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Bursting at the seams

Original post made on Nov 17, 2009

If closing a school is the hardest decision a school board ever has to make, then the second most difficult is deciding whether to open a new school. Next month, the Menlo Park City School District's board of trustees is going to have to decide if growing student enrollment justifies the expense and difficulty of opening an elementary school at the old O'Connor site. It's a decision with far-reaching implications.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, November 17, 2009, 11:25 AM

Comments (27)

Posted by MP Grandma
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Nov 17, 2009 at 4:06 pm

I agree that you might need to open O'Connor again, but why not just give them a shorter lease time; say 1 to 2 years. It'll give everyone time to assess the situation!

Posted by another grandma
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Nov 17, 2009 at 6:43 pm

Why did they ever give away La Loma if more schools are needed.

Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 18, 2009 at 5:04 am

La Loma is in the Las Lomitas School District, not Menlo Park. O'Connor was obtained by Menlo Park from Ravenswood as part of the vote to let the Willows Neighborhood into the District in the early 1980s. It makes sense to open it since part of the explosion is due to that decision.

Posted by measure U bond supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 18, 2009 at 8:26 am

reopening OConnor was part of the Measure U school bond. And, as "taxpayer" says, was part of the state board of education quid pro quo for letting the Willows move from Ravenswood district into MPCSD. the district already has a facility improvement funding commitment of $1million plus from the State for refurbishing OConnor.
Also, the district gave the old Fremont School site on Middle Ave. to the city. They should think about moving the Rosener House sr. center to Allied Arts,which is a perfect location for the PV's, and make the Fremont site a K-3 facility. Already has playing fields.

Posted by Oak Knoll Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2009 at 9:10 am

A deadline looms on Jan 1. A week before Thanksgiving the issue is raised, giving the community only six weeks during the holiday period to engage in a debate. Whether deliberate or not, Ken Ranella is effectively frustrating community involvement. He deliberately did this earlier when he wanted to change the mathematics curriculum. The school buildings are not the only thing that need "upgrading" in the district.

Posted by Another Oak Knoll Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 18, 2009 at 9:19 am

Where does the Menlo Atherton Education Foundation stand on this issue? Is it going to be mute on this issue too? Parents pool their resources to support and improve our schools, yet parents have little visibility into how the power of those resources is wielded, especially on the big issues.

Posted by photoshopped
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 18, 2009 at 7:24 pm

Editor, your washed out photo on your front page does little to convey how outrageously monstrous those new buildings are at Oak Knoll.
So totally out of scale with the neighborhood and a "neighborhood elementary school". Looks like a bloody Factory. Why don't you write an editorial about "stewardship", since you made you claim to fame attempting to save the Alaska wilderness from the pipeline.
Go around the corner and look at the back side from Oak street.
Thanks, City council, for rolling over on this one. Only hope those 3 council people whose terms are up next year get the boot for allowing such a blight on the landscape.
As for enrollment mismanagement by the past and present school board and Ranella, Concentrating so many kids (what did RAnella say, 250-300 kids larger than any other K-5 in the Bay Area) in a historically quiet residential neighborhood, has brought huge traffic and parking problems. When it's finished with the adult size soccer filed in the back, you can expect major expenses to the city for police services, traffic control, street pavement, storm drain and sewer system deterioration.
The wonders of artistic license to dupe the sheeple.

Posted by Amazing!
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 18, 2009 at 10:57 pm

More negativity about the school district, the school board and Ken Ranella. Will the Oak Knoll neighbors and negative NIMBY's ever stop? I am amazed how short sighted these folks, and other are, about the public schools in MP/Atherton. These are the same schools that have recently received statewide recognition for Blue Ribbon awards, the same school district that is now ranked 15th, up from 20th in the state for API scores, the same school district that did not have to terminate one teacher last year even with the state budget cuts, the same school district where every realtor ad advertises their prospective listing as "Close to Menlo Park Schools", "Menlo Park Schools" etc.
The ONLY reason, your home "negative NIMBY's" is worth the amount of money it is worth, is because of the schools, nothing else, not our "vibrant downtown", not our "beautiful El Camino" and certainly not because of the community spirit that many of you short sighted individuals spew. Enough with the trashing of the schools, this is a temporary up tic, and we should all be very proud that many people have moved here, and switched from private to public, because they like our schools. Enough, you are not making any sense!

