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MP school district seeks $178 parcel tax

Original post made on Feb 3, 2010

Voters will be asked to help the Menlo Park City School District bridge a projected $2 million budget shortfall with a $178 parcel tax. The school board voted Feb. 2 to put a seven-year parcel tax measure on ballot on a special May 4 mail-in election.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 3, 2010, 5:56 PM

Comments (91)

Posted by Bill
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 3, 2010 at 8:30 pm

When is it acceptable to say enough is enough for more and more money to schools? The public doesn't have deep pockets, especially these days. There must be other options besides taxes and downsizing the teaching staff.

Posted by Question for Bill
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 3, 2010 at 10:42 pm

What kind of options do you have in mind?

Posted by Waste More Money
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 4, 2010 at 12:24 am

Let's see - how many times have we paid for school bonds to redo and redo Oak Knoll, Hillview, etc.

We already pay $565 a year to the school district in special bonds.

Well, I say not another dime.

Posted by Great Attitude.
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 4, 2010 at 12:46 am

How about investing the $178 back into the schools to keep them at the level we have become accustomed to?? This is a POSITIVE thing, without our schools in Menlo Park and Atherton, your home would not be worth as much, PERIOD. These specific schools are successful because they ARE run efficiently and maximize everything. This is the reason they are one of the top districts in the state. Stop supporting the schools, look for your property value to fall, it's that simple. If you think I am fear mongering, try moving to Redwood City. This is a capacity issue, more people have moved here with kids, have rented with kids, have moved from private to public with their kids, all to get a MPCSD education. Please recognize this, when it is your turn to vote, or to sell your home. Thanks.

Posted by Susan
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 4, 2010 at 7:06 am

Remind me how many school districts Menlo Park has -- 4 -- and how much overhead management is that? So how much of proposed tax money for MPCSD would actually go into the classroom?

While the problem is much larger and includes Sacramento, we need to stop the band-aid fixes. It may be $178 now but add that to $565 for a total of $743/year. That's just for one of the school districts.

We need to stop the flood not just plug the holes in the dike. Let's fix educational funding once and for all otherwise we are bound to repeat this pattern.

Posted by enough
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 4, 2010 at 9:11 am

No more to the district. Administrative offices & TERC eating up Encinal land, overdevelopment of the Oak Knoll campus, shortsightedness with regard to the O'Connor sight, disregard for traffic impacts on residential streets. I will put no more money into the hands of district administrators and school board members.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 4, 2010 at 9:33 am

Great Attitude, I have campaigned for the schools, walking the streets handing out brochures, making phone calls since the very first parcel tax. I have served on the foundation. And now I have to say "enough." Ken Ranella doesn't know beans about fiscal management, and I'm so tired of his tax and spend mentality. Not only did he build the TERC, he also razed the old (unattractive but functional) district office building and built a brand new one. How much did that cost us?

Remember: it's to Ken's professional benefit to continuously grow the budget. "Managed a $100mm budget" looks more impressive on a CV than "managed a $100,000 budget."

Our housing prices remain high partly because our schools are good, but our schools are good because the people who live in this area are educated and affluent. Not because our school administration lacks business sense. Let's cut out the overhead and put Ken on a diet. A few diets, for that matter.

Posted by Anon -- out of fear
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Feb 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm

Be careful what you critics say.

Remember that if you try to engage in a discussion about this topic, people will attack you without addressing the topic. There are stories of Oak Knoll neighbors who opposed the development on the site who had children at Oak Knoll. These folks were subsequently treated poorly by PTA members, some teachers, and MPCSD Board members. This mistreatment, so I have heard, was based solely upon their opposition to the development of 40 foot tall buildings in a residential area where basically all adjacent homes are single story. Once they "learned to shut-up", it was all good.

They are obviously a very tolerant bunch.

But, I think that's fairly obvious given that everyone is posting here anonymously.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 4, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Raise taxes when the economy is in the tank and people can least afford it...Makes sense. The school district needs to learn how to save and make do with less, just like everyone else. Continuing to punish those who pay taxes is not the answer.

Posted by Teacher
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 4, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Enough with more taxes.

Tell Mr. Ranella to deal with it or move on.

Posted by Spread the Blame ... I mean
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 4, 2010 at 1:17 pm

Why is Ranella the only one to blame in this? Isn't there a school board voted in by voters, backed by the MPAEF, championed by overly-trusting parents, and strongly supported by the teachers?

Posted by All Wrong
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 4, 2010 at 2:07 pm

I am really heartbroken by the individuals on this blog, that for some reason have a personal beef with the Superintendent, or the School Board. There are no FACTS listed here, just a bunch of exaggerated claims or heresay, and quite frankly, lies. 88% of the MPCSD's budget is teacher's salaries and support staff, 88%! That is a VERY high number, that means 12% left for books, utilities etc. So, all of the talk about the TERC center and District Office etc., has nothing to do with this number. The Superintendent's "fiscal management" is spot on, ask any teacher when they received their last raise, and/or how much? Answer ZERO, and TWO YEARS ago. The Superintendent cannot control the local teacher's union, or the CTA. The unions have driven this cost thru the roof, and we are trying to manage this on a local level. Another blatantly wrong comment is that this is a $31M budget NOT a $100M budget. Another blatantly wrong comment from above is the supposed "folks treated poorly", I have a child that goes to Oak Knoll and I have NO idea what the heck you are talking about??? No one was treated poorly, in fact the School Board went over and above the call of duty with open forums, town meetings etc. A few neighbors did not get what they wanted, and were upset. We understand that, that is part of retrofitting a school in a neighborhood, but NO one was treated poorly. The people above can do what they wish, but if you want to take this emotional stance, have fun, that's your right. However, the fact is that our home prices WILL take a dip, it's a fact, I'd lay my mortgage on it. Numbers do not lie, look at any analysis done on the value of schools in a town. Again, I am really surprised by these posts above, is there anything really positive in Menlo Park that you WOULD support? The schools are what we have, what we have had, and what we can really hang our hats on!

Posted by SOS
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Increasing enrollment + Decreasing Budget = Teacher layoffs. Which means increased class sizes and cuts in programs. Which means compromised education. Which means lower property values.

Say what you wish, but a close analysis of the school budget, managed by a fiscally responsible school board, shows already having made painful cuts, with finesse to avoid the classroom as much as possible. With new and deeper cuts in the budget, the classroom is now in the chopping block.

No one loves taxes. But for $178 a year, this is an amount to the schools that has direct and targeted impact on students. This $$ is not for additions, improvements or more programs. It's to simply be able to continue to provide a quality education to a burgeoning population. And it is limited, as hopefully over the years the population will even out, and the budget cuts will lessen.

Posted by WillowsGal
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 4, 2010 at 3:42 pm

MPCSD always does what is best for students--anyone who feels that this is the correct approach should be voting YES on this parcel tax. This is about budget cuts and increasing enrollment---it isn't the place to grind petty axes and spew misinformation. We've got a lot less money from the state and a lot more kids coming in---simple mathematics-if we want our community to continue to be known for its excellent schools, we've got to get it together and commit to protecting all that we've worked for.

