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School district looking at its financial future

Original post made on Feb 8, 2018

As the Menlo Park City School District nears the one-year anniversary of voter approval of a parcel tax that helped balance the district's budget, the school board is pondering the district's long-term financial future, including whether it might one day need another parcel tax.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, February 8, 2018, 11:39 AM

Comments (20)

33 people like this
Posted by margomca
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 8, 2018 at 12:16 pm

margomca is a registered user.

As I look at the buildings, including the district offices, I can only conclude that greater priority was given to those than to teacher salaries and class size. Board members are quick to point out that funds for building must be used for just that purpose, but the board chose to ask for mega-bucks for buildings, then were surprised when voters said no to more funds for the district. For better or worse, people don't alway differentiate between infra-structure funds and ongoing cost funds. My children went through Oak Knoll, Hillview and then Menlo Atherton. The buildings were a bit "used", but what went on inside the classrooms was first rate. The decisions about buildings have been made, but this should be a cautionary tale. If you want quality education, don't put fancy buildings first. Buildings don't provide the teaching, caring and love. Teachers do.


28 people like this
Posted by CB
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 8, 2018 at 1:08