Posted by Amazing, they did it in portables
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 19, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Overblown facilities do not the student make. It's about the teachers and parental focus on student performance. Every other high performing school district in the state has shown that. It's not about student performance, it's about your apologist edifice complex that manifested humungous buildings that dwarf adjoining homes. Totally unnecessary in achieving academic excellence. But, very much satiating to your insatiable "build it bigger, then it's bound to be better" misguided philsoph.

Posted by Amazing!
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 20, 2009 at 12:04 am

Excellent vocabulary "Amazing they did it in portables" the problem with that philosophy is that there aren't enough of those beautiful portables to house all of our future high achievers. However, when they are finished Oak Knoll, it will be a beautiful looking school, as well as a beautifully supported school with excellent teachers, hired by Ken Ranella, and the SchoolBoard. Thanks Ken and the SchoolBoard.

Posted by Ram Duriseti
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Nov 20, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Sorry Amazing. Corrected for zip code (and, therefore, property values), the performance of our kids is at expected levels. I readily submit that there are several studies that show a correlation between facilities and student performance, but the tightest correlation is with parental participation. I also readily submit that portables are expensive and there are a multitude of financial reasons to transfer that capital expense to something more permanent. So for those, and several other reasons, facility construction at OK was perfectly reasonable.

However, that is all besides the point for the article at hand. My personal issue was more with promoting non-automobile traffic to the school, but with construction well under way, the buildings are bigger than I imagined. They are simply massive. Are these necessary to house all the kids at OK? Maybe. In fact, it might be a necessary outcome of having the largest elementary school population in the county on the smallest plot of land for an elementary school in the county. Long before I moved here, several neighbors pushed for a more rational distribution of students by opening another campus. Are they simply "negative NIMBYs" now that they have been proven prescient? Suppose they were/are, is it wrong for someone to care about their private property and the impact of surrounding development on it? Is it unreasonable to expect the planning committee of a neighborhood school to respect the property concerns of surrounding neighbors rather than abuse the freedom granted by state law? Some of these planners and their supporters suggested that "po' folks" like us living on "leased land" shouldn't have a say anyway. That's a nice bunch of people you hang with.

About a year back I got into a back and forth with two functional idiots on this forum who started a thread by talking ill of and denigrating more senior school neighbors (one of whom was struggling with cancer at the time) while posting anonymously like pimple-faced teens blogging in Daddy's basement. One of them said he was "scared" of me after regaling me with how tall he was so he had to stay anonymous. It was incredibly puerile and somewhat comical. This is, of course, why the anonymity of the web is both a boon and a curse. Do us all a favor and mellow out with the name calling. It doesn't bring out the best in anyone. I don't know who "photoshopped" is, but I suspect he/she is not the demon you imagine them to be. They have a right to call out public figures who, after all, put themselves in a position of public scrutiny. It is certainly more appropriate than raging against seniors and people who might have slightly more modest economic means.

Posted by Amazing!
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 20, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Oh God Ram, give it up. We were all there to see your glorified used car sales pitch about being concerned about the "children's safety" and other hog wash, when it was all about YOU, and YOUR property. Your bitterness needs to be funneled toward other, more positive things in the community. How about volunteering, and contributing. We don't want to hear how much your wife volunteers, how about YOU?

Posted by G.Nizama, X marks the Box
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 21, 2009 at 10:32 am

While I have no intelligent solutions to the "Bursting at the seams" story about MPCSD's overcrowding and overdevelopment of its campuses, personal attacks against posters appear to be a cover up of official incompetence.
Can't wait for the downtown and ECR visioning "process" final approval by our 3 council incumbents, advocating increased density and height limits exceeding long standing community standards as a means to maintain "vitality and vibrancy"

Posted by Ram Duriseti
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Nov 21, 2009 at 10:47 am

"Amazing!" So are you the same loser who posted last time anonymously? It seems likely. Again, you redirect without addressing the issue.

