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Guest opinion: Big financial challenges ahead for Menlo Park schools

Oak Knoll Elementary School first graders sit on socially distanced markers on the ground at the end of recess before heading back to class in Menlo Park on Sept. 29, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

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.

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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.

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Guest opinion: Big financial challenges ahead for Menlo Park schools

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Sat, Sep 25, 2021, 10:51 am

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.

Comments

Enough
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 25, 2021 at 9:18 pm
Enough, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 25, 2021 at 9:18 pm

Let me say I oppose Measure B because the MPCSD has not shown a need for the money and they constantly misrepresent the reasons why a new Parcel Tax is needed. The above opinion is a great example. Start with:

"MPCSD will likely lose the $1.5 million in annual funding" no reasoning for this is given and it has not happened yet. If they don't lose the $1.5 will they give the parcel tax money back? I didn't think so. Why not wait until it happens to use it as a valid argument?

Point #4 is a little different than the one the Superintendent sent to parents in his monthly Newsletter. That said "4. The state-mandated increase in housing that Menlo Park must plan for means 3,000 units will be added over the next ten years without any additional funding to support the students that those additional homes will bring."
Wouldn't there be property tax from that new housing?

Let's talk about funding. MPCSD gets 62% of its funds from property tax according to their website. In the past 10 years the number of students has not increased significantly in 2011-2012 school year there were 2719 students that went up to 2940 by 2015-16 and is now back down. The district claims that there are "There are approximately 3,023 students, preschool through 8th grade, enrolled in the four schools and the ELC in the District." That number is misleading because parents pay to have their children in the ELC the same as they would pay for any pre-school so those students should not be included in the "Public School Student" numbers. So the number of students in MPCSD has remained about the same. During the same time property revenue in this area has increased significantly. Revenue from Atherton has gone from $6.3 million in 2011 up to 10.9 in 2019. Menlo Park Property Tax has gone from $10.1 Million in 2011 to $18.8 million in 2019.
Where is the money going? If I were a teacher and my student made these arguments I would fail them. They are misleading.

Out of space…


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 26, 2021 at 7:32 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 26, 2021 at 7:32 am

What Enough said.

I am sick and tired of the school board constantly lying about why they need more money. Not to mention they are lying about the need in the first place. As Enough notes, property taxes have increased significantly and enrolment has declined or remained the same.

The requirement for more housing units doesn't mean they will be built. The city is required to PLAN for them, not build them. How about we wait until someone actually applies to planning for build them to ring the alarm bell?

Or is the reason the district needs more money because of required increased contribution to Calsters? If that's the case SAY SO. I know they don't want to as it will highlight the fact they have been incompetent in their management by giving raises to staff after begging for more money for things other than raises. Except it ended up being for raises. In case anyone doesn't understand, if they raise staff's pay, the required contribution to Calsters goes up as well.

OK, all the "it's for the kids", "a good education is important", etc. can start now, but know this, regardless of what you and the board say, I will vote NO on a parcel tax and will fight a parcel tax just as I have done before.


MPCSD Public Information Officer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Sep 27, 2021 at 12:17 pm
MPCSD Public Information Officer, Menlo Park: Felton Gables
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 12:17 pm

MPCSD provides a Parcel Tax Guide at its website: Web Link

Please attend the district's Community Engagement opportunities on October 4 and 6 for more details and to ask questions. Details for the Zoom meetings here: Web Link


Val
Registered user
Oak Knoll School
on Sep 27, 2021 at 12:33 pm
Val, Oak Knoll School
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 12:33 pm

The adding of 3000 new homes in Menlo Park will destroy the town and greatly hurt the schools. Perhaps the school should call upon Marc Berman and Josh Becker to explain why they voted to dissolve single family neighborhoods - which financially support the schools -- and create an urban mess. The school district should ask these two representatives to find the dollars to fund the schools.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 27, 2021 at 3:31 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 3:31 pm

Val:

in case you didn't know, if and that is IF, they build 3000 more homes, all of them will be required to pay school impact fees. On top of that those properties will be paying property taxes at the value which those homes sell for. That is where the funding for the schools will come from.


Enough
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 27, 2021 at 4:15 pm
Enough, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 4:15 pm

The School District is misrepresenting the facts and trying to scare the parents and the residents into voting for Measure B without asking questions. The data they have supplied hs partial or incorrect. The say things like "As future federal aid is likely to be tied to Title 1 eligibility". For one why did we lose this money from the Federal Government, I would like to know that. Mis-management? Forgot to fill out the paperwork?. Second Likely does not mean it has happened so they want get more money because something might happen? If it doesn't happen they will certainly keep the funds, no doubt about that...