Posted by Shivering
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 4, 2010 at 4:10 pm

Put some of the blame on the Menlo Park City Council and surrounding towns who are continually clamoring for more housing. We will have more children when the Derry project is built, then when the Cadillac agency is developed, etc. etc. All of these projects will continue to impact the local schools.

Posted by Bill
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 4, 2010 at 4:39 pm

I'm not sure all that has been written have been lies as has been stated.

Truths: 1 - the economy is down; 2 - educational funding comes from a variety of sources, including the state which has made a mess of things; 3 - there are more than 20 school districts in the county all with administrative overheads; 4 - we are always being asked to give more and more to fund education.

Education is necessary, so is public safety, national defense and health care. I'll bet there are limits on what people think we should spend on those programs too.

So, to all you who favor the tax increase, when is enough enough?

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 4, 2010 at 4:44 pm

There are no facts enumerated by the supporters of the tax either. Just a lot of handwaving and scare tactics. Sorry, you're going to have to do better than that if you want to get the votes on this one.

By the way, Ranella was officially asked for his input on the housing issues. His response was that the district would have no problem educating whatever children moved into any new developments. He did not temper his statement at all or suggest that expanding the pool of students would be detrimental to everyone's education. It's hard not to infer that he's less concerned with the best education possible in a fiscally conservative manner and more focused on empire building and power.

By the way, MPCSD is a basic aid district. Some of you seem unaware of that very important fact. State cuts are not particularly relevant to the district.

Posted by Maria from West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 4, 2010 at 4:48 pm

As a retired teacher with a Masters Degree, I now substitute in 2 districts that pay more than Menlo Park (Palo Alto $135 daily and Portola Valley $145 daily). Subbing is very slow this year, to say the least. I can't afford a tax increase!

I get $172.50 when I multiply 365 days times $.50 daily. So why $178? For the administrators?

Posted by All Wrong
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 4, 2010 at 5:06 pm

Just a couple of comments:
* $178.00 correlates directly to the number of valid parcels divided into the number needed to maintain the existing level of service.(however, there will STILL be some cuts) This has nothing to do with the math from "Maria", in fact I hope she doesn't teach math.
* Ken Ranella never said "he would have no problem educating whatever children...." This is a blatant misrepresentation. He DID say that we have to accept any and all children that move into this district and we would have to find ways to do this. I believe ANYONE in public education would say this, it's the right thing to say.
* We are a basic aid district, but state cuts DO effect us, in fact state monies are still a bigger part of the budget than the Foundation.
* The comment about national defense, healthcare etc., is interesting. I would hope again that people would see that educating our children is important for the future, since we've already leveraged the money they will need to generate to pay off OUR debt. In addition, again, get selfish! This is also about our investment, our nest egg, our homes. Healthcare and national defense have nothing to do with that.

Posted by Another perspective
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 4, 2010 at 5:21 pm

I wanted my children to go to MP schools but because we lived in the Willows, our school was the Ravenswood School District. I gave Willow Oaks a try and ended up with my children in private schools that had tuitions of $5,500, $15,000, $20,000 and $25,000 a year depending on the grade and school. I also paid my Ravenswood School District parcel taxes. My inheritance went to pay these tuitions and consequently my children will soon have the burden of financially caring for me.

For $788.00 a year, a family in Menlo Park is getting quite a deal. The real question is why should people without children want a hike in their property taxes? Seniors can opt out but the pre-seniors can't.

Parents of students in MP Schools: Pay and pay gladly.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 4, 2010 at 5:32 pm

The state aid is dwarfed by the amount received from property and parcel taxes. Therefore, basic aid districts are less affected by state finances than other districts. And that's a significant distinction because the very forces that are generating additional students -- new families buying houses in the district, new houses being sold to families -- also serve to increase the property tax funds.

Ranella made that bring-em-on comment to the El Camino visioning consultants, not to the school board. I have heard him say "we will educate anyone who walks in the door" -- which is of course the PC stance. The consultants used that input from Ranella as a basis for their recommending the addition of hundreds of housing units to El Camino.

Educating our kids should be a #1 priority. Some of you are confusing "providing an education" with "throwing unlimited amounts of money into the pot." There is a difference. Asking people for more money at this point in time is going to irritate many residents who have done considerable belt-tightening themselves and expect local bureaucracies to do the same.

Posted by Long-time Menlo Park resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 4, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Before we talk about adding more parcel taxes on top of more parcel taxes for Menlo Park residents, a study should be made regarding small, excellent school districts within close proximity to each other. Presently, superintendents and their administrative staffs are paid high salaries for managing few schools. If Woodside, Portola Valley, Las Lomitas, and Menlo Park were consolitated into one school district with one superintendent and one administrative staff, imagine the thousands, if not millions of dollars that would be saved, and put into programs that would make an exemplary school district! Incidentally, each of these school districts is presently as highly rated as MPCSD, and have you checked the prices of those homes lately?

Posted by anon gov't worker
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 4, 2010 at 6:34 pm

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

Let's just keep paying for the inability of all levels of government to manage our resources -- from the federal all the way down to local. Yes, I work for local government, and I'm embarrassed by the way we waste our money. Looking from the inside out, there's way too much redundancy. We could be more effective if we were more efficient.

Posted by non payer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 4, 2010 at 7:18 pm

Former Board Prez. Ives paid no school parcel taxes, nor even basic property taxes, during 8 years on the board. He rented. Didn't own his home or any property in the MPCSD after he moved out of the Ravenswood District. County assessor records confirm. Look it up.
Ranella lives in Redwood Shores, and he doesn't pay into the district.
With a @250K annual salary, plus generous housing and car allowance, he could afford to buy a house in the district. Why doesn't Ranella offer to cut his salary 10% like Hennessey and Etchemendy did at Stanford to set an example for fiscal austerity.
Would like to see these school district leaders, past and present, put their money where their mouths are.

Posted by All Wrong
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 4, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I really don't think any one gets the math on this. The belt HAS been tightened, again 88% of the budget is for salaries, this is an unheard of amount, very high. AND, this is an enrollment issue, not "hey, let's go spend some money issue". Last year we had an increase of 120+ students, and hired one teacher - this is a very real example. All of the other "tighten their belts etc. comments are out of touch. The Superintendent runs a $31M budget, $250K is cheap for running that type of budget around here. I just hope all of you that have such passion for this issue, do the same with your coveted fire personnel, police and city employees.

Posted by facility mismanagement
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 4, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Give away the OConnor campus to GAIS.
Give away the Fremont campus to City of MP.
Spend ungodly sums ($100 MM) to overdevelop 4 remaining campuses that dwarf adjoining neighborhoods.
Sounds like typical emipre building, demagoguery at its worst.
Get real, All Wrong, you're an apologist for mismanagement of district resources that are beyond the talent(?) of a posturing superintendant and clueless board, all self selected by MPAEF

Posted by Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 4, 2010 at 10:55 pm

We can all be sure the district will do all they can to promote this new tax to voters. For those of us who believe this additional tax is wrong, make sure you VOTE and mobilize other like minded people.

