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Guest opinion: 'Platinum education'? A closer look at district spending from a national perspective

Original post made on Feb 7, 2017

In the recent debates over funding and parcel taxes for the Menlo Park City School District, it has concerned me significantly that there has been a lack of perspective from a national and international standpoint. While it makes sense to benchmark locally for some things, it is very important to also benchmark nationally and be aware of education beyond the Peninsula.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 8, 2017, 12:00 AM

Comments (25)

13 people like this
Posted by Karen Dearing
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:35 am

Karen Dearing is a registered user.

Thanks, Vic, for this.... Eye-opening to say the least!!


21 people like this
Posted by American Home First
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:38 am

Skimping on education - a great place to suddenly be frugal!

China, India, Russia, Germany and all our global competitors approve!


15 people like this
Posted by Katie Ferrick
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 7, 2017 at 10:51 am

Thanks, Vic, for your support and diving in to the comparisons nationally. This is important context.

Supporting locally controlled public education is becoming more critical by the day.

Love this quote from your letter:

"After visiting dozens of schools that spend far more than MPCSD and cost far less to run, I am always amazed at the bang for our buck that we get at our schools for only $13,000 to $14,000 per-student spending in one of the most expensive zip codes in the country."

I agree it is a relative bargain and provides the entire community much value having quality local public schools.

Thank you for your support for Measure X.


12 people like this
Posted by MPCSD Parent2
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:06 am

Thank you Vic for providing additional perspective on funding for public schools.
You have only confirmed my view that our voters in our community should Vote Yes on Measure X.


1 person likes this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:09 am

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Don't forget to add debt service on the $131,000,000 now outstanding on bonds which originally sold for $114,100,000. And then we have "on-behalf" state funding to service bonds which provided "matching funds". Add to that the "on-behalf" state payments made to subsidize the "unfunded liability" of pension funds. Did I mention the per pupil share of state and county administrative bureaucracies?

Many supporters of Measure X are contributors to the MPAEF which provides considerable support to MPCSD programs. Why ask for more OPM? Vote NO on Measure X. That still leaves parcel taxes with no expiration, taking more than $675 of OPM above the existing ad-valorem taxes. That may seem insignificant to those living in multi-million dollar homes, but it is significant to many others.

After voting NO, write a check to MPAEF. You'll sleep better knowing that you kicked the OPM habit.


13 people like this
Posted by Menlo Park Parent
a resident of Laurel School
on Feb 7, 2017 at 11:18 am

Vic, you hit the nail on the head. With our large population of youth, we just have to work harder here in California to fund education of our students in order to be competitive, not just internationally but with the other states! From this ranking, California was 17th from the BOTTOM of our 50 states (other reports have us 10th from the bottom)! How can we, living in one of the most expensive zip codes, and in such close proximity to Silicon Valley, think about making cuts on local support of education and go lower?! Web Link
Measure X does not ask for a lot, this parcel with other local funding, will help bring us just over the AVERAGE U.S. student funding of $11,000. Without proper investment our students' education WILL decline... I'm spreading the word...at the price of $360, just the cost of 2 tall drinks a week at Starbucks, we can help reduce the deficit of our district's budget, and hopefully retain our excellent teachers and education. Vote YES ON MEASURE X!


12 people like this
Posted by Jeffrey Kwan
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 8, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Vic, thank you for this much-needed perspective and contextualizing our school district nationally.

Thank you for your support for Measure X.


2 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 8, 2017 at 4:14 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Can someone explain to me, in layman's terms, how bonds which originally sold for $114,100,000 ($91.1 million in 2006 and $23 million in 2014) now have $131,000,000 outstanding and will not be paid off until 2043?
How much did Morgan Stanley, or whoever, get for brokering the refi?


5 people like this
Posted by Not so cut and dried
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2017 at 8:05 pm

Interesting but not really conclusive. You also need to look at state income tax levels. Would residents of MP be willing to accept higher taxes for greater funding and what provides confidence that the funding creates better outcomes? I am sure Vic has some useful points but they don't alone suggest that a parcel tax is the right answer for the community. I'd likely vote for one, but the relevant math is more complicated.


