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Menlo Park schools 'completely maxed out'

Original post made on May 1, 2013

The Menlo Park City School District's Board of Education met Tuesday, April 30, to learn more about options for the future use of its O'Connor School site in the Willows neighborhood, but ended the day with a sobering discussion of what to do in the meantime with more and more students entering the district each year and additional classroom space non-existent.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 11:41 AM

Comments (29)

Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 1, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Welcome to the real world. The data from the school district's demographic consultant clearly showed this was going to happen before the $91M was committed to the short sighted four campus plan and was pointed out to the board at the time.
Being a school board member is a non-trivial job dealing with a wide variety of issues that require a serious time commitment, and good judgement. We respect that kind of commitment. But sadly, Rich and Thygesen who suffer from terminal hindsight smugly dismissed the idea of taking back the O'Connor campus and spending the then estimated 7-8 % of the bond money on major improvement to that facility despite compelling data from their own commissioned studies.
They continued their opposition at the next opportunity to terminate the GAIS sweetheart deal. As a result they also passed up the opportunity to buy a large property adjacent to the O'Conner site for a song.
In a public school board meeting at that time, Rich sneered at the idea of ever having a school in the Willows even though the entry level student population was growing there at a higher rate than anywhere else in the district.Thygesen's view then as now was if we need another campus we will just have to get residents to support another bond issue.
These two with then Supt. Ranella were apparently more concerned with creating lasting monuments to themselves rather than looking at the long term impacts to both students and the community. And Ranella? he retired with exceedingly generous pay increases and benefits.
But Rich and Thygesen are still there trying again to avoid the fruits of their past decisions.
They may find it harder to get support for another bond issue.

Posted by Disconcerted
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 1, 2013 at 10:04 pm

These scenarios are ridiculous. All of the palatable scenarios require another bond measure. The only scenario that doesn't is completely ridiculous. Ghysels and the board are trying to passive aggressively convince taxpayers that the only possible solution requires a multimillion dollar bond.

I appreciate the history provided by Old Timer. Poor decisions made by the board seem to always cost the taxpayers more money. Perhaps if they had been more prudent in their spending with the building of hillview, there would have been enough money left over to make reasonable renovations to O'Connor without the need to fleece the community with another bond.

Posted by The real problem
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 1, 2013 at 10:25 pm

The school board is nominally elected, but probably most residents can't remember the last time they voted in an election for board trustees. That's because the board is an in-group, they handpick their successors, and outsiders aren't even made aware that a transition is occurring.

I have only the greatest respect for anyone who volunteers for this job. But Laura's kids are in their 20s and I think Terry's kids checked out of the public schools a while ago. The fact that they both have a long history with the board is not a compelling reason for them to remain. It's past time to break up the cabal.

Posted by facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 1, 2013 at 10:32 pm

Can't you school haters get even the most basic facts straight? The construction that has been completed was planned way back in 2005-06. And Thygesen wasn't even on the board in 2009 when the board was considering whether or not to take back O'Connor.

I for one appreciate the fact that the 2009 board of Rich, Fitz, Child, Box and Hilton wanted to be conservative and wait out the global financial crisis to see if that might turn back the enrollment increases. I'm sure that with 20/20 hindsight, they would have taken back the O'Connor site, but it's hard to fault them for trying to be conservative and making sure the enrollment growth was here to stay before asking the community for the funding to bring a 5th school on-line.

Las Lomitas, Palo Alto and other high performing surrounding districts are also all experiencing more enrollment growth. They are also having to make plans to expand. I guess according to you, their boards are all full of idiots as well. Why don't you man-up and run for the board yourself if you think that our community no longer wants to support public education? The pay is really good -- ah er, that would be zero. It should be really satisfying for you to be in charge of tearing down everything that so many people have worked so hard to give to the children of this community.


Posted by Disconcerted
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 2, 2013 at 11:02 am

I do not consider myself a school hater. I have always been a big supporter of Menlo Park schools and appreciate the education and experience that my children are receiving. It's not about hating the schools, it's about a growing distrust in the school board and district administration.