I was extremely dissapointed that the last parcel tax, not so many months ago, was all for buildings, with little or no money for real education and educators. And I vividly recall board member Rich lamenting in this newspaper that there didn't appear to be enough money for the "premium finishes" that the new Hillview campus deserved. Bummer.

Posted by Bill
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 4, 2010 at 11:02 pm

To Long time MP resident -- what a great idea! Too bad no one at those school districts have come up with those kind of cost saving ideas.

Posted by Tom H
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2010 at 9:30 am

I will vote NO! I do not like the way the money is spent.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 5, 2010 at 11:15 am

Long Time and Bill, the MPCSD board is well aware that there could be economies of scale via merging. However, for historical/political reasons, a merger of any kind is unlikely. The unions would block it, for starters, because payscales in some districts are well above those in the other districts.

For the foreseeable future we are stuck with this assortment of districts, and kids whose homes face the Oak Knoll playground will continue to attend Las Lomitas schools. Crazy!

Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 5, 2010 at 12:38 pm

NO! Menlo Park City School Dist. property owners already pay more in parcel taxes than any of the surrounding district residents do. Enough! Use of parcel tax funds for anything other than direct support for classroom instruction, library maintenance, and teacher salaries was not indicated on the first parcel tax vote years ago.
The decision to merge all middle school students at Hillview has caused numerous problems for the City - including but not limited to gridlocked traffic, terrible impact on surrounding neighbors, & a hugely expensive building program.
Is the request now for more money from property owners to pay for thee bad decisions? Let's be sure we don't increase student population with BMR housing & high density development. We can't afford it. The people who think we have to increase our parcel tax to well over $700 per year so our property values stay high are wrong. The value stays high because, until a few years ago, we had a resident-oriented downtown (with a big hardware store), relatively low density, reasonable traffic, schools to which kids could safely walk or bike (no, having to cross El Camino to get to school via either Valparaiso/Santa Cruz/Middle Ave is NOT safe) and schools small enough where the teachers knew most of the students.
With all the basic aid money MPCSD gets, plus our very generous current parcel taxes, the district supervisors need to learn to budget. The rest of us have had to do so.

Posted by WillowsGal
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on Feb 5, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Can we get the facts right? The last "parcel tax" was a bond measure to upgrade crumbling facilities and avoid wasting money on renting substandard portables--that money was raised and is being spent efficiently for that purpose. It was in 2006--I'd say MANY months ago. Bonds do not go into the operating budget of the district--they can't pay for teachers.

Our District employees and our school board are a group of hard working individuals who care about our kids. Hurling insults at them because we wish our state and nation did a better job of education finance is a pretty low form of rhetoric. Come on, Menlo Park, we can be better.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 5, 2010 at 1:24 pm

WillowsGal, can you understand that your facts are irrelevant? Bonds and parcel taxes may go into different buckets, but they come out of the same pockets. The fact that the election was many months ago is also irrelevant because we're seeing those numbers today, in 2010, on our property tax bills.

Who's hurled insults against teachers? I missed that. Obviously, the capabilities of the teachers are not in question here (tenure is an issue for another day). Nor is thread about the ability of our state and country to manage educational funding.

I'd like to see this thread stay on point: what can we do to reduce costs so as to avoid an additional tax? That IS a local issue, and that is what concerns the posters here. Like it or not, the above posters are a microcosm of the people who will be going to the polls, and pooh poohing our very valid concerns is not going to win the tax any votes.

Posted by Scholar
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 5, 2010 at 1:27 pm

The current facts of the past are irrelevant because those facts need to be reorganized into new more efficient facts.
Vote NO and consolidate the districts.

Posted by Ram Duriseti
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Feb 5, 2010 at 1:35 pm

This is all a bit confusing. One party or the other is distorting the truth.

We are a Basic Aid district. Can someone please tell me how state cuts impact Basic-Aid districts? It seems that the variability in revenue for our district, outside of the Foundation, comes from changes in property taxes -- which surely must have gone down and is hard to predict -- while cost variability comes from enrollment and capital costs which have gone up. What concerns me is that the cost-variability appears to have been largely predictable and some of it under the direct control of district decisions.

Yes, $178 is a small additional price to pay for 95% of the families in the district. That's not the point.

The question is where and how the money is spent. Until that question is addressed, there is no foreseeable end to "bigger and better" parcel taxes and bond measures on the horizon. I don't buy the argument that the demographic trends were difficult to predict. I have a neighbor 5 houses away that went to the district on numerous occasions telling them that their demographic models were wrong. He and his contingent were right. The district was wrong. Lucky? No. He clearly articulated the reasons they would be wrong. It wasn't just a shot in the dark. The district chose not to listen because he was associated with a set of interests that was generally against increased development on existing campuses. The district had every reason to suspect his motives, but no clear reason not to listen to the content of his argument.

All of this is "ancient" history now. But if there is no path towards learning from prior mistakes, what does the future hold? More importantly, have you EVER seen a parcel tax (or any special tax) repealed? What happens when the variable costs decrease or stay static and the variable revenues increase? Where will the additional money go? Will it go to a slush fund for the inevitable lean periods on the horizon?

I would love to hear answers to these reasonable questions. Having a child entering the district next year and one who exited last year, I am conflicted about the proposed parcel tax. Looking past selfish personal preferences for my children and my ability to readily afford the tax, this is not a trivial public policy issue.

Posted by Smartboards in kindergarten -- are you kidding!?
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2010 at 1:41 pm

I find it appalling that the MPCSD is buying and promoting smartboards as necessary for providing a quality education. How much money did we spend on smartboards from the last bond? I admit, they are a "cool" gadget, but you won't convince me that they are an essential part of preparing our children for the 21st century. Learning how to use this technology does not substitute for developing the critical and creative thinking skills needed for creating the new economy of tomorrow. What a waste of money! I question the wisdom of the board and administrators who made this decision, and I won't trust them with more money to make equally unsound decisions.

Posted by facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2010 at 1:54 pm

We cannot let local schools go down the tubes while we wait for things to happen that are out of our control. It would be nice to start with a blank slate and redo the way our schools are funded, but while we are waiting for this to happen, let's remember that John Maynard Keynes famously said, "in the long run, we're all dead." Menlo Park has no ability to unilaterally convince other districts to merge with neighboring districts. Las Lomitas residents will never vote to merge with MP because they get more $$ per student from their local property taxes, so merging with MP would dilute the resources they are able to spend on their students. The major cost of the schools is based on what happens in the classroom in terms of teacher/student ratios and the salary scales for the teachers. Menlo Park is already behind on both teacher salaries and teacher/student ratios compared to Las Lomitas, Portola Valley, Palo Alto, etc. which is why Menlo Park already spends LESS money per student than all the comparable neighboring districts. $178 a year that is tax deductible and with an exemption available for Seniors seems like a pretty good investment to help maintain the quality of our schools.

