Menlo Park: State board denies Willows residents' petition to switch school districts

A map of the households that sought to transfer into the Menlo Park City School District from the Ravenswood City School District. (Map courtesy California State Board of Education.)

Near the border with East Palo Alto, one street in Menlo Park's Willows neighborhood experiences a split on school days: Kids who live on the south side of O'Connor Street are designated to attend schools in the Menlo Park City School District, and some need only walk around the block to get to the newly completed Laurel School Upper Campus. Meanwhile, kids who live on the north side of the street are assigned to schools in the Ravenswood City School District – and in some cases, their parents prefer to send them to private schools.

That split will remain following a decision Sept. 6 by the California State Board of Education to deny a petition by residents to transfer 31 households on the north side of O'Connor Street from the Ravenswood district into the Menlo Park district. The board voted 10-0 to deny the petition, with vice president Ilene Straus abstaining.

Citing concerns that the proposed transfer could promote segregation, and could have adverse impacts on the fiscal health of the Ravenswood City School District, the education board weighed in on what has been a decades-long tension between the school districts and residents.

It's not the first time those households have tried to switch districts, according to a report by the California Department of Education. The homes on the north side of O'Connor Street (whose addresses run from 235 to 295 O'Connor St.) were annexed into the city of Menlo Park in 1983. In 1992, the O'Connor Street households tried to transfer from the Ravenswood district to the Menlo Park district, but their petition was denied by the the county committee that controls such boundaries, the San Mateo County Committee on School District Organization. When the residents appealed the petition's denial, the State Board of Education unanimously affirmed the county's decision. At the time, the state board found the petition ran contrary to a court ruling to decrease what it referred to as "racial isolation" in the school districts.

More than two decades later, in December 2014, residents led by three primary petitioners -- Susan Stacy Keller, John Barksdale and Lansing Scriven -- submitted a new petition seeking the same thing: to become part of the Menlo Park school district.

But in March 2015, their petition was denied by the San Mateo County Committee on School District Organization. The county committee unanimously denied the new petition, as 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 have been transferred includes few children and not much territory.

The hearing

During the Sept. 6 hearing, a number of the O'Connor Street residents seeking the transfer spoke of their cohesion with the Willows neighborhood. Resident Ken Hoyle said that his children play on sports teams with other kids in the neighborhood since those teams are within the boundaries of Menlo Park, but added that his kids can't go to school with those same teammates.

"When we played Little League at the Upper Laurel School, I threw a baseball to my house from the school. That is how close we are," he said.

Tim Fox, who introduced himself as San Mateo County's desegregation lawyer – "which is something I didn't think that a person needed to do in the 21st century," he added – opposed the appeal because "granting the petition would isolate students in Ravenswood," he said.

Others said that the Ravenswood district has suffered financially from previous de-annexations, and questioned whether the motives of the O'Connor Street petitioners were tied to goals of increasing property values.

"Please don't give our assets to Menlo Park, one of the richest districts in the state," one East Palo Alto resident asked of the board.

An anti-segregation mandate

The state's report asserts that the proposed transfer would go against the "spirit" of the 1979 court ruling that led to the creation of the Tinsley voluntary transfer program. That program allows minority Ravenswood students to transfer out of the district to attend other local school districts. The court ruling stated the program should "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," Ravenswood district Superintendent Gloria Hernandez Goff told The Almanac. However, she added, the reality is anything but: About 1,200 current K-8 students have left the Ravenswood district to attend schools in other districts. Zero K-8 students transfer into the Ravenswood district, Hernandez Goff said.

"If you look at the Tinsley students, they are all Ravenswood students," she said. `

Fiscal impacts

Previous transfers of territory out of the Ravenswood district have "severely impacted the fiscal health of the district," Hernandez-Goff said.

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 have resulted in losses to the Ravenswood district of about $6,000 annually, while the Menlo Park district would have gained about $25,000 annually, according to the report. 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 have been covered.

A bigger problem?

The authors also included, 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 fiscal 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.