I'll keep your statement about the kids' safety in mind. As for bitterness, give me break. I let go of that long ago. Expressing an opinion does not equate to bitterness.

Spare me your psychoanalysis about my egocentric life and concerns. If you had any integrity or fortitude, you wouldn't sit there pontificating anonymously while pointing out personal particulars about others like a pathetic juvenile. I work quite a bit and I don't have the same time to give as my wife. We are a team and I value the time she puts forward for our family and the community. We donate roughly 7%-8% of our annual income to charitable organizations -- just not ones that get you excited. Outside of engineering work, 25% of the care I deliver on the clinical side is at zero compensation. In fact, it's actually at negative compensation since I still pay towards expenses (malpractice, accounting, etc.) to see these patients. Does that count in the world of a self-satisfied fool like you?

So spare me your judgments. Your striking ignorance and parochial sensibilities speak volumes. Live your little life. Signing out...

Posted by Menlo Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 21, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Alas,one of the prices of a free society is that we are subjected to the vitriol, threats and aggressive tone of abusive posters. The daily Oak Knoll school construction traffic and noise are understandably driving those that live across the street from the school mad with rage.

Regarding misleading insults and outright falsehoods from posts last year about the Oak Knoll expansion, please read the threats and posts from the Dec 9 2008 Almanac where the person making the threats was sent back to the woodshed, thoroughly refuted and in every case hoisted on his own petard.

Web Link

Let's get back on subject and ignore the offensive trolls. It always amuses me to hear these aggressive and threatening posters bewailing the anonymity that folks like him encourage and unfortunately make necessary by not having a civil discourse.

I am a Menlo Park parent with three children at the German American International School (GAIS). I thought the "Bursting at the Seams" article was informative for those unfamiliar with the GAIS campus, but vague about the reasons why the school district is reluctant to expand onto the GAIS campus.

So let me be a bit more precise about these reasons than Ms. Gemmet's articles have been (this is her second article on the topic in two months).

Over 100 kids that are currently attending GAIS could be attending the "overcrowded" schools in the Menlo Park school system if GAIS moved out of Menlo Park (75 current students plus approximately 25 sibling preschoolers that are eligible for Kindergarten in the next two years).

If GAIS were to move from its present location, I would immediately enroll my three kids into the Menlo Park school system. The German International School of Silicon Valley is just down the road from us in Mountain View, (its also less expensive) but we chose GAIS mainly due to its campus and location. So ironically, forcing GAIS to relocate, would add to the school district's population burden. I think it is very misleading to have people believe that if the school district took over the campus it would gain space without increasing its enrollment. The GAIS student population is in a large part Menlo Park-based and will not blindly follow GAIS if it relocates. We did not choose GAIS in spite of its location, but because of its location.

GAIS pays over $400K a year to the school district. Losing GAIS money and then adding the additional money required to pay for a separate administration and staff for a new school is going to be a big hit with our state already 20 billion dollars in the red from the start of this fiscal year. I don't think the district can afford it and they know it. Its way cheaper to expand a school than to build and staff a new one.

The campus is a geographic anomaly. GAIS is restricted to having no more than 300 students a day on campus due to this anomaly. The campus is an island with a single point of access. It is an island with very little parking, and one way in and out. It is basically an unsolvable traffic nightmare waiting to happen. Go to Google and check it out for yourself (275 Elliott Drive, Menlo Park, CA).

GAIS has been unable to improve the site over the past 18 years of its tenancy, due to the short term leases it has been subject to.
The school has been there almost twenty years, 4 years at a time. The absence of a long term lease has prevented it from raising money for a gym or making infrastructure improvements. This tiny campus currently consists of one small rectangular building containing 8 classrooms with a small administrative area. The rest of the school consists of portable classrooms paid for by GAIS. So from an infrastructure point of view, there is one small building there consisting of 8 classrooms, nothing else.