Posted by Snooty McGee
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 5, 2010 at 2:28 pm

What's with the "I'm a homeowner and you're not" snobbery? So what if Bruce Ives rented? Who cares where Ken Ranella lives?

Renters do pay property taxes. It's a part of the rent. I can guarantee you that Menlo Park landlords are not eating the cost of parcel taxes and giving their tenants a free ride. Renters may not send the checks directly to the assessor, but they are footing the cost just as surely as homeowners are.

Posted by A Local Mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 5, 2010 at 2:44 pm

Menlo Park is a wonderful community. I feel so very fortunate to live here - great schools, terrific neighbors, fabulous weather and our home has been a stable investment (which has not been true for some other California neighborhoods). Many people chose to move here for the schools and we have a number of families with young children purchasing homes here and becoming our new neighbors. In order to protect our schools from devastating cuts, this parcel tax has become necessary. Am I upset that our state government can't properly fund our schools - absolutely. Am I willing to let our schools deteriorate in order to teach Sacramento a lesson - absolutely not. We as a community need to continue to provide our children, our future, with a strong education. The district has been very diligent to decrease costs and made a number of cuts last year that touched everything except the staff and teachers. However, we also had an increase of 124 students and only added 1 teacher. If we continue to operate in such a fashion, the quality of eduction will decline to a level that I do not believe will be adequate to properly educate our children.

I know times are tough, but this type of investment in our community will pay itself back many times over. Just take a look at property values in other areas in California.

Someone asked about being a Basic Aid District. As a Basic Aid District we do not get additional funds when an additional child enrolls in our schools. However we get funding in a number of categoricals (class size reduction, etc) and we must take our "fair share" of budget cuts. These cuts impact the district's bottom line.

Menlo Park has done an excellent job of building great public schools which offer to educate all our neighborhood children. We are so lucky to have these schools in our neighborhoods and they need our help.

While I like the idea of consolidating local schools, I don't think it's realistic in the short term. It would appear to be a project that would take quite awhile to implement. In the near term, we need to support one of our best local resources, our terrific local public schools.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 5, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Oh, my! One teacher and 124 students! Are they all in one class? No, they are probably dispersed among dozens of classrooms in the district. They've been absorbed into the system without any detrimental impacts on my child or other students.

Let's imagine what will happen when the tax doesn't pass. Will our kids not score as well on the holy grail of achievement, the STAR tests? Will families move away? Both seem unlikely.

No, I expect that the most likely outcome will be that the average class size grows by a couple of students. I realize that's pretty scary, but as it is now, class size inevitably increases by about 30% between 3rd and 4th grade without any apparent decline in student learning.

The kids and teachers probably won't even notice if the average class size next year is 26 vs 24. And then, in a few years when we're all feeling flush, Ranella can float the parcel tax. That's how his predecessors managed to keep the budget under control despite exogenous economic pressures.

I also wonder if any of the need for such a relatively large tax is related to the Lehman Brothers' loss. Anyone know?

Posted by Maria of West Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 5, 2010 at 5:22 pm

I would think differently, perhaps, about the proposed tax increase if I knew where the money would go. I would want it to go directly to the kids and teachers'salaries.
Why can't some of the administrators get salary cuts? We need to keep class sizes small! Why not eliminate some of the administrators?

Posted by All Wrong
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 5, 2010 at 6:11 pm

I wish I was as articulate as Local Mom. She is exactly right, and her thoughts are exactly like most of the parents of our school community. We know how it appears to any of us that have a difficult time paying for ANY new tax. We're battling state government employee pensions and benefits taxes, possible federal taxes etc. However, to her point, this is a LOCAL issue one that effects our entire community. On the outside looking in, from people that want to buy into our community, this type of debate/battle is not good, particularly if some of us want to "send a message", a message that won't get any response from Sacramento. Homebuyers and possible relocated families won't want to move into a community that rules out a $178 annual increase, "just to prove a point". The fact is our salaries ARE less than the surrounding areas, and our per pupil spending is less too, in an area that is VERY expensive to live in.(lower than MANY areas of the country)

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2010 at 7:53 pm

If our rejecting an unnecessary tax increase motivates families to choose other cities...terrific! Don't we want to contain the growth of our student population? I think we do! However, I suspect that prudent government decisions may actually attract people who prefer to live in a community that's rejected the "we don't know how to budget, so let's raise taxes" model.

Many district residents have degrees from top tier schools and professional careers, and appreciate the value of education. Jumping up and down and shouting "we need the money or we're headed for armageddon" just isn't going to cut it with this constituency. Scare tactics will backfire. If the pro-taxers can't come up with a better rationale for the tax -- and so far, I haven't seen one that sways me a millimeter -- the parcel tax is doomed.

Posted by school supporter
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 5, 2010 at 9:54 pm

We have all worked hard over the years, through several parcel taxes, to support our children and the local schools. The understanding that better schools equal better communities, healthier and happier families as well as increased property values has always been embraced. We want our teachers to make a fair wage that will allow them to prosper and live a comfortable life. They are the caretakers of our children and deserve the best.

Does antoher parcel tax guarantee this? If it does, I am all for it. But I have my doubts. We can't rely on parcel taxes to be the panacea for all future issues. At this point, I am not in favor of another pacel tax.

Posted by MPParent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 5, 2010 at 10:21 pm

Many of us, even in "affluent" Menlo Park, are tightening our budgets and having to do more with less. The same is true for our schools. The projected shortfall is greater than the income generated by the proposed 7 year bond so even if the parcel tax passes, there will still be a reduction in services for the students. Doing nothing hurts our schools because right now the available funding from all sources does not cover the cost of providing the high quality of education we've come to expect from our local schools. As a resident with students in the district, it is more cost effective for me to pay the parcel tax and avoid deeper cuts in services vs. the alternative of paying for private education and letting our public schools deteriorate. For residents without students, maintaining a high quality education is an investment in your property value since families want to live in strong school districts. I agree that there should be a flood of facts, transparency and lots of opportunity for the public to ask questions prior to the vote. To support an additional parcel tax residents need to know that any fat has been trimmed from the budget and that the schools (both administrators and teachers) are doing their part to economize. One fact-check I'd like: while I'm told that the percentage of budget going to teachers is high and that's supposedly a good thing, is there fat to be trimmed from teacher's union contracts? Where does the district stand on negotiating those contracts?

Cash flow is definitely an issue for my family this year, but high quality public schools is a bigger issue for me so I'll likely be voting in favor.

Posted by Facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 5, 2010 at 11:46 pm

We already pay our teachers less than Las Lomitas, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, etc.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 6, 2010 at 8:55 am

There go the scare tactics again. Our teacher payscale is higher than the Bay Area average, though the differences among districts, as I recall, are small. MPCSD still has a lot of great teachers. Will the pay gap between us and Las Lomitas widen when the tax fails? Nope, because everyone is keeping pay raises to a minimum at the moment and besides, the salaries are tied to multi-year union contracts. The district isn't going to violate those!