State education board member Bruce Holaday explained before his vote that while the decision was a "tough one," he supported the department's recommendation to deny the appeal. "Moving any houses out of Ravenswood at this point – after all of these years and all of these problems – does increase the concentration of (the) minority population in Ravenswood, and does increase segregation," he said.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated that the homes under discussion were previously part of East Palo Alto.

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10 people like this
Posted by Cheryl
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2018 at 2:22 pm

The state cites the Tinsley Program (applications for next school ear will be released next week on September 15) as an option for Ravenswood residents yet that same program could end soon as Silicon Valley becomes much more diverse. I guess it’s best to take advantage of the program now before the only option becomes Inter-District Transfers.

7 people like this
Posted by Tinsley
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 7, 2018 at 2:48 pm

The diversification arguments are stunningly disingenuous. A few points:

1) The current residents of the 31 houses are remarkably diverse already, well representing the overall area. So transfer would have been balanced.

2) The claim that the Tinsley exchange can allow students to individually select education options is simply false. The Tinsley program was established as a desegregation program. As such it does NOT allow 'white' children to participate. Only people of color may opt out of the Ravenswood school district. And according to Ravenswood's own data, the score there is 1200 to zero. I'm glad it's there for people but let's not call it a fair program in today's times.

3) What ever happened to democratic self determination. The citizens of the 31 households want to be in both the City and school district of Menlo Park. Why should this be prevented?

4) I have become convinced that this decision is based on a disingenuous money grab by Ravenswood school district cloaked in terms of racial equity. Just look at the arguments laid out by Superintendent Hernandez-Goff. As soon as she lays it out as an alleged racial balance issue, no committee dares touch it.

And for the record, I am neither anti-desegregation efforts (we are not 'there' yet in society) nor impacted directly by this decision one way or the other.

30 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2018 at 4:24 pm

For this particular transfer, I really see both sides and think each side can make a reasonable, valid argument both pro or con for the transfer.

That said, I think any consideration for public school boundary changes should be more comprehensive and should have the following goals:

1: Align school district boundaries with other government-agency boundaries, most likely city/town boundaries. These boundaries already work for the cities/towns, so the same should be for school districts.

2: Changes to school boundaries should try to achieve near-revenue-neutral impact at a minimum. For example, if MPCSD took Belle Haven in a territory transfer, both Belle Haven and existing MPCSD students would see a REDUCTION in per-student revenue, which is not OK and counterproductive. Taking on Belle Haven only makes sense if the revenue impact is offset by adding a high-revenue territory, like Lloyden Park, West Atherton (north of Atherton Ave) and/or parts of Menlo Park in the LLESD.

3: Any changes to boundaries should come with additional facilities to account for the increase in potential enrollment for the affected district.

Personally, I think all of Menlo Park and all of Atherton should be in the same K-8 school district. Practically, I know that will be nearly impossible for financial, logistical and political reasons.

6 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 7, 2018 at 4:24 pm

Brian is a registered user.


You need to remember that these are not the only residents of Menlo Park that are in the Ravenswood district. Belle Haven is also part of the Ravenswood district and they are in the same boat as the O'Connor residents. The O'Connor residents (probably not many of whom where here when this happened, has the misfortune of not being part of Menlo Park (they were Unincorporated SM County), when the Willows moved out of Ravenswood and into Menlo Park SD.

It would be great if the residents now put in the level of effort trying to clean up the School board and get Ravenswood on track to be a better district with better schools.

Like this comment
Posted by Tinsley
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 7, 2018 at 4:39 pm


I'm mostly in agreement with you. It goes back to self determination. All of Belle Haven would be a more complex process. Due to funding model differences and other complexities it would be a huge negotiation/battle. But I think that is a legitimate thing to pursue if the residents desired it. (and given 1200 Tinsley transfers in Ravenswood, I have to assume a fair number of Belle Haven families have done just that)

These 31 houses are bit different though:

a) the practicality of being a tiny sliver of either district. It really shouldn't matter to budgets in any real way.
b) the proximity to existing resources (Laurel Upper)
c) the 'silly factor' of a few houses on one side of part of one street being in the City and not the District. Belle Haven is Menlo Park but at least has a 'natural' boundary of the freeway. (Yeah, I know there are parts of EPA on the west side of 101 too.)

