Equity for Menlo Park students discussed at school district meeting


Menlo Park City Council members, residents and community organizers attended a Menlo Park City School District study session about student equity on June 12 to let school board members know that they believe the district should take a closer look at the subject.

The meeting came on the heels of the school board's approval earlier this year of a teacher compensation philosophy, which was created out of an interest in hiring and retaining the "most qualified and exceptional teachers and staff" given the area's high cost of living, according to a fall 2018 district statement. The philosophy, which will guide the district in future salary negotiations, states that the district wants to consider compensation increases higher than what neighboring districts are offering. The district also wants to expand its data beyond compensation to include how it compares to other districts with regard to achievement gains, programs and staffing ratios.

The school board has been meeting with the district's teachers union, the Menlo Park Education Association, on salary negotiations and these discussions will continue into the fall, district public information officer Parke Treadway said in an email.

The policy made some board members ponder how districts with the highest pay attract the best teachers, potentially negatively impacting nearby districts that can't afford to pay their teachers as much. Students in other districts can suffer if the best teachers at their schools are pulled into the Menlo Park school district, board Vice President Caroline Lucas said at a previous meeting. This compelled Superintendent Erik Burmeister to host the June 12 meeting to discuss equity in the district.

Much of the public comment and board conversation focused on how to better foster a sense of community for students entering Menlo-Atherton High School who come from three public school districts -- Menlo Park, Las Lomitas and Ravenswood.

Menlo Park Mayor Pro Tem Cecilia Taylor said during the public comment section of the meeting that she was grateful the district is discussing equity and that she sees it as a practice, "not just a word in a sentence." Taylor said she'd also like to see the word "diversity" more often in local bodies' guiding principles.

Parents spoke and wrote to the board about the divides they see between students from the more socio-economically disadvantaged Ravenswood School District and students from the Las Lomitas and Menlo Park school districts once they attend M-A together.

"We seem to expect our students to create a beautiful melting pot as they enter M-A High School, without having equipped them to do so," Oak Knoll School parent Kristin Hansen wrote in a June 12 letter to the board. "However, not only are students highly academically tracked into different classrooms as they enter M-A High School, but they also enter with little or no basis for social interaction outside the classroom. In so many ways, we are setting up our children to see academic and social segregation along socioeconomic dividing lines as 'normal.'"

Menlo Park Councilwoman Betsy Nash said it's important the district include equity as one of its core values. The district's definition of community should include all of Menlo Park, said.

"Families and kids are coming together at M-A, and equity and inclusion benefits every student and every family," she said.

The board is also considering tweaking the district's mission and guiding principles to include the word "equity" with regard to decisions the district makes. Lucas said having this word in its guiding principles would have been helpful to the district when it decided to close its schools in the fall, when smoke from the Camp Fire affected Peninsula air quality.

"We closed school because it felt like the right thing to do, but it didn't feel equitable," she said. Lucas noted that there were many district families who didn't have child care during the school day, which posed safety and health problems since some children were left without adult supervision.

"This is an example where if we don't add the word 'equitable,' we will say, 'We think this is right,' but it might not be equitable," she said.

In a June 14 email, Lucas said, "I think that the broad turn out of parents, community members, elected officials, teachers, local small business owners, and nonprofit founders, indicates that the topic of equity is important. I heard constituents call on us to define equity and community. Because the term equity means different things to different people, I believe our first step is to clearly define equity, what it is and what it isn't. We need to define the word community so that when we discuss issues of equity, we know to what group they apply."


It's important to go beyond conversations and set clear actions the board can take to better support equity, trustee Sherwin Chen said.

"I don't want to throw words with 'equity' into these documents and then go back to business as usual," he said.

Trustee Scott Seywell suggested the district seek advice from Stanford University researchers on addressing equity.

School board President David Ackerman said school curriculum needs to include more mention of unconscious biases.

One community member suggested the district open school libraries during the summer to increase literacy. Not all students have public library cards and fall behind during the summer when they're not reading regularly, she said.