I find it interesting that the Almanac article failed to mention the commonly held belief that the current student population explosion in Menlo Park is due to the recession/economy. We have a boatload of private schools in Menlo Park, including GAIS and all of them have lost a lot of students who shifted to Menlo Park public schools because of tuition. We are digging deep to send our kids to GAIS, but if the economy doesn't improved fast, this year will be our last due to expense. When the economy does improve, and I believe it will, expect the public school population to drop back to normal levels.

Here is what I find amazing. The school district decided it was going to have a small number of super-sized schools as its growth strategy. Based on available land and funds they drew up the plans, got them approved and even before construction is even finished, has concluded the schools they are massively expanding, aren't big enough. Now that's an epic failure.

My prediction is that the board (which has access to all these facts) will decide that the student population increase is temporary and will be back to more normal levels in the next 18 months and will decide against opening another school. The Palo Alto school district came to the same conclusion this August, regarding opening up the Garland campus which is currently leased to the Stratford School. It's the conservative choice, and most prudent one with California in such a fiscal mess.

Posted by Ram Duriseti
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Nov 22, 2009 at 8:26 am

"Menlo Parent" civility is a two-way street. I think you posted last time as "Geezer Smasher" on the web link you provided. The style is a dead giveaway so your revisionism and self-righteous outrage are amusing at best.

I'm always comfortable returning fire when fired upon and take credit for it without skulking in shadows. Apparently your delusional enough to imagine that the number of people listening to this conversation might fit into something larger than a phone booth.

And no, the construction is not "driving [us] mad with rage". I don't live in a world suffused with petty first-world melodrama. Nothing you and I experience in this city approximates true discomfort.

Posted by WillowsGal
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 22, 2009 at 7:07 pm

In the spirit of the season, and frankly, of every day that we live in health, freedom and relative prosperity, I would simply like to remind anyone reading or writing here that we are SO LUCKY. We have an extradorinarily active, educated and dedicated School Board in Menlo Park. We are a relatively small district, but watch our kids flourish and fly when they get to high school and beyond--they're ready for what comes next and they know how to make the most of their opportunities. Why? Because in addition to attentive parents, they have had EXCELLENT teachers. Why does this District attract and keep them? Our School Board knows it is doing and they do it so well: that's why. The rest of the debate? Details.

Posted by demo graffer
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 22, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Local realtors, landlords and housing rental companies will tell you that it's a bunch of young families who have moved into MP recently. That trend will continue. They are attracted primarily by the ambiance of Menlo Park, schools may be a near future consideration for their preschoolers. Companies are hiring and relocation arrivals are hitting town in ever growing numbers.
While Tom Williams, the MPCSD enrollment guru, grossly underestimated enrollment projections, this obsession with "birth rate" figures for school enrollment misses the bigger picture. It's NEW arrivals. Therefore, we need more campus facilities. Not jam more and more incoming kids into overcrowded and overbuilt existing and "under construction" facilities.
Kids need some open space, sunshine and fresh air at school, as well as "state of the art" facilities as part of their overall learning experience. Crowding more buildings onto scarce open space at existing campuses is counterproductive to school childrens' well being.
The O'Connor GAIS parent forgot to clarify that they pay only $300K annual rent to the MPCSD, and charge tuition in excess of $15K. per student. Many EC based companies pay that tuition as part of a compensation package for German Co. employees. like SAP. With 300 students, the GAIS is grossing in excess of $4,000,000. income from tuition (including subleasing to the 100 student French American school and Ballet program), while only paying rent on a 6 acre public school site. That's been a great deal for GAIS at our expense, when the school board is asking us to accept even more overcrowding at Laurel, Encinal, Oak Knoll.
Time to sunset the lease with GAIS and reclaim our Willows neighborhood, MPCSD taxpayer owned, much needed elementary school @ O'Connor.