Sorry, Facts, you'll have to do better than that to convince us. I agree with MPParent: we need to see real information, not propaganda.

Posted by All Wrong
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 6, 2010 at 12:04 pm

"District Parent" - of which you are not, what is it with all of YOUR scare tactics? Comments like, "unnecessary tax increase" - whereby you have NO analytical data to make this comment, it's just your version of the story, or "we don't know how to budget, so let's raise taxes" - again, this is an increase in enrollment issue, the district does a fantastic job of balancing the budget, you again have nothing to back this up, or "....headed for armaggedon"?? - who said that? Please stop your scare tactics, listen to the analytical arguements and other than "containing the growth of our student population...", please try to come up with different solutions. Any "district parent" would NEVER make that comment.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2010 at 5:40 pm

All Wrong, you have it backwards. I don't need to come up with facts. The district does. The district is trying to sell me on the need for the tax, and the arm waving and hysteria don't quite do the job.

You're also all wrong about my not being a district parent, but since I'm not going to identify myself, if it makes you feel better to talk yourself into a falsehood, go for it. But let's just say, theoretically, that every single district parent casts a kneejerk vote in favor of the parcel tax. District parents represent a minority of the voters who reside in this district so the tax cannot pass without the support of non-parents.

In any case, so far the arguments -- or should I say, lack thereof -- have failed to convince district parents that the tax is necessary. The burden of proof is not on us. It's on Ken and crew!

Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 6, 2010 at 7:24 pm

How about we cut every salary at these schools by 50%, including benefits, and hire more teachers using half of the savings? It would be great for the students, and reduces unemployment. Oh yeah, bad for fat cat union salaries. Well sorry, we can no longer afford them.

Posted by Linfield Oaks parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 8, 2010 at 9:17 am

The MPCSD is one school district with 4 schools (3 elementary schools and one middle school). The $178 parcel tax will go to help all 4 schools in the district.

School Districts all over the state are in trouble because of the state financial crisis causing cuts in the amount of money the state is sending to school districts. This is not the fault of Ken or the school board. Palo Alto and Portolla Valley also asking their communities to pass a parcel tax this Spring to help cover shortfalls from the state budget.

Our school district has the additional problem of increased costs due to surging enrollment. More teachers need to be hired to teach more kids. Our schools receive the same amount of money no matter how many kids are enrolled. So when there are more kids, there is no more money to help cover their cost. Our schools are so desirable that more and more kids keep coming. A key factor in some people's decision to move to Menlo Park is for the great schools.

The demographer has projected sevearal more years of growing enrollment so that is one of the reasons the parcel tax will expire in 7 years. If the state gets their finances in order and the enrollment stabilized, the district will have enough money to cover the budget. This parcel tax is meant to help close some of the gap for a period of time.

I appreciate that our kids get exposed to art and music and would hate to see these programs cut. I would also hate to see class sizes so large it makes it more difficult for teachers to teach and kids to learn. However, these are the types of measures that they have had to take in other school districts.

I hope that our community will vote 'yes' for this parcel tax to support our kids and their education.

Posted by amazed
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 8, 2010 at 1:00 pm

There are more kids coming into the schools. The amount paid by the state through our taxes is set and will be reduced on both the federal and state level. There are those who would like to see our area get LESS money than we currently are guaranteed by being basic aid.

These aren't scare tactics.

If you want the model that is followed in some of our nearby districts of paying less and having teachers rotate in and out as they look for greener pastures to put down roots then go ahead. Watch what happens when you have a huge teacher turn around every year.

Are there going to be cutbacks, yes, go to a board meeting to find out what they will cut. Will our foundations be asked to pick up a larger piece of the pie? YES. On the national level we are still asking for a level of education in this area that is not equal to the price we are paying. Other states pay a lot more than we do and yet here we are essentially pushing the district to look into more cuts and "bake sales" instead of understanding that MORE kids and more expectations require more money. We're talking about education our kids. OUR kids (California's) represent well over 10% of the nation's kids... and we have folks who are unwilling to do their part (as was done for them.... )

Yup... socialism? If you don't like it, then have fun paying a LOT more for the private schools that struggle to accomplish what the public schools manage to do with less money.

Go ahead. Vote against yourselves. Genius!! Use the "union" word like a bad word. Like "liberal". This is America?? Let's go back to 7 day work weeks with 12 hour days and kids in the labor force and no safety on the job!!! Darn those unions. Like the corporations are "great Americans"??

Posted by Dawn
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm

I see lots of people who need to attend a school board meeting. Turns out, they'll spend hours telling you all the facts you crave. Budget items are listed and discussed once a month. Twice this month to accommodate the additional need for public input. As for this notion that cutting salaries in half and hiring more teachers would solve the problem....I'm supposing you're also one of those folks who oppose the subsidized housing teachers would barely afford on half the salary. Or would you simply bus them across the bay each day? I've gone to the school board meetings. Its mind-numbing budget and policy talk - but answers so many of the things the previous commentators are asking for.

Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Please remember that the new proposed parcel tax is in addition to the existing one, which at over $500 is already higher than any other nearby communities.

These are a questions, not challenges:
isn't it the case that basic aid districts are compensated on a per (student) capita basis? Isn't that why the basic aid districts are so reluctant to allow transfers?
Isn't basic aid x $ per student, with some districts opting out of basic aid because because their local property taxes can yield more than the state will pay? If MPCS is now a basic aid district, would changing that get more $ from local revenues? Maybe the parcel tax would be reduced then. That would be nice.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm

"Let's go back to 7 day work weeks with 12 hour days and kids in the labor force and no safety on the job!!! Darn those unions."

Can we cut out the hyperbole? Asking the district to put the brakes on spending is not the same as putting our kids to work in sweat shops. This isn't a black-or-white/either-or situation.

"I'm supposing you're also one of those folks who oppose the subsidized housing teachers would barely afford on half the salary. Or would you simply bus them across the bay each day?"

Sigh. More outrageous statements just because some of us are questioning a tax that may be unduly onerous for many district residents in these dire financial times.

"I've gone to the school board meetings. Its mind-numbing budget and policy talk - but answers so many of the things the previous commentators are asking for."

Well, for starters, most parents -- likely to be the greatest supporters of this tax -- don't have the bandwidth to attend the meetings, especially those that start at 6 p.m. on a weekday. It's the main reason you tend to see low attendance at meetings.

As for the "mind-numbing" aspect of the budget, that's problematic. I spent some time searching for real budget numbers on the mpcsd website, to no avail. Parents and other voters shouldn't have to sit through a two-hour meeting to be able to access basic financial statements. Hard numbers, a couple of pieces of paper (or html pages, if you prefer). I'd guess that when that info is presented at meetings, it's shrouded in such heavy amounts of bureaucratese and what-ifs that it's barely intelligible. Shouldn't be that way.

