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Guest opinion: Help the Menlo Park City School District create a new financial plan

Strategy could include $2M in permanent budget cuts, new parcel tax

Andi Dehne speaks to her kindergarten class on the second day of in-person instruction at Oak Knoll Elementary School in Menlo Park on Sept. 29, 2020. Each student sits on an assigned yoga mat with an individual desk and supplies. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Dear Menlo Park and Atherton communities,

As the Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) develops a sustainable financial plan that supports the high-quality public education we provide our children, I invite you to share your input with the governing board. We are hosting a series of community engagement sessions beginning Feb. 22 as we consider a strategy that includes both budget cuts and a replacement parcel tax.

In spring 2017 voters overwhelmingly passed the Measure X parcel tax to provide our K-8 district a four-year runway to develop our long-term plans. The district embarked on a multiyear financial planning process. Hundreds of community members worked with us to refine what an outstanding education means and how a visionary community could fund its public schools, while ensuring that MPCSD could recruit, retain, and invest in its teachers for generations.

The district developed the Vision for Outstanding Public Education, an aspirational statement that outlines the resources necessary to provide equitable access to a whole-child education where every student can thrive. The board adopted a "teacher compensation philosophy" that stated that gifted teachers are the single most important factor in fulfilling our mission. It affirmed our commitment to elevating the teaching profession and paying teachers an attractive Bay Area salary. And we pursued the possibility of significantly growing our education foundation's endowment to a point where it could reliably roll off a meaningful contribution to our budget every year, thus reducing what we needed to ask of taxpayers.

Then, one year ago the pandemic struck, triggering the current recession and forcing everyone to adjust their financial outlooks.

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I am enormously proud of how MPCSD has responded to the pandemic. We were the first Bay Area school district to welcome students back on campus in September. With comprehensive health and safety protocols in place, we are fortunate to have kept our campuses open ever since. We have maintained low rates of COVID cases in schools, with no confirmed instances of on-campus transmission. I am humbled and grateful every day for my colleagues and every entity we work with to keep our schools open and our children and teachers safe.

Our pandemic response efforts have benefited not only MPCSD families, but neighboring districts and members of the public as well. We have helped bring free and accessible COVID testing to our entire community by partnering with Curative, SRI and others to locate a testing kiosk at Middlefield Road and Ravenswood Avenue. It is accessible to neighboring school districts and other local communities, including Redwood City and East Palo Alto. More recently, we have advocated for teacher vaccinations and are working with the San Mateo County Office of Education to plan vaccine events for educators throughout the county.

However, from a financial perspective, the pandemic and recession have brought new funding challenges as well as additional COVID-related expenses, amounting to millions of dollars.

Even in normal times, MPCSD relies on the generosity of our community to fund the excellent education that Encinal, Laurel, Oak Knoll, and Hillview Middle schools provide. Due to arcane unintended consequences of Proposition 13, MPCSD receives far fewer property tax dollars per student than neighboring districts. As a result, community investment in the form of philanthropic giving and parcel taxes represents over 20% of our annual budget.

Our community has supported its schools time and again because we all benefit from the excellent education that our local public schools provide, and we know how valuable it is to live in a community with great schools. More importantly, we all recognize the importance of educating the next generation. Directly or indirectly, the quality of the MPCSD experience affects us all.

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Now I come to you with another opportunity to engage with us to develop a financial plan that maintains our high-quality programs as we emerge from the pandemic and its economic repercussions. We are considering over $2 million in permanent budget cuts, including reducing district office administration, modifying our music, language and physical education programs, and tightening our class sizes. Replacing Measure X is also part of the plan, and we look for your input on the size and duration of our new parcel tax. Please attend an upcoming school board meeting or a special community engagement session to share your voice with me and my colleagues. You can find session dates and more information at district.mpcsd.org/engage.

Sherwin Chen is president of the Menlo Park City School District school board.

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Guest opinion: Help the Menlo Park City School District create a new financial plan

Strategy could include $2M in permanent budget cuts, new parcel tax

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Sat, Feb 20, 2021, 8:39 am

Dear Menlo Park and Atherton communities,

As the Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) develops a sustainable financial plan that supports the high-quality public education we provide our children, I invite you to share your input with the governing board. We are hosting a series of community engagement sessions beginning Feb. 22 as we consider a strategy that includes both budget cuts and a replacement parcel tax.

In spring 2017 voters overwhelmingly passed the Measure X parcel tax to provide our K-8 district a four-year runway to develop our long-term plans. The district embarked on a multiyear financial planning process. Hundreds of community members worked with us to refine what an outstanding education means and how a visionary community could fund its public schools, while ensuring that MPCSD could recruit, retain, and invest in its teachers for generations.

The district developed the Vision for Outstanding Public Education, an aspirational statement that outlines the resources necessary to provide equitable access to a whole-child education where every student can thrive. The board adopted a "teacher compensation philosophy" that stated that gifted teachers are the single most important factor in fulfilling our mission. It affirmed our commitment to elevating the teaching profession and paying teachers an attractive Bay Area salary. And we pursued the possibility of significantly growing our education foundation's endowment to a point where it could reliably roll off a meaningful contribution to our budget every year, thus reducing what we needed to ask of taxpayers.

Then, one year ago the pandemic struck, triggering the current recession and forcing everyone to adjust their financial outlooks.

I am enormously proud of how MPCSD has responded to the pandemic. We were the first Bay Area school district to welcome students back on campus in September. With comprehensive health and safety protocols in place, we are fortunate to have kept our campuses open ever since. We have maintained low rates of COVID cases in schools, with no confirmed instances of on-campus transmission. I am humbled and grateful every day for my colleagues and every entity we work with to keep our schools open and our children and teachers safe.

Our pandemic response efforts have benefited not only MPCSD families, but neighboring districts and members of the public as well. We have helped bring free and accessible COVID testing to our entire community by partnering with Curative, SRI and others to locate a testing kiosk at Middlefield Road and Ravenswood Avenue. It is accessible to neighboring school districts and other local communities, including Redwood City and East Palo Alto. More recently, we have advocated for teacher vaccinations and are working with the San Mateo County Office of Education to plan vaccine events for educators throughout the county.

However, from a financial perspective, the pandemic and recession have brought new funding challenges as well as additional COVID-related expenses, amounting to millions of dollars.

Even in normal times, MPCSD relies on the generosity of our community to fund the excellent education that Encinal, Laurel, Oak Knoll, and Hillview Middle schools provide. Due to arcane unintended consequences of Proposition 13, MPCSD receives far fewer property tax dollars per student than neighboring districts. As a result, community investment in the form of philanthropic giving and parcel taxes represents over 20% of our annual budget.

Our community has supported its schools time and again because we all benefit from the excellent education that our local public schools provide, and we know how valuable it is to live in a community with great schools. More importantly, we all recognize the importance of educating the next generation. Directly or indirectly, the quality of the MPCSD experience affects us all.

Now I come to you with another opportunity to engage with us to develop a financial plan that maintains our high-quality programs as we emerge from the pandemic and its economic repercussions. We are considering over $2 million in permanent budget cuts, including reducing district office administration, modifying our music, language and physical education programs, and tightening our class sizes. Replacing Measure X is also part of the plan, and we look for your input on the size and duration of our new parcel tax. Please attend an upcoming school board meeting or a special community engagement session to share your voice with me and my colleagues. You can find session dates and more information at district.mpcsd.org/engage.

Sherwin Chen is president of the Menlo Park City School District school board.

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