With this latest news about O'Connor, I truly believe that Ghysels and the Board want to have the community over a barrel so that there will be no choice but to pass another multi-million dollar bond. That there is this assumption that the community will continue to keep passing bonds and voting for parcel taxes. It takes trust in the leadership to win the vote and I'm just not sure how much trust is left.

To "facts", I'd love to run for the school board, if only there was any hope of anyone outside of "the club" actually getting a seat on the board!

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 2, 2013 at 11:42 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Disconcerted is absolutely correct - to vote for a parcel tax, regardless of the jurisdiction or its mission, is a vote of confidence in that jurisdiction's leadership and track record. To vote for an increased parcel tax is a vote of increased confidence in that leadership and its track record. Voting no on a parcel tax is not a vote against the mission of the jurisdiction but rather a vote of no confidence in its leadership.

I predict that more and more parcel taxe votes will fail in the next few years simply because the taxpayers have lost confidence in the leadership involved.

Posted by The real problem
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 2, 2013 at 2:33 pm

I approached a few people on the school board to express my interest in serving on the board, and I was discouraged from pursuing a seat.

I have observed the few occasions that a renegade -- someone not selected -- ran for the board. The renegade is inevitably accused of costing the district a lot of money (because if s/he weren't running, no election would have occurred!) and there is insidious reputation-bashing. It's really ugly, and I would not want to be subjected to that.

I would say that everyone who is on the board now is smart, friendly, and cares about the schools (this has not always been the case with the MPCSD board) but that doesn't mean they are doing right by our kids and community, or that they are the best people for the job. But the in-group has been solidly in control for as long as I remember.

Posted by Sara
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Look carefully at what Palo Alto has done, and then do the opposite. The schools over there are in serious trouble with overcrowding, bad management, etc. Their most recent solution was to hire a PR director to spin their way out. It's very sad to watch and I hope Memlo Park can avoid some of these mistakes

Posted by Let's work together
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 2, 2013 at 5:01 pm

I think the board has taken a responsible and conservative approach over the past years and tried to use wisdom to make the best decisions with the information they had. The last bond measure paid to update and expand the elementary schools and build a new middle school. However, the board did not want to be irresponsible with tax payer dollars and overbuild these schools because no one knew how much enrollment would increase in the future. Let's admit that even now it is hard to predict with 100% certainty that the growth in student enrollment that MPCSD is experiencing will continue for the next 10-20 years. Enrollment predictions are being made about kids that haven't even been born and their parents may not have even met yet.

In 2009, the board seriously considered taking the O'Connor campus but due to the economic downturn they decided to be conservative once again and give time to see if the student enrollment would truly increase.

Here we are in 2013 and it looks like more kids are continuing to come to MPCSD. So it is the board's responsibility to make sure that the District is ready with the programs and facilities to educate all these kids. The choices are not great and this is a hard decision. They could 1) stuff more kids into schools that are now maxed out 2) open a new school with minor updates to a very outdated building with no gym or other comparable facilities 3) do major renovations to the one story facility (you cannot add a 2nd story to add more classrooms because the building are too old) 4) build a new school with comparable facilities to the other campuses. Both options 3 and 4 would require the passage of a bond measure by our community.

These are hard decisions for the board and for our community. We are fortunate to have a board that is very experienced and committed. I would hope that we could come together as a community and have a civil and respectful discussion about how to make plans for all these additional kids that are coming to our schools rather than pointing fingers at each other and blaming each other for the situation we are in. Our neighbors in Los Lomitas and Palo Alto are also in the same boat. Let's please come together and figure this out and not tear each other apart.

Posted by Elementary Watson
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 2, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Buy back Old Fremont school site on Middle for a K-2 to serve Allied Arts and Central Menlo.
Rosener House could be moved to Little House and added onto for a campus.

Posted by Disconcerted
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 2, 2013 at 9:01 pm

I seem to recall money from the last bond being earmarked by Ken Ranella to renovate O'Connor as it was in the realm of possibility that it might need to be taken over. Where has all of that money gone? Perhaps in the way too expensive sound and video equipment at Hillview's PAC?