I received the email Ken sent out yesterday. Ken is also light on the numbers, only slightly melodramatic when discussing the current state of affairs. I understand that the district will have a $2mm shortfall next year and the tax could recoup a huge chunk of that. But on the other hand, I'm wondering why the increased property taxes from the families moving into the district don't appear anywhere in this equation.

I don't believe our schools or our community will tank if this tax doesn't pass. Even Ken doesn't hint at anything so alarming. But the you're-an-idiot-if-you-don't-vote-yes comments made here by tax proponents are not only offputting, they are disrespectful of so many residents who don't have kids in schools and can't afford this tax, especially given the lack of transparency or cogent arguments in its favor.

Posted by Rudy
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 8, 2010 at 3:27 pm

I believe a fundamental problem with our current public school system is that we undervalue the teachers. They have a huge impact on our kids, and if they're good, we ought to be willing to pay them significantly more. But I don't believe we will ever reasonably be able to change this until there is a merit based system in place that rewards great teachers and weeds out the mediocre ones. Until the teachers' union can agree to this, we are stuck; more money for teachers doesn't necessarily result in better teaching.

At the same time the boards of the SUHSD and MPSD have in my view made some unwise decisions. They have elected to raise and spend enormous amounts of taxpayer money on facilities, far beyond what is required for growth in enrollment. Yes, the schools need to keep facilities current, but there are many examples of over-the-top spending that is just plain wasteful (a drive down Middlefield Road might reveal some). For example, in the case of the M-A PAC, millions extra were spent on an extravagant design vs a more functional one. THIS HAS CAUSED ME (AND OTHERS) TO VIEW OUR SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS AND ADMINISTRATORS AS POOR STEWARDS OF OUR MONEY. And now they want more.

I think most residents want our school boards to BOTH 1) look out for our kids AND 2) be good stewards of our money. Both are necessary. I think the MP board is doing a good job at 1) and an atrocious job at 2). Let's not reward them with more money. I have total faith that this board can find a way to do what's really necessary to teach our kids effectively without this additional money.

Posted by Linfield Oaks parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Just to clarify, the M-A PAC (new theater on Middlefield Rd.)) is part of the Sequoia Union High School and not the Menlo Park School District. The Menlo Park school district includes 3 elementary schools and one middle school. The money that was raised for facilities with the last parcel tax has been used at each of the school campuses to update old facilities and increase the number of classrooms to accommodate the student enrollment projections. It was also used to build the TERC so that district programs (music, science kids, technology, etc.) did not have to pay to store equipment off campus.

Of course, more students keep coming so the district considered using the O'Connor campus to handle the increased enrollment. However, last month they took the fiscally conservative route of handling the increased enrollment at the existing campuses (by adding 3 more classrooms at Laurel) instead of spending money to use O'Connor. If the economic outlook had been different, they might have decided to use O'Connor campus.

I agree that voters have the right to ask questions and get answers. There are logical answers to the questions out there. I hope we can all be respectful to each other because we are all part of this great community. It has not yet been a full a week since the school board passed the resolution to ask for a parcel tax. A dedicated group of parents are working on creating a website that will have many of these questions and answers for people to check out.

Posted by Bravo Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 8, 2010 at 9:38 pm

Bravo Linfield Oak Parent! We need many more like you to explain the FACTS about this issue. I find it extremely difficult to explain to people that exaggerate claims regarding the board, or take positions that are not well thought out, they are emotional or assumptions. We would all appreciate a FACTUAL Q & A link to your site, so that these concerns are discussed and debated in an open forum of facts. Thanks again for your common sense!

a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 8, 2010 at 10:02 pm

Give school board more money, and they will find ways to waste it.
OPM (Other Peoples Money) gives them carte blanche.
Vote NO on more tax increases. They build palaces on campuses when more modest improvements would suffice.
This is nuts, cut off their purse strings and get some accountability.

Posted by Hillview Parent
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Feb 8, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Perception is reality. It should be clear from this blog that the MPCSD has not done an adequate job in justifying to the community it's need for a parcel tax or in building trust that it will spend the money wisely.

Several weeks ago, I was contacted by a professional polling organization that was conducting a phone survey for the MPCSD. They described the budget situation and asked if I would support a parcel tax. (I said Yes). They went on to ask a series of questions about which things would make me more or less likely to vote for the tax. Questions addressed the amount of the tax (anywhere from $150-$500), who it would apply to, and how it would be spent. The potential uses for the money ranged from keeping class sizes small to providing free laptops to all students at Hillview.

The fact that the ballot measure came out at $178 (except seniors) and we are being told that the use of funds will be to maintain class sizes probably means that most people told them the same thing that I did - "Lets maintain the quality of our core curriculum, but now is not the time to be adding more extras like free computers."

While I will probably vote for the tax, I would feel much better if it were part of an overall strategy to improve quality and efficiency. For example, I would far more supportive of the parcel tax if it was going to bridge the difference in spending between MPCSD and Las Lomitas and allow us to combine the districts and permanently eliminate a dozen unnecessary administrative positions.

Posted by Fact Check
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2010 at 11:50 pm

Those looking for more accurate facts on the budget should go to the MPCSD website:

Web Link

In 2008/2009
- the total operating budget was $28 million
- only 10% of our funding came from the state.
- existing parcel taxes already provide 16.4% of the operating budget
- property taxes provide 61% of the operating budget
- 80% of salaries go to teachers and 20% to administrative and other "classified" staff

Don't know why the district has yet to publish its current year budget.


Past parcel taxes for operating expenses: Web Link
- 1992 (renewed in 1995 and 2003) - $65
- 2000 - $298
- 2003 - $73
- 2010 - $178 (proposed)
In addition there have been additional taxes levied for construction bonds:
- 1995 - $22 million
- 2006 - $91 million

Posted by Downtowner
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Hello Fact Checker,

I've checked mine too. My 2009-'10 property tax bill shows that I'm already paying $565.14 per year to the MP school district. I will not vote for an additional $178 per year unless I see some fiscal responsibility from the Board COMBINED with consideration for the resident taxpayers in the expansion plans on the wish list. Currently, the attitude is "sure, just take away the park at Santa Cruz & Olive" which the City & it's taxpayers pay for. Want more money? Do a parcel tax. Want bigger buildings? Go for it, even if it diminishes quality of life for neighbors.

Oh, maybe the teacher should have to define "commentator" when she takes her test to see if she can remain employed here, living in BMR housing.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Sorry, that outdated page of numbers doesn't do it for me. Compare that document to Palo Alto's at Web Link

Palo Alto may err on the side of providing more information than is absolutely necessary, but they do show the numbers and the changes in numbers at a granular level.

Also note that Palo Alto's shortfall is about 4 times as big as ours -- appropriate, as their district is more than 4 times as big as ours -- and that they are planning to add one student per class (25 vs 24) and make other discretionary cuts vs taxing the residents. Web Link

Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 9, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Fact Checker - Interesting that the school district has proposed a new parcel tax every 3-4 years regardless of economic conditions. The biggest increases have come during boom times like 2000 and 2006, while smaller increases have been levied in recessionary periods like 1992 and 2003. I guess we should expect another large increase in 2013 assuming that the economy continues to recover.