12 people like this
Posted by MP resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2017 at 8:07 pm

The relevant math, to which you referred is in today's Measure X article in The Daily Post. I support Measure X but also want to see a longer range plan figured out in the coming here. This article to which I refer, outlays the greater problem and the consequences failing to solve it beyond the band-aid that Measure X serves to provide.


5 people like this
Posted by Rhonda
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 10, 2017 at 10:12 am

Thanks your piece, I hope that a wide swath of Menlo Park voters will read it.

Should you have the time and energy, it would be amazing to share the funding sources for primary and secondary education the various districts/states versus California's. For example, what portion of Cambridge's $27K came from Fed/State/Local other taxes? Is there a specific education. tax in Mass? Simply, how does Cambridge arrive at that number? Clearly, all states' budgets are different and states have different budgetary expenditure requirements and sources of income. California's Prop 13, among other things, has totally robbed California of a strong education system. I imagine that this would eye opening for most of us.

As a life-long California resident (almost) and a product of public education, I find the current state of public education in California vastly underwhelming.


6 people like this
Posted by EnglishTutor
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 10, 2017 at 12:33 pm

Unfortunately, the problem with our schools cannot be solved by more money or fewer students per class. The problem goes deeper than that. Look to Common Core and the dumbing down of our students, which has been going on for some time now.
Currently, thanks to Common Core, students read far fewer literary works, and hardly any literary classics. And they write very few essays. Instead of being encouraged to think independently about literary texts, students often are given group projects to do, or asked to do "journaling" or to write stories--enjoyable tasks that have their place, but not conducive to developing critical thinking skills. In fact, the study of academics has been watered down over the years, until today's students emerge from high school knowing very little other than how to send text messages on their iphones.


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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 10, 2017 at 1:32 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Have these Common Core standards been adopted by private schools?


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Posted by EnglishTutor
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 10, 2017 at 2:15 pm

Jack, I'd have to research them individually, but what I can tell you is that David Coleman, one of the main architects of Common Core, became the new head of College Board shortly after Common Core was launched. Once in control, he promptly reconfigured the SAT to be "Common Core compliant". Therefore, even private school students, since they'll be eventually taking the SAT, will likely be steered toward Common Core approved curriculum, texts, etc.

Its defenders will tell you it's only a set of "standards", but Common Core includes curricula, recommended texts, tests, etc., and teachers typically teach to the test.

In fact, Common Core is a massive, top-down program with tentacles reaching into most of our schools. It includes intrusive student "assessments" detailing students' beliefs and attitudes, among other things. And it promotes "soft skills" rather than teaching our students the basics, including facts, history, classics, and academically challenging them to build their intellects.


6 people like this
Posted by Facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 10, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Thank you for this article. I've always found it insane that local California student spending is compared to states and cities where the cost of living is HALF or less of the peninsula.

MP should primarily be bench-marked against communities of roughly equivalent cost of living and other factors.

One cannot pay Kansas salaries and expect to find any qualified teachers that live in driving distance.


14 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Feb 11, 2017 at 11:37 am

"One cannot pay Kansas salaries and expect to find any qualified teachers that live in driving distance."

Please point me to evidence showing Kansas teachers making on average $101k/year.

This is one of the the MPCSD/MPAEF talking points used by some folks that I find VERY disingenuous. Yes, as a whole, teacher salaries are underpaid IMHO. However, that generality does not apply to MPCSD, and trying to adopt that montra for MPCSD is like arguing that african-americans are underpaid (true), therefore Lebron James is underpaid (not true), which is preposterous. By trying to abscond with this issue, you do a disservice to teachers in school districts that actually ARE underpaid.

(I'm reluctantly supporting measure X, exclusively due to the unreasonable pension burden. But I still will not let grossly inaccurate statements like the above slide).