20 people like this
Posted by Cheryl
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2018 at 4:47 pm


The territory transfer was denied mostly because “piecemeal” changes like this one may result in more school district boundary changes that make little sense, reflecting poor policy. If it had been approved, more boundary erosion would be encouraged as seen with Lloyden Park in Atherton.

14 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of another community
on Sep 7, 2018 at 5:45 pm

"a) the practicality of being a tiny sliver of either district. It really shouldn't matter to budgets in any real way."


"b) the proximity to existing resources (Laurel Upper)"

I don't agree. Willow Oaks is almost as close (in the Willows as well). And note that Willow Oaks is k-5, so O'Connor k-5 kids would always be able to walk to school. Laurel on the other hand, will require a drive/bus for k-2 (lower Laurel) before being able to walk to Upper Laurel.

"c) the 'silly factor' of a few houses on one side of part of one street being in the City and not the District. Belle Haven is Menlo Park but at least has a 'natural' boundary of the freeway. (Yeah, I know there are parts of EPA on the west side of 101 too.)"

A boundary down a street is not unusual. LLESD<->MPCSD are separated down the middle of Orange and Santa Cruz Ave. MPCSD<->RWCSD are separated down the middle of Atherton Ave and Fair Oaks Ave. Just to name a few.

Like this comment
Posted by Say What?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 7, 2018 at 8:51 pm

"Resident Ken Hoyle said that his children play on sports teams with other kids in the neighborhood since those teams are within the boundaries of Menlo Park, but added that his kids can't go to school with those same teammates."

Yes, this is about property values - Ken Hoyle's son does go to school in Menlo Park City School District.

4 people like this
Posted by Hmm
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2018 at 10:01 am

The Menlo Park sports team boundaries are a terrible example/reason. The kids who live in Menlo Park but in Belle Haven aren’t allowed to join MP little league. Let’s start there for unfair. I’m not sure if it’s just about property values or also unconsciously about race.

9 people like this
Posted by JL
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 8, 2018 at 5:34 pm

The RSD is so incompetently led and managed that it should simply be folded into other, properly managed divisions.

All these claims of pocket of poverty etc are nonsense. If you have read any of the recent articles about the financial mismanagement of the RSD, the mayor of EPA calling out the board for corruption, nepotism and incompetence, the teachers of RSD signing petitions to have the superintendent fired etc then you will know what a joke the smoke screen arguments are, made by the RSD.

As reported by Palo Alto Online, Mayor Ruben Abrica (East Palo Alto) in a letter stated the following: "Your self-inflicted financial crisis … (does) not justify storming and ambushing the City Council to cover up for your mistakes," he wrote in a letter to Pulido, Wilson and Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff on Friday. Source: Web Link

He also faulted Hernandez-Goff in particular for failing to manage the budget, writing in the Saturday letter that her mismanagement "is what triggered the cuts so suddenly instead of collaborative planning of reductions starting three years ago. "This is being called a 'reform' and a 'new culture,' but it's really a culture of corruption, intimidation and coverup, Abrica wrote. He stated that when Hernandez-Goff was hired in 2013, the district budget's ending balance was $8 million. Without budget cuts this coming year, the county projected the 2018-19 ending balance would be negative $3.3 million, he wrote.”

“In a letter presented to the school board... the Ravenswood Teachers Association said problems with Hernandez-Goff’s performance have emerged since she came to the district almost four years ago, but that the 2016-2017 school year has produced the most blatantly unprofessional and aggressively hostile actions we have seen.” Source: Web Link

How is this level of incompetence even tolerated in Silicon Valley in 2018?