Las Lomitas School District parent Heather Hopkins said access to early education programs can minimize equity problems later in a child's life. Seywell noted that the district recently opened its Early Learning Center (ELC), but it doesn't have the funding to offer spots to all eligible children. The ELC enrolls children just under 3 years old to 5 years old and is expanding to about 88 students this fall. To support the school's mission of serving a socio-economically diverse group of students, the ELC subsidizes tuition for 25% of the preschoolers on a sliding scale based on family income.

The school district goes "above and beyond" to ensure students can participate in activities regardless of ability to pay, Burmeister said. For example, the district provides 400 free passes to students who can't afford to go to summer camps on district campuses and for children of some staff members.

One community member said the board should consider what relatively inexpensive means it can take to "move the needle" on student equity.

Next steps

Lucas hopes the district will support the establishment of an equity committee, build in recurring board equity conversations and set an equity goal for the superintendent.

The board will consider changes in language to the district's guiding documents, Treadway said in an email. It will also consider establishing a team to further the discussion on equity and potentially hosting more study sessions during the 2019-20 school year.

View a video of the meeting here.


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2 people like this
Posted by West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 5, 2019 at 12:24 pm

So what, exactly. are these folks saying about equity? What if I spend an hour reading every night with my kid and my neighbor does not, and therefore the kid doesn't do as well in reading. That's not "equitable." What if I can get a tutor for my kid and my neighbor cannot. Not equitable. What if my neighbor's kid gets a 10 point higher score on an IQ test than my kid. Definitely not equitable. So just what are these folks saying? Not all students have library cards and don't read during the summer, so they fall behind. Does that mean we need to pull the kids out of sports camp and force them to spend time at the library? This is slightly moronic. There are differences in how kids are raised, what parents value, and innate abilities and interests that kids have. Are we going to try to force normalize that aspect of their lives?

I would truly like to see some of their thoughts behind the words they have spoken.

Like this comment
Posted by West meet East
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jul 5, 2019 at 1:52 pm

It doesnt take a Stanford Research team to figure out why a small town has 3 school districts.
Equity is about the haves vs the have nots and why the School District perpetuates the divide with money and more money

19 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of another community
on Jul 5, 2019 at 3:59 pm

"Consider compensation increases above what is considered comparable to our neighboring districts"


MPCSD is running deficits...despite record increased in property tax and parcel tax revenue...yet wants to increase spending above what they've even considered comparables in the past.

And this despite current compensation being the highest for ALL elementary school districts in the Bay Area.

Well...they're bold, I'll give them that. At least they're de facto admitting they need more parcel taxes for higher salaries, not CalSTRS funding.

Their next parcel tax will be defeated.

8 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 5, 2019 at 6:48 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"Their next parcel tax will be defeated."

We'll do our best to defeat it, but you can bet the board will spend a LOT on convincing voters with children to vote while ignoring if not down right trying to suppress the vote of the rest of us. There's absolutely no way I will approve another parcel tax. I didn't vote for the last one, but it passed because the board was able to motivate voters with children in the district. Expect the same with the next parcel tax ask.

7 people like this
Posted by Mark Gilles
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 7, 2019 at 7:44 pm

We have three school districts in Menlo Park that feed into the Sequoia Union HSD . The equity that some are seeking could be achieved by merging into one school district. Many oppose that concept because MPCSD and Las Lomitas are well funded and high achieving. The concept of merging would be more effective than a change in semantics. Adding a magic word to solve inequality is a ridiculous non solution

16 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of another community
on Jul 8, 2019 at 12:03 pm

"The equity that some are seeking could be achieved by merging into one school district. Many oppose that concept because MPCSD and Las Lomitas are well funded and high achieving."

In fairness to MPCSD, it should be pointed out that Ravenswood SD receives more funding...both per-student and in absolute dollars...than MPCSD.

