved into the Menlo Park district from the Ravenswood district. The county Committee on School District Organization voted unanimously to deny the territory transfer.
The county committee unanimously denied the new petition; its members determined that the petition did not meet three of nine requirement thresholds: that a transfer between districts not promote racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation; not increase school facility costs; and not cause a "substantial negative effect" on the finances of the affected districts.
The petitioners then appealed the committee's decision to the state.
According to a report by the state Board of Education, the state Department of Education did a separate assessment of the situation. The report says the department disagrees with the county's findings that the thresholds were not met, but cites other concerns that led to a recommendation that the state education board deny the appeal.
"These concerns include the racial isolation of students in the Ravenswood (school district) and that district's ongoing fiscal problems," according to the report's authors.
The state's grounds for disagreement with the county's findings are mainly based on the fact that the area that would be transferred includes few children and not much territory.
Ravenswood district Superintendent Gloria Hernandez Goff told The Almanac that previous transfers of territory out of the Ravenswood district have "severely impacted the fiscal health of the district."
As the district has gotten smaller, she said, it's become a "little hub of poverty in the midst of Silicon Valley."
Even if none of the households on O'Connor Street sends kids to the Ravenswood district, she noted, having the Menlo Park homes located in the Ravenswood district boosts the district's assessed property values, since those values in Menlo Park tend to be higher than those in East Palo Alto.
Having higher assessed values boosts the district's bonding capacity, which makes possible higher levels of funding from bond measures to finance projects such as improving school facilities.
According to the state's report, the bonding capacity per enrolled student in the Ravenswood district is about $11,233, whereas in the Menlo Park district, it's $54,416, nearly five times greater.
Because there are more existing parcel taxes in Menlo Park, the transfer would result in losses to the Ravenswood district of about $6,000 annually, while the Menlo Park district would gain about $25,000 annually. Even with the increases, because the Menlo Park district is funded through property taxes alone, it's not expected that the costs to educate new students from that area would be covered.
The proposed transfer would also go against the "spirit" of the 1979 court ruling that led to the creation of the Tinsley voluntary transfer program, the report's authors assert. That program allows minority Ravenswood students to transfer out of the district to attend other local school districts. The court ruling included a settlement order with goals to "further equal educational opportunities" and reduce "minority racial isolation among or between the students of the respondent districts' elementary schools."
"The promotion of diversity was supposed to be a two-way street," Hernandez Goff said. However, she added, the reality is anything but. About 1,200 students leave the Ravenswood district to attend schools in other districts, she said. No students transfer into the Ravenswood district.
"If you look at the Tinsley students, they are all Ravenswood students."
The authors also include, among other reasons in their recommendation to deny the appeal, the fact that approving the appeal could result in encouraging larger portions of Menlo Park to seek transfer into the Menlo Park district – which would have more substantial impacts to the Ravenswood district. The Belle Haven neighborhood of Menlo Park has recently also expressed interest in, and circulated a petition in favor of, leaving the Ravenswood district.
Access the state Board of Education's agenda here.