4 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2018 at 3:38 pm

Every petition that the San Mateo County Committee on School District Organization receives involves the following scenario: Someone living on the edge of a school district perceived at undesirable (Redwood City, Ravenswood, LHPUSD) puts together a petition to move into the adjoining district, which is, of course, perceived as a desirable district (Menlo Park, Portola Valley, Woodside). In every single case, the petitioners disingenuously argue that this is not because of racial bias or property values. In every case, the true reason is exactly racial bias and property values. The worst example was the Pacific Parc condo complex petition. Their homes are adjacent (as in, they literally look out their windows into the play yard) to the Willow Oaks School. But they didn't want their kids to go there, so instead of working to contribute to the community schools in the district they voluntarily moved into, they petitioned to move into the Menlo Park district. Those people should truly be ashamed of themselves.

This latest petition is no different and I'm very glad that the state school board didn't fall for it this time. Instead of leaving, roll up your sleeves and make your community schools better.

5 people like this
Posted by Jeff Leroux
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 12, 2018 at 5:25 pm

@Citizen. Pretty bold generalizations and broad accusations of racist motivations on the part of petitioners. Sadly, you are engaging in personal attacks and insults instead of addressing the specific arguments made in the petition. You have accused the members of 31 households of being racist in their attempt to send their children to a different school system. How easy it is to engage in such destructive and divisive rhetoric when you can hide behind a pseudonym on a public forum. Your arguments as to the motivations of the petitioners demonstrates how weak your argument is when that is all you have left - personal insults and libel. You apparently received a degree in Race Relations from Trump University.

31% of Menlo Park residents are visible minorities. The Willows and not surprisingly the petitioners are representative of those statistics. I am for example in a mixed race marriage and signed that petition. According to your Trumpian logic, I too am a racist. The African American family up the street that signed are racists, the Latino family four doors down that signed are racist etc....

Thank you "Citizen" for demonstrating the hate, ignorance and bias of the "no" side on this petition. Your comments are part of a bigger problem "Citizen". You are not part of any potential solution with bigoted generalizations like that. How can we have a reasoned debate on the facts when you have hate to spew.

2 people like this
Posted by K in MP
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Sep 13, 2018 at 5:35 pm

K in MP is a registered user.

@ Citizen
You may not be aware of two facts:

1) The residential property at Pacific Parc is literally surrounded by MPCSD. Unlike any other petition ever presented to the State, they were not on an edge of one District trying to move “to the other side of the street”, but were literally an island of one District within another District.

2). The students that attend Willow Oaks Elementary come from at least 1 mile away. It is not the school of the neighborhood in which it resides.

The State let that transfer go through because they recognized these two facts and that fact that the transfer would not be precedent setting since there are no other cases like this within the State.

2 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2018 at 2:57 pm


I am very familiar with the specific details of the cases that I describe. I got a good chuckle out of your comment about "Trump University". Actually, my degree is from Stanford University and I'm not a Trump fan. It is quite possible for people who are not white to be racist. Perhaps a better word is "classist." The Pacific Parc petitioners were, indeed, racially mixed, but not socio-economically mixed. And the argument that they were an island was and still is specious. The fact remains that Pacific Parc is immediately adjacent to an elementary school that is in the Ravenswood School District, so they are not an island by any definition except by the petitioners who used that as an excuse to keep their children from attending school with the children playing and learning right next door to their homes.

There is no hate (more like sadness and disgust in my fellow Stanford alumni for their lack of character), certainly no ignorance (I likely know more about that petition than you do) and no bias. My children attended school in a district perceived as less desirable, and they are now successful, happy, educated adults. But my family and I volunteered extensively to help not only our own children, but all of my community's children, including those from racial and/or socio-economic backgrounds that are different from my own, have a better educational experience.

My opinion is based on the facts of that case and of other petitions. You can look them up, Jeff. Find me a petition in which someone on the edge of the Menlo Park or Woodside or Portola Valley districts sought to move their property into Redwood City or Ravenswood. Of course you will find none. And other petitions similar to Pacific Parc's have been denied by the State Board since then, so I'm not the only one who is of this opinion.

Have a nice day.

