The last two years have shown the central role public schools play in our thriving community. In homes throughout our town, teachers became heroes and our schools became lifelines. We are incredibly proud of how well Menlo Park City School District - Encinal, Laurel, Oak Knoll and Hillview schools - managed the pandemic, opening before any other Bay Area districts and keeping children safely engaged in in-person learning since September 2020. While the pandemic is by no means over, we have stabilized and are familiar with how to operate during COVID. Now, we must also focus on tackling long-term financial challenges.
As a community-funded district, MPCSD receives nearly 90% of its revenue from local sources: property and parcel taxes and philanthropic giving. MPCSD enjoys strong support from the community, but is not without threats to the district’s future ability to offer robust programming and attract the best educators. Here are four challenges, along with an invitation to engage in partnership to further understand and address them.
1: MPCSD recently lost federal “Title 1” funding used to support students from low-income families, of which there are many within our schools. Due to a quirk in the federal government’s allocation of Title 1 funds, two of the 24 school districts within San Mateo County -- San Carlos and MPCSD -- do not receive Title 1 funds, even as wealthier, less diverse school districts do. This resulted in MPCSD losing out on $600,000+ in federal COVID aid. As future federal aid is likely to be tied to Title 1 eligibility, MPCSD may continue to miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars.
2: Over the next four years, California will require all school districts to provide transitional kindergarten (TK) for all 4-year-olds. MPCSD believes in the benefits of TK. However, community-funded districts like ours will receive no additional funding to pay for the added grade level, facilities or staff to educate all district 4-year-olds.
3: MPCSD will likely lose the $1.5 million in annual funding for the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, through which 200 students attend our schools from neighboring Ravenswood. Much has changed in the 36 years since the TVP’s inception, yet the funding model written into the law has not kept up. Without a fix, MPCSD and several surrounding districts stand to lose an important source of funding on which they depend.
4: Perhaps most concerning for MPCSD’s long-term budgeting is the city’s proposal to add 3,000 new housing units, nearly all within Menlo Park City School District boundaries. School board and district staff recognize the need for more housing and support the spirit of the state-mandated effort to increase and diversify housing options. However, MPCSD does not have the capacity to house the students that 3,000 new units would bring. Unlike many neighboring districts with unused properties, MPCSD is nearly at capacity at all of its school sites, with very little acreage left on which to build. Once TK is added, MPCSD schools -- already the largest elementary schools by enrollment in San Mateo County -- will have zero capacity to meet the enrollment increase that 3,000 new units will bring.
These are big challenges, but MPCSD has shown that as a community we can do hard things together. We can ensure that MPCSD continues to attract families to the area, support our property values, and develop the next generation of leaders, problem solvers, and thinkers. The board invites community members to learn more about public school funding at a study session with the board from 4 to 6 p.m. on Oct. 4 over Zoom. See the district’s [district.mpcsd.org/engage community engagement webpage for details.
Erik Burmeister is the superintendent of the Menlo Park City School District, and Sherwin Chen is the school board president.