Posted by Amazing!
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 22, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Let's hear from Ram again, it's fun to read his high level rant! He's been extremely helpful for the process of recruiting more people to support the schools. Thanks Ram, you're the man!

Posted by Ram Duriseti
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Nov 22, 2009 at 9:57 pm

I always strive to oblige and entertain. You are welcome.

Posted by Menlo Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 22, 2009 at 10:08 pm

I agree with a lot of what demo graffer has written in terms of the school district focusing on birthrates, instead of unpredictables such as the demographics of who is moving into MP and in what numbers.

I am as optimistic about the future as demo graffer is as well. I do think companies will start rehiring come the new year. But the fact remains that in the third quarter of this year, rents dropped in Mountain View (15%) and Palo Alto (9%) as well as Menlo Park (2%). This is a sign of people leaving, not coming to town.

I do believe that the unexpected rise in district school attendance was due to many of us pulling our kids out of private school and putting them in public school due to finances. I know this is the first year that I registered my kids in the public school system, before electing to keep them at GAIS. Many other parents could not afford to pay tuition and pulled their kids out of GAIS and put them into the public school system.

I don't think that anyone would argue that kids need sunshine and fresh air. The reality of the matter is that the school district has opted for building super-schools at the current locations as opposed to buying land or opening new schools. Financially speaking that is probably the safest way to go in our current budgetary disaster. The school district has not opted for small neighborhood schools, and that decision is pretty much irreversible. The tragedy is that, having made that decision, the district's expansion plans were still too small.

Regarding demo graffers information on GAIS financials, while they are ballpark accurate (specifically they err on the high side), the thrust of the argument is dated and inaccurate. I do have access to the financials (this is a parent controlled non-profit school) and while it is true that annual rent is $300K, the total compensation from GAIS to the school district is $400K.

The insinuation from demo graffer that the German American International School is some European Union supported tool reaping enormous profits is patently not true. The school is a parent supported and parent run NONPROFIT school. Income is devoted to operating costs, teacher and staff salaries (which are below the school districts levels). One has only to stroll through the campus to see this is not a school with "money".

The tuition is roughly about 10K a year per child, not including sibling discounts and tuition assistance. The term EC (European Community) is an out of date term used last century. The organization is known as the EU (European Union) and has nothing to do with the German American International School. The German International School of Silicon Valley in Mountain View is officially supported by the German Government and EU, but not the GAIS in Menlo Park.

I agree that it is entirely up to the school district to decide to build new schools or not. I presented information that I hope clarify why the GAIS campus is not an attractive or inexpensive option for the district. There are quite a few salient reasons why GAIS has been a tenant there for over 18 years and I hope I was able to clarify them for people that were not familiar with the issue.

Should the school district opt to not renew the lease, we would transfer out kids to the Menlo Park public school system, with great joy, as it is a superb school district. We do not live in the vicinity of the campus, so I can imagine the reaction of the folks that do will be very similar to those that lived across the street from Oak Knoll. Massive construction would be required to justify the opening of a new school. Its way cheaper to expand than to build a new school with duplicate staff and teachers.

Ninety-nine percent of the school district population have never set foot on the GAIS campus. I have attempted to paint an accurate portrait of the facilities (one building containing eight classrooms), its access and location problems, as well as the fact that much of the GAIS population is Menlo Park-based and would transfer back into the school district should GAIS be forced to move. These facts are known to the board, but I haven't seen them covered in detail in Almanac articles.