Posted by wonderment
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 9, 2010 at 3:23 pm

While I appreciate the view that putting the Menlo Park school district together might be cost effective. I'm wondering why in the world Menlo Park thinks that the Las Lomitas District would go for this? How many school sites is the Menlo Park district leasing to contribute to its budget. Las Lomitas has two sites that are contributing to their cash flow, and we built up our campuses to manage our student growth (supposedly...!) In what world would it make any sense for Las Lomitas to join Menlo Park? Not going to happen, and it's not the unions that would scream.

Posted by Gunslinger
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2010 at 9:22 am

Why is it that the same forces who want lower class sizes and higher taxes are also the same who want overdevelopment, increases in population density, and are completely okay with a rise in crime? The two seem contradictory, at first, especially since these same forces often argue that they are approving our communities.

But only for them. The rest of us be damned

Posted by Gunslinger
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2010 at 9:24 am

I meant improving instead of approving

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 10, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Which local district, precisely, should we merge with? Looking at, which tracks each district's audited spending, I see that, in the latest reporting year (2007-08):
- MPCSD spent $10,471 per student
- Las Lomitas spent $14,832
- Portola Valley spent $16,507
- Woodside spent $17,165
- Ravenswood (yes, Ravenswood) spent $13,006
- Palo Alto Unified spent $13,510

Since funding $1,000 of the upcoming $1200+ shortfall per student will cost us $178/parcel ... let me see, that would be an additional $600 to buy into Las Lomitas, $900 into Portola Valley, ... shoot, even getting into Ravenswood would cost $450 for every parcel in the district! (And no wonder Palo Alto isn't going out for more money, they looked at ... Menlo Park!)

Could I suggest that, instead of accusing the Board and Superintendant of fiscal incompetence, we might recognize that, for less money, they produced very creditable 2008 APIs at a much better cost/student? (And the 2009 score: 934 was even better.)

MPCSD ... 915 ($11.44/point)
Las Lomitas ... 957 ($15.50/point)
Portola Valley ... 954 ($17.31/point)
Woodside ... 956 ($17.96/point)
Ravensood ... 636 ($20.45/point), and ...
Palo Alto Unified ... 918 ($14.72/point)
and, to cover the fourth Menlo district, Redwood City Elementary ... 764 for $10,008/student ($13.10)
(API data also from the ed-data website).

Be careful what you wish for -- when you hop ideologically into bed! Less for more is writ large here.

That detail aside, why, 30 years after voters instituted a mandatory 2% pa cap on ad valorem property tax increases, are we So Surprised when we're asked to pay increased parcel taxes? This is how things get paid for when a third of the parcels in Menlo Park are at 179% of their 1978 basis ... (a period when inflation has run 379%?). This was the Prop 13 plan -- remember? We'd all fund everything through parcel taxes, which we'd vote on. No more letting the market decide.

So here we are, trying to decide how to pay for our social welfare decision thirty years ago. Let's stop blaming the victim -- our kids -- and figure out how to give them the education we got. (Excluding, of course, higher education, which they won't get, no matter what we do.)

YES on the parcel tax.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 10, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Very disingenuous way to present the numbers, as well as to understate the MPCSD expenditure/student by over $1000! (Probably a typo.)

When you disaggregate the limited data available on the ed-data site, you see that our teacher salaries and benefits are higher per student than they are in other districts (Palo Alto, for example). Much of the difference appears in the "special services" categories (travel, conferences) so at least our administration is holding the line there. And our per student expenditures are well above state averages.

As for the $/point comparison, I hope I am not the only poster who finds that a rather nauseating valuation. Besides, the board did not produce those high APIs anyway -- we parents did! The variation in APIs across districts correlates closely to the homogeneity (or lack thereof) of those districts and to parental levels of education and affluence.

Specious comparisons to other districts aside, I'd still rather see our district's financials than cheap shots like:

"Be careful what you wish for -- when you hop ideologically into bed!"

I recognize that that's an insult, not sure what it's supposed to mean since ideology isn't an issue here, but I think you pro-taxers will find that people all over town will be asking hard questions and insisting on solid data. Evasive non-answers aren't going to cut it in this election.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 11, 2010 at 6:28 am

Thank you for correcting my expenditure number for Menlo -- you're right that spending was $11,615 -- and STILL the numbers are much better for MPCSD than the surrounding districts ($12.69 vs $14.72 and up) -- which, in the case of Woodside, Las Lomitas, and Portola Valley, would appear to be more homogeneous and more affluent -- hence, by your measures, should be spending less than we are.

You don't like my API comparison -- yet, given the hard data on cost per student, you ... what? Think "we" parents will continue to produce high APIs in Menlo Park with our children warehoused in large classes in the schools? Think the other districts will cheerfully merge with us? Think the current state of "average" California education will produce citizens who will be competitive in tomorrow's economy?

As a community, we've recognized, time and again, that we have to put our money where our mouths are when it comes to the schools. Given the nature of Prop 13 limits, that has meant parcel taxes. The awful thing about parcel taxes is exactly what many have noted -- one tax gets us buildings, another tax gets us people to staff the buildings. It's chunky and clunky and awful. But it's all that we have today ... and tomorrow is closing in.

Posted by Gunslinger
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2010 at 8:06 am

Californias decline as a whole, including in the education system concerning the output of intelligent and effective kids, can be traced directly to the welfare state and illegal immigration. Those good parents who raise their kids right produce students who could learn in a shack with 500 other kids. But we're burdened down by endless thirdworlders and their ilk

Have you ever heard of the phrase "Youre trying to make a silk purse out of a sows ear."

Posted by EyesWideOpen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 11, 2010 at 8:34 am

Gunslinger, I'm sorry you live such a fearful and restricted life. All of the "thirdworlders" I know personally (quite a few) make me happy that they are among us to (I hope) inspire our increasingly soft-edged native-born citizens to work harder and care about things that matter. You really need to get out more -- WITH an open mind, of course.

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 11, 2010 at 8:56 am

Can we try not to go off track?

Of course our schools won't continue to produce educated kids if we completely cut the guts out of the system. But, histrionics aside, if we have to increase our class size by one child, which is what Palo Alto is proposing, our kids will still get a fine education. Right now, the class sizes increase on average about 30% between third and fourth grade and hardly anyone even notices. When there was belt-tightening in the 90s, class sizes increased by an average of 3 in the elementary grades, which didn't stop my oldest child (and many of his peers) from getting into Stanford and other top schools.

We're pretty spoiled with our small class sizes, and we'd all rather keep them small, but this is no time to float a tax -- not when there are viable alternatives. There are many other places to cut too. At Hillview, for example, this week the eighth grade class took a field trip to Monterey, and the seventh graders spent a half day in a kindness assembly (I heard many complaints about that). Could we eliminate these amenities without affecting the quality of the program? Rhetorical question.