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 11, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Education, Training, and Library Occupations
Annual mean wage in Kansas
Elementary School Teachers Except Special Education $45,940
Middle School Teachers Except Special and Career/Technical Education $48,380
Secondary School Teachers Except Special and Career/Technical Education $48,140


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 11, 2017 at 12:09 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Annual mean wage in California
Secondary School Teachers Except Special and Career/Technical Education $69,260
Special Education Teachers Kindergarten and Elementary School $67,650
Special Education Teachers Middle School $63,610
Special Education Teachers Secondary School $67,480


4 people like this
Posted by Not so cut and dried
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 12, 2017 at 5:43 am

MP -- the numbers in the article are interesting but really not have a lot of value here. We can't snap our fingers and change the funding levels and you can never assume that more dollars equate to more enriching education for your kid. The rub in MP is that the prior administration assumed that parcel taxes would always be passed and that foundation grants would just keep coming, so they spent like it was a guaranteed. That is what bugged us about the last parcel tax message, which was basically "if this does not pass, we have to make steep cuts in staff". That is just not prudent budgeting. We have to spend within our means and enrich as best possible. because we support this town and the public schools, I'd vote for it but parents need to ask more of the new adminsration as we build out a more sustainable model.


3 people like this
Posted by Realist
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 12, 2017 at 11:44 am

Proudly voted NO. Higher spending per pupil does not equate to better education. When we compare to other wealthy suburbs, this is the educational equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. Just because other communities do it doesn't mean that we have to, it doesn't mean that they can afford it, and it doesn't mean that they get better results. Not to mention, these calculations are likely front-end costs that do not include long-term pension liabilities and other servicing.

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 12, 2017 at 2:36 pm

"I'd vote for it but parents need to ask more of the new adminsration as we build out a more sustainable model."

Are parents really motivated to build a sustainable financial model? Or are they motivated to maximize spending when their kids are attend the schools, then cut it back when their kids leave to pay less in taxes?

The parents are not a monolith. All parents have the same short term motivation, but their long term interests diverge.

But you hit on a big point, which is spending sustainability. Employee school district compensation is front loaded spending. It's sort of like an endowment in reverse. Instead of getting a growing income stream, you get a growing liability stream as there are guaranteed escalators down the road.

You spend a small amount now, it compounds into higher spending growth later on. The district has few ways to reduce that future spending due to many legal guarantees or way too difficult to negotiate away in collective bargaining.

There's all the retirement benefits legally guaranteed that cannot be diminished. There's step and column pay raises. There's the inability to layoff the most senior and well-paid staff, even if some more junior staff are more effective.

While it's clear to the voters what the cost is today for their parcel taxes, most voters don't know what a big bill they are setting themselves up for just to sustain that employee compensation level in five, ten years.


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Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Feb 12, 2017 at 4:17 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Don't forget the voter approved bond debt of $114,100,000 from Measures in 2006 and 2014, which has been refinanced and now stands at $131,000,000. Final payment on that debt is scheduled for 2043. And, state matching funds derived from state bonds which are serviced by the state "on behalf" of the district.


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Posted by cut and dried
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 12, 2017 at 6:00 pm

I think some parents consider the future of the district. those who do, tend to try to understand how the money is spent and what the mission is for such a diverse district. yes, many think of the here and now but, recall, the last parcel tax attempt did not pass so folks are paying attention. Again, I am in favor of this because current families, at this point in time, should not have to pay for mismanagement that fell below the radar. We have a good new superintendent so it is up to him to drive a new sustainable vision


1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 12, 2017 at 6:51 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"We have a good new superintendent so it is up to him to drive a new sustainable vision"

It's not just up to him. It's up to the board. That is where this problem started and hopefully where it will end. Yes, I know the state is screwing up budgeting with the increased demands for Calstrs. But, this was something that has been foreseen for at least four years and yet the board didn't do anything to deal with other than just passing more and more parcel taxes not to mention building gold plated facilities and saddling the tax payers with a ridiculous bill for them.


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Posted by cut
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2017 at 4:27 am

Voter: Not really. It has to be both, but the superintendent sets the tone and can drive new outcomes via the relationship with the board -- much more so than the reverse. That is the direction progress happens, not the opposite. A quality super can make a big difference. without one, the board should step in but with the correct vision, then progress can be made.


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