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 14, 2018 at 3:02 pm


You are wrong. While I am sure that property values play a factor I don't think that is the top reason for wanting to be in a better school district. I think the primary reason is that people want their children to get a good education. I speak from experience when I say that is not very likely in Schools like Willow Oaks that you use as an example. That school has a rating of 1 out of 10, it has been providing a terrible education to students for 40 years (I know this personally). Efforts to improve if have consistently failed and if you look at the Superintendent and the School Board it is easy to understand why. However only part of the blame goes to the superintendent and board because they are elected by the residents of the district. If people don't care enough about the education of the children to elect people who care then they deserve at least some of the blame.

The Willows neighborhood chose to join the Menlo Park School District in 1983 because of the poor education at Willow School. Pacific Parc was build much later and being right in the middle of an area that is part of the Menlo School district it only made sense to be in that district.

Your comments on racial bias are off base and unless you have proof of this you should withdraw them, they only make you look bad.

2 people like this
Posted by Jeff Leroux
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 14, 2018 at 5:27 pm

@ Citizen.

How very nice you refuse to acknowledge the ignorant, and just plain wrong, generalization you made about all the petitioners trying to adjust school districts... as being racist in their motivations. You double down on your accusations of racism and rename it "classist". How very "Trumpian" of you. You add intellectual cowardice to your argument by casting this libel behind a virtual white hood of anonymity.

Thank you for continuing to represent the "no" side. You may not recognize your ignorance as hate, but the way you articulate things it sure comes out that way. Your logic and delusion is very much that of racist old white people that do not think they are racist. At least you can now get why Trump supporters are so difficult to debate with. Facts don't matter. They think they are pretty clever too.

Have fun in your own little Trump World. You can't hide behind pathetic cries of racism once all the facts come out about the RSD. You have no arguments, only power and incompetence. The power will come and one day it will go... and then you are left with incompetence... and a board that represents the community... not a biased, ignorant, misguided agenda.

Get back to work. The teachers of RSD are trying to rebel again...

Like this comment
Posted by Citizen
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2018 at 5:39 pm


I have no intention of withdrawing comments about racial or socio-economic bias, nor am I the least bit concerned with whether or not you think I "look bad." There is absolutely bias involved and it is very apparent to anyone who is objective about this topic. The ratings of Willow Oaks school are low because the students are coming from low-income households. By moving higher socio-economic students out of the district, that simply exacerbates the problem. Any one of the Pacific Parc residents could have chosen to run for the Ravenswood School Board and helped to solve the problem. Instead, they chose flight. What does that teach our kids? In my opinion that teaches them that they are not responsible for bettering their own communities. The last thing we need is more insular, selfish people in this world.

The fact remains (and anyone can just drive down Willow Road and see for themselves) that Pacific Parc is immediately adjacent to Willow Oaks School. They literally look down out of their 2nd story windows into the play ground. What they did in 1983 is not relevant (and you've only made my point - if the Willows neighborhood folks had not been permitted to leave Ravenswood in 1983, it would have a better socio-economic balance now.)

There will be a tipping point as higher socio-economic families inch further and further into EPA and East Menlo Park and they can't all just keep trying to move their homes into a different school district. Eventually they will have to invest in the school district that they actually live in. The people who choose to do that have my respect and admiration. The ones who turn a blind eye to the school right next door to them do not.

We are not likely to see eye-to-eye on this issue, Brian. I completely opposed the Pacific Parc petition and I believe the State Board was wrong in over-turning the local decision. It was a decision that just pushed the problem down the road.

Have a lovely weekend.

Like this comment
Posted by Member
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 8, 2018 at 10:54 am


You state "...the argument that they were an island was and still is specious...The fact remains (and anyone can just drive down Willow Road and see for themselves) that Pacific Parc is immediately adjacent to Willow Oaks School. They literally look down out of their 2nd story windows into the play ground."

If you had done your research, you would know that Willow Oaks school itself is in fact an island in the MPCDS, only connected to the residents of Ravenswood City School District by a gerrymandered route of commercial and federal properties. The students that attend that school are not from the neighborhood in which it resides.

You can "think" and "feel" anything you want, but when you state "facts", please be sure they are valid.

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

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