2. MPCSD says "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." Well that is because MPCSD is funded from Property tax revenue for the simple reason that property tax revenue provides more funding then what the state would provide. Property tax revenue has been going up significantly every year. Every time a house is sold the property tax is reassessed at a much higher price, everything a new building gets built that is more property tax, see where they are getting move money every year already?

#3, why isn't the school trying to get this addressed if it is a problem? Maybe they are and want to double dip (Parcel tax and additional money for Tinsely). It would be great to see an unbiased review of these claims. Somehow I doubt the school is going to lose $1.5 million without a fight but it is not a done deal yet and they want us to pay up like it is.

See where the schools arguments fall apart? It would be great to hear where the money is really going. I have talked to teachers that have said it is hard to find places to spend the moeny they are given. After a few years the classrooms are pretty set up and complete and they have to find "Creative ways" to spend money they are allocated.

Is this parcel tax necessary?


Marta
Registered user
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Sep 27, 2021 at 4:23 pm
Marta , Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 4:23 pm

If you own property in the school district, a small portion of your property tax dollars are provided to the school district. In MPCSD, that amount is more than the state would otherwise provide, but it is still relatively small per house. If 3,000 more houses or units of housing were added and 1/3 of those units had one student each, there property taxes generated and provided to MPCSD would not be enough to cover the per pupil spending for all those new students.

More needs to be learned about the drop in Tinsley funding. It may be time to phase down that program if it is no longer funded.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 27, 2021 at 6:50 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 6:50 pm

Marta: IF 3000 more housing units are built. IF. How about we deal with it IF it happens instead of handing money to the district they don't currently need?


Enough
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 27, 2021 at 7:47 pm
Enough, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 7:47 pm

Marta,

MPCSD has been funded from Property tax for years, the number of students has remained level while Property tax revenues have increased significantly over the past decade. See my post above with the numbers. Also the MPCSD is using scare tactics. 3000 new housing units have not been approved, the money from the Tinsley program has not been lost, though they want you to think it has. Why did we lose the title 1 money? No explanation so I would believe it was a failing on the districts part. They want money on speculation not on facts. Once they have it they certainly won't give it back if their speculation proves untrue.

Let's not reward the district for providing misinformation!


MenloMom
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 27, 2021 at 11:01 pm
MenloMom, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 27, 2021 at 11:01 pm

As a long-time Menlo Park resident, I knew of the planned housing growth, but what I did not know was that MPCSD lost federal “Title 1” funding or the upcoming requirement to offer transitional kindergarten for all 4 year olds. I was also disappointed to hear that the funding for the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program may be in jeopardy, given the negative impact it will have on MPCSD and other surrounding districts. This is helpful information to consider when we look at the future financial situation of MPCSD, and I appreciate the invitation to engage to better understand and address the challenges ahead.


MPSupporter
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 28, 2021 at 10:16 am
MPSupporter, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 28, 2021 at 10:16 am

I believe we are extremely fortunate to live in an area with such a strong school district -- we were the FIRST district in the Bay Area to be back to in-person instruction last year. Hearing from parents in other areas has made me appreciate our district more than ever before. Good schools benefit the entire community -- and to ensure schools remain "good," you have to plan and prepare for the future. This is not a new tax, but rather a replacement for the existing parcel tax, which is expiring. The district has been forthcoming with information and regularly provides opportunities to ask questions and learn more. I strongly support Measure B, and my community.


Enough
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 28, 2021 at 1:51 pm
Enough, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 28, 2021 at 1:51 pm

MP Supporter,

I have to disagree that the district has been " forthcoming with information". What they have been doing is putting forth scare tactics about potential events that COULD impact the district and glossing over things like why we are not getting title 1 funding. The loss of that funding could be because of something the district chose to do, they don't seem to be explaining it very well. You also neglect the fact that the district is getting a boost every year with increased property tax revenues in San Mateo County. Why not wait to see what happens with Housing in Menlo Park, they certainly are not going to build 3000 houses in a year and occupy them with school age children, are they? They have not lost out on other revenue they are trying to scare us with, have they?

Let's not forget that the district also asks parents to donate $2000 per child each year as part of their One Community Campaign, then parents are asked to donate to the classes (but not until after the Once Community Campaign is over), to participate and get donations for a read-a-thon and a 5K race. One thing the MPCSD excels at is fundraising.

MenloMom, wouldn't you like to know why MPCSD lost the title 1 funds? I see the School board is appealing that decision to the Department of Education. From the School Board Pandemic Deck: "MPCSD is appealing decision by US DOE to remove Title 1 funds & services from MPCSD due to erroneous census data." I would love to hear the story on that but the bottom line is that they may win the appeal and not lose that money. If in fact the data that cause MPCSD to lose the money is erroneous and they can prove it, it is likely they will win the money back.


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