Posted by demo graffer
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 23, 2009 at 7:28 am

Thanks MP Parent for the clarifications. We were relying on the city of MP GAIS Use Permit staff report, which stated that weekday student enrollment was 300 @ GAIS, weekend French American students numbered 100, plus ballet classes. Those sublessees provide additional income to the GAIS, not to the MPCSD, which only charges a flat $300k/yr.
The GAIS website shows Full Time Tuition @ $15-16K per student. Granted there discounts for siblings, and some financial aid. We assume some parents who are employees of companies like SAP would get tuition assistance as part of their compensation package.
The terms of the lease provide for the MPCSD to pay for all infrastructure repairs, i.e. roof, plumbing, electrical, so it's not a standard triple net lease, which is more common in commercial/institutional leases in the area.
We estimate gross income to GAIS from tuition and sublease rent from French American School to be in excess of $4Million.
The OConnor School Oak Court frontage of 100 feet provides potential alternate access from Woodland Ave. That is an undeniable legal access point for a "public" school from a public city maintained street.
OConnor is no more isolated at the far corner of the district than is, say, Oak Knoll, (with 750-800 kids on 8 acres), which is also served by narrow, winding residential streets. The fact remains, OConnor is a Willows neighborhood school that was a quid pro quo facility for the state to grant transfer from the Ravenswood school district to MPCSD in the 1980's.
OConnor is needed now. That's why it was part of the Measure U School Bond mandate.
We don't assume the increase in K-3 enrollment will level off as more and more young families move into the area. Many of them will take advantage of recent falling rents to secure a residence in Menlo Park for reduced commute times to Stanford, Silicon Valley workplaces.

Posted by Ram Duriseti
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Nov 23, 2009 at 8:38 am

Menlo Parent (previously posted as "Geezer Smasher" where "Amazing!" posted as "NIMBY Go Home" and "Ram, Please Move" see: Web Link wrote:

"...We do not live in the vicinity of the campus, so I can imagine the reaction of the folks that do will be very similar to those that lived across the street from Oak Knoll. Massive construction would be required to justify the opening of a new school. Its[sic] way cheaper to expand than to build a new school with duplicate staff and teachers."

I think you assume incorrectly. Construction need not be "massive" or intrusive and the process does not have to be exclusive. All of those became problems at Oak Knoll and at least one board member privately admitted that the process should have been pursued differently. Whether or not that reflects the broader sentiment on the board, I cannot say. It should be unsurprising that when you treat a group as a member of the opposition, their actions confirm your assumptions.

You are dead on about "[the] epic failure" in allocating tens of millions on "super-sizing" (your term) existing campuses and then deciding that demographic trends suggest a need for opening a new campus. In fact, that was the original criticism in this thread put forward by "measure U bond supporter", "photoshopped", and my original post.

As noted previously, this insight was shared by several neighbors of Oak Knoll long before I moved here. Thank you for bringing it back to the salient topic "Geezer Smasher". Interestingly (sadly?), most of these prescient citizens are the same senior citizens that you were previously cheering about "smashing".

Posted by Amazing!
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 23, 2009 at 10:24 am

Ram, please stop the madness. No one is smashing anyone, no one cares anymore. The new Oak Knoll campus is now 1/3 of the way built, we're on to bigger and better things. All is good for Menlo Park/Atherton right now, with the schools. YES, there is a budget crunch, but fortunately we have a community that is rallying behind these schools and ponying up the cash for the budget woes. Please be a positive force behind this cause, and stop the bashing!

Posted by Encinal Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 23, 2009 at 12:51 pm

This is a very difficult decision by our school board. I believe they will be honestly looking at the best answer for our community. If Tom Williams demographic projections had shown continued increases in enrollment for the next 20 years then I think they would open O'Connor for sure. However, since Tom is predicting that enrollment will rise and then fall back to current level, the board has decide if it's prudent to spend the money to open the new school if it will not be needed a few years down the road. However, as Laura Rich said in the article, it is hard to accurately predict the population 10 years from now. If Tom's predictions prove incorrect and enrollment does not drop, our schools will be very overcrowded. No one has a crystal ball into the future. Tough decision indeed!

Posted by storks on steroids
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 23, 2009 at 8:45 pm

Have you seen the prams and preggers around town lately?
Don't count on declining birthrate in the next 10 years
Must be something in the water? We're in for a bloomin' baby boomlet.
The school board and Super Ken better plan for more K gartners for quite a long time to come.

Posted by slight abdominal bulge
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 24, 2009 at 9:41 pm

'Tis the season

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