Posted by facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 3, 2013 at 12:17 am

Go back and check the public documents from the master planning and the '05 bond measure, and you will see that bond was never promised or intended to provide funds for building at O'Connor. That being said, the District has been very transparent about the fact that they have held back from spending the $3M available in construction funds on the remaining improvements at the other schools, and these funds could be used instead to open O'Connor and use the school without a new bond. However, the $3M is not enough money if the community wants to see any more than a very minor modernization at O'Connor. The District is giving the community the choice to decide what it wants to do. If you don't want to see the District add capacity to provide for the growing enrollment, then come to a board meeting and say so. Or email the board. Or write a letter to the editor. Or run for City Council to stop them from continuing to add more and more housing. If the District decides to go ahead and ask the voters for additional funding, mount a campaign to defeat the bond measure. It's called democracy, and it works a lot better when people make the effort to engage in the process.

Posted by Testy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 3, 2013 at 7:00 am

Facts... You sound defensive and seem to be taking this all too personally, as if you are one of the people making the decisions.

Many members of the community have lost faith in the board by the hiring of Mr. Ghysels and by completely ignoring the bullying charges that were made. Having the almanac write an editorial regarding his leadership and having it ignored by the board is an embarrassment and confirms their arrogance. This arrogance rears its ugly head in the O'Connor situation. There is always the assumption they the community will keep passing bonds so little effort is made in alternate solutions.

As long as the board continues to support Ghysels in this way, you can bet the town will continue to challenge their decisions. As disconcerted said above, it's about trust and there's not much there.

Posted by ...pants on fire, Read Measure U full text
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 3, 2013 at 7:50 am

Measure U, the 2006 $91 Million School Bond Measure,
specifically stated under Project Improvements.

Listed improvements may also include renovation of OConnor School, if necessary to accomodate future enrollment growth.

Go to Smart and read the whole text.

Ranella and the board repeated often that money from the $91Million bond issue would be set aside for OConnor renovation, est. at that time at around $6million.

Posted by Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on May 3, 2013 at 8:45 am

I'm really pleased with the improvements that have been made to the schools in Menlo Park. I trust our school and parent leadership to invest in an additional school to keep the existing schools from being too big and crowded.

Posted by Money Talks
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 3, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Money? The Menlo Park school board is ALL about raising money. That's how each member was anointed -- oops, I mean appointed.

To serve on the school board, one must have first served on the Menlo Park Atherton Education Foundation. Period. If you haven't, don't even bother to try to run for a school board seat because the outcome has already been determined. I don't want to take anything away from the important work done by the parents who volunteer for the MPAEF, but that doesn't make it OK for the MPAEF to seat board members.

That incestuous situation has created a very arrogant attitude. Board members have learned that people will give a lot if they can be convinced that their children's educations are hanging in the balance.

That is easily extended to the general community. Good schools = high property values, and what property owner dares to jeopardize the value of their home by voting down a school bond? Even when they are voting to correct poor decisions and planning in the past.

Posted by What about the kids?
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 5, 2013 at 8:40 am

Most it the comments have been bashing the Board, with very few comments on what is best for the kids. Let's focus on what is best for the children.

I have an incoming Kindergartner in 2013, and another one in 2014. I would like to see Lauerl as a two-campus school. I don't see an issue if O'Conner is K-1 or 3-5, but keep the kids together with their friends. Please don't fracture the neighborhoods more by splitting up the kids into smaller groups.

Posted by Questionable
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 6, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I don't think it's merely about bashing the board. There is no doubt that that decisions should be made in the best interest of students. I think many people are questioning whether this board and Ghysels are actually doing that with the decisions that they make.

Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 6, 2013 at 4:55 pm

With a pupil/teacher ratio of 17.6, the "overcrowding" could easily be handled by a slight increase in class size.