Posted by Gwen
a resident of Laurel School
on Feb 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

I thought that the PTO and not the district funded the field trips. Am I wrong?

Posted by Thanks Jennifer
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

Thank you Jennifer for spending the time to present logical, and factual data. You are absolutely correct! Also, the assumption that we have not "tightened our belts" is laughable. We pulled back the budget last year by over $1M in cuts, this was the increase in kids, in the classroom that several people have alluded to. In addition, science aids were cut, materials were cut and positions were not filled, that needed to be filled. Again, bad information, field trips ARE funded by the PTO.(probably that PTO that you did not want to donate to, Mr. District Parent) MPCSD will be providing many more facts and figures, as this discussion moves on, I would hope that all of us listen to the facts and figures, before we make stuff up or assume things. As a community, a very good community, we are much better than that!

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 11, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I love the assumptions some of you make. My family actually donates very generously to the PTOs, always have, and I am not a "Mr." I also have been active as a volunteer -- I had a leadership role in one of the prior parcel tax elections and have worked the streets and phone banks on behalf of the schools in almost every election.

As someone said above, perception is everything. Most of us don't pay close attention to school or city finances (and if we try to get more information, find that it's stunningly hard to do so!) But when we drive down Middlefield and observe the construction on the new two-story buildings at Encinal, or go to Back to School Night and see the smartboards, or hear the kids complaining about having too many assemblies, it's hard for many of us to believe that the schools can't cut back. And honestly, if the PTO wanted to use my donation to fund science instead of a day trip to Monterey, do you think I or any other parent would complain?

To put it another way, a substantial percentage of district homeowners have lived in the district over 20 years. They bought their houses for under $500,000, they don't have kids in the district any more, and they just lost their jobs. They're still a decade or more away from the senior exemption, and that $178 does make a difference. How do you sell them on yet another parcel tax?

I look forward to seeing the district's arguments. (I expect the district will be less heavy-handed than some of the posters here, and will realize that namecalling rarely captures votes.) But look around -- do you see other districts asking for new parcel taxes? Everyone else is hurting too. I think Ken and the board make a tactical error, and are opening themselves to well-deserved criticism down the road.

Posted by Dawn
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 11, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Actually, Portola Valley is asking for a parcel tax in the same election as MP. Foster City/San Mateo just tried - though I didn't look to see if they were successful. And I seem to recall seeing some signs in San Carlos in the not too distant past. I guess the answer to your question is, yes. I deleted all my own fear mongering before posting to try to keep focus.

Posted by Dawn
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 11, 2010 at 2:52 pm

Web Link

Posted by Dawn
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 11, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Excerpt from SFGate article - link from above article:

"The measures to fund schools in Pleasanton and Redwood City failed, but voters in Piedmont and Novato supported taxes."

My thoughts:

Redwood City will be laying off teachers mid-year this year. Maybe they really did need the money.

Posted by Gwen
a resident of Laurel School
on Feb 11, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Poor Redwood City -- that school district is really suffering. It's a shame that its parcel tax failed, because it desperately needs the money.

Posted by Thanks Jennifer
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 11, 2010 at 7:51 pm

I'm sorry, I don't buy the argument about "district homeowners that have lived in the district for 20 years". We bought our house from someone very much like this, I believe their "profit" was almost $1M!! My point is, this is a community decision, it's not a decision that should, or even can, be made by just the parents. GOOD SCHOOLS = HIGHER HOME VALUES, AND A STRONG COMMUNITY, AND A SAFER COMMUNITY, ETC.
We can continue to throw around unofficial statistics and unsubstantiated claims about the Board, and our Superintendent, but at the end of the day, everyone WILL see, and hopefully understand the need. We need to continue our growth of excellence in this school district, it's best for ALL of us.

Posted by Gunslinger
a resident of another community
on Feb 11, 2010 at 8:56 pm


The school system does not get to usurp the deeds of good parents and people of a community

Posted by district parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 11, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Many long-term residents have no plans to move. If you aren't selling a house, it doesn't really matter whether the appreciation is $1 million or 1.2 million. But that's a moot point of discussion anyway, because home values won't head downward if this tax doesn't pass. Our schools are strong; minor cutbacks won't send them into freefall decline. We're not Redwood City, whose schools have been trying to climb out of a hole for decades. We're also not tiny, homogeneous, and rich like Portola Valley.

There are a lot of people who live within the district boundaries who are barely getting by. For their sake, and for the sake of all of us who have the audacity to ask questions, the district needs to come up with some good answers.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 11, 2010 at 10:32 pm

Vote no on these parcel taxes until public school teacher unions are abolished. Reduce salaries and benefits until the budget is balanced. Fire the worst 10% of the staff.

Posted by Mrs. Lovejoy
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 12, 2010 at 3:48 pm

That's a great idea. Let's wreck a highly successful public school.

Posted by Gunslinger
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2010 at 9:05 pm

It won't wreck it. Trimming the fat will benefit the schools and kids. And the fat is the teachers unions

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 12, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If school districts continue to think that parcel taxes will be their salvation, rather than exercising unyielding cost controls, then they will soon discover that the votes simply aren't there.

In the next year we will see dozens of school districts going into receivership and being taken over by the State.

Posted by Great Peter
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 12, 2010 at 10:53 pm

Great Peter, many of us agree with you. However, that is just not the case with the MPCSD. I wish someone would post some honest, factual evidence that honestly debates the following: a school population that went up by 125 new students last year, while only hiring one teacher: a cut of over $1M to "the fat" aka expenses that saved jobs, but took out the "fluff" and now the district sits at spending 88% of their monies on salaries that have not been increase dfor 2+ years, with another increase in enrollment. We all agree the state and local teacher unions are unforgiving, unrealistic etc., but this is a local challenge that we can solve, and makes sense to solve. We have a very good school district that DOES manage their monies effectively, and inexpensively compared to local districts and other states. Why "teach a district a lesson" when there is no lesson to be taught locally? Why potentially break something that does not warrant a break. Please speak some common sense!

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 13, 2010 at 8:59 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I would be very pleased if the MPCSD is able to live within its revenues and is not one of the school districts that fall into receivership. However, I suggest that relying on parcel taxes is very risky in the current economic and political environment.

Posted by MP mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 22, 2010 at 6:05 pm

For anyone interested in the details, this Thursday, February 25th at 7:00 p.m. in the Laurel School multipurpose room, the Board of Education will be conducting a Study Session. The purpose of the Study Session is to review the various options and strategies that the Administration has identified to address next year's projected deficit.

Posted by Alumni Parent
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 24, 2010 at 1:36 pm

All my children went to through Laurel, Encinal and Hillview schools and are now at Menlo-Atherton High School. They received a great education during those elementary years, and I want that for the current and future children as well. I worked hard to support the schools and don't want to see that work undone with teachers let go and vital programs slashed. I am in favor of this parcel tax to preserve the quality of education in our local school district. State funding cuts and climbing enrollment are endangering the level of education and services we all count on. I am glad that we have the ability to support our schools locally and maintain the quality of education for our children.

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