If you merged those 3 school districts, the result would be lower per-student funding for ALL students in the merged district, since the newly-created school district would see a large reduction in state funding, since it would now be a community-funded district.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Gilles
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 8, 2019 at 3:45 pm

The claim that it is not possible to merge districts because Ravenswood received more money than MPCSD is at best cherry picking. Ravenswood has approximately 1000 more students, 99 percent eligible for reduced price lunches. MPCSD has roughly 10% eligible. All school districts in California are facing huge increases in pension expenses that they cannot simply ignore. If the contention is that funds are being mismanaged then look at the board, but simply railing against the funding shortfall is not constructive

10 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2019 at 9:22 am

"The claim that it is not possible to merge districts"

Strawman. Nobody in this thread claimed that it's not possible to merge districts.

However, it appears that you do not grasp the full impact of your proposed merger. Funding per-student goes DOWN in your proposed merger. And while all kids would be impacted by that drop in funding, the bulk of that impact would affect the children that need that funding the most: children in Belle Haven.

Side note: I couldn't help but notice Mark Gilles claims to be in unincorporated San Mateo County. I hope Mr. Gilles realizes that his proposed merger would only include Belle Haven, MPCSD and Las Lomitas, and not sections currently served by the Redwood City School District.

It's also worth pointing out that before any proposed merger, it would be helpful to know whether it would be effective in improving the performance of Belle Haven students. Fortunately, the Tinsley program should provide excellent insight into the impact of having Ravenswood students in other Districts.

What does the data say? Do you know?

2 people like this
Posted by Mark Gilles
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 9, 2019 at 11:53 am

Train Fan,
I do not claim to be an expert or an advocate, but I don't hide my identity either. I have had two children who went through MPCSD, and served on the bond oversight committee when i lived in the district. I continue to support MPCSD, along with Menlo Atherton.

I do think that the districts should seek efficient operations which could be achieved through eliminating duplicative operations. I also believe that people that vote against financial support for the schools simply because they don't have children in the district should think again. Strong schools require funding. You may oppose funding the increasing burden of pensions which are now about 20% of the budget and growing, but the districts must pay them so that is drawing funding away from delivering quality education.

10 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2019 at 7:16 pm

"the districts should seek efficient operations which could be achieved through eliminating duplicative operations"

I agree. However, that would not close the gap with the large drop in state funding. This has been discussed in previous almanacnews discussion threads, and I'm not the only one to review the numbers and come to this conclusion; just search for Jennifer Bestor's posts (you'll likely find mine as well), where she came to the same result.

Just to be clear, I'm not opposed to a merger, per se. The issue is that the proponents of mergers invariably are unwilling to do the work it would take to overcome the funding deficit.

When you and other merger proponents come up with a viable plan to address the funding shortfall and do the hard work of getting it implemented, I will fully support a merger.

Your move.

"Strong schools require funding."

And fund MPCSD we most certainly do. The taxpayers in MPCSD do not get enough credit for the financial largess that MPCSD imbues on its infrastructure and staff.

Here's a small sample of how financially over-the-top MPCSD is in comparison to many nearby peers:

revenue-per-student (2017-2018 school year data):
* MPCSD: $17,213
* San Carlos SD: $11,765
* Belmont SD: $10,975
* Burlingame SD: $10,781

San Carlos accomplishes similar performance on $5,448/student LESS revenue.

"You may oppose funding the increasing burden of pensions"

Revenue has far, far outpaced pension funding. Compared to the 2016-2017 school year:

* Revenue: up ~8.2 million
* pension obligation: up ~2 million
* student count: DOWN

That leaves over 6 million left.

"pensions which are now about 20% of the budget and growing"

1: It's 18.1%, yet revenue has still far, far outpaced pension funding.

2: After 2020-2021 school year, the CalSTRS funding percentage is projected to DROP. If you don't believe me, then believe the Legislative Analyst's Office...observe: Web Link

"[CalSTRS] is drawing funding away from delivering quality education."

Wrong, at least for MPCSD (though I agree it's probably true in many other school districts).

MPCSD revenue from property taxes and the current FOUR parcel taxes are far, far outpacing pension funding.

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