Posted by Questionable
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 6, 2013 at 6:21 pm

Yes. And I've learned from a friend of mine who teaches in the district that they are looking to lower class size even more next year! In the midst of an enrollment crisis and burgeoning schools, is this really the time to lower class size to even lower than what they already are? I'm all for small class sizes, but if the average is already at 17.6, how much lower do they plan to go? I can't help but think it's all part of Ghysels' propaganda to sell a bond by artificially overcrowding the schools by reducing the class size even more.

Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 7, 2013 at 11:14 am

Note also that the countywide pupil/teacher ratio is 21.4.
Besides "...artificially overcrowding the schools by reducing the class size..." some districts, like Redwood City, have filled overbuilt campuses by reducing class size.

Web Link

Posted by Ratios
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 7, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Dear Jack, The student teacher ratio is not 17.6 in MPCSD. I see you posted from Woodside. Maybe that is the student teacher ratio in Woodside, I don't know. The target has been 20 for grades K-3 and 24 for grades 4-8. However, due to increased enrollment they have been over these targets at some grades in some schools for several years now. I know they plan to add a teacher at one grade level at Encinal that is several students over the target. I think they also plan to add a kindergarten teacher next year to accommodate the increased enrollment of kinders at Encinal. I believe the Superintendent and Board are doing their best to balance the desire not to have growing class sizes at a time when the campuses are maxed out and there are no available classrooms. It is a tough situation.

Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 7, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Ratios, the 17.6 figure is shown in the weblink I posted. Web Link

Posted by Diane
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 7, 2013 at 6:01 pm

If the district has already been above the targets of 20 and 24, is this really the year to try and hit those targets? 24 is actually a really low number for middle school classes and while 20 is great at K-1, I would argue that it wouldn't be awful if they were a bit higher than that in 2nd and 3rd.

Posted by mom
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on May 8, 2013 at 6:44 pm

I have a student at Encinal School and there are 24 kids in every kindergarten class and 26-27 in every 4th grade class. I don't think you can find a class at Encinal with the ratios reported in ed data, so my guess is that they are averaging down the numbers because we have teachers employed who are reading specialists, music, and art, but don't have a classroom of kids.
So, the ed data information is misleading in terms of real class size. I can say they are very crowded in reality.

Posted by Lisa T.
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 8, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Maybe Encinal, but look at the class sizes at Oak Knoll, Laurel and Hillview. Perhaps a shifting in boundaries may be the solution and not cost the tax payers any more money!

Posted by Need Answers
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 8, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I've gone to the website and read through Measure U. However, I can't find the attachments that are referred to in the text. I'd like to know how much money was budgeting for O'Connor updates in that bond.

Posted by MPAEF_gangland
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 9, 2013 at 12:54 pm

Lost in all of this discussion is the rather interesting debate around what actually constitutes an ideal class size and at what class size do incremental increases actually detrimentally impact students. Without going into the details, which any of you can research on your own, MPCSD is doing fine.

The bigger question is what are we doing with our education dollars in this district and this country. Here's a link to very nice infographic:

Web Link

How are we so out of line with other countries with higher costs of living? We know all of this additional money doesn't go to our teachers, so where does it go? My explanation is that it goes to administrators who don't actually educate and facilities expenses that do not address critical needs. Whatever issues I might have with Union pensions are not relevant here because government pensions in the other countries on that chart are impressive in their own right. Smartboards in kindergartens to show our students how to cut out hearts with a touch sensitive LED screen just isn't how our kids are going to get smarter. I, for one, will not "feed the beast" with my vote any more. I encourage everyone to educate themselves on these issues. Our local issues are just a microcosm for what is going on in this country as a whole.

Posted by Diane
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm

I appreciate your post, MPAEF! I completely agree with you! The district has been doing really well, despite the class sizes being slightly above the "target". While I appreciate being mindful of class size, let's be realistic here. Who says 20 and 24 are targets? And why the sudden need to hit those targets when class size has been above that for years.

A 4th or 5th grade class size of 26 is not a crime! If it were 36, then there would be something to argue about! If possible, it's nice to keep numbers low, but I'd prefer my child be in a class of 26 than to have to walk over to the District Office for a class as the article stated! That is preposterous!

Where does all of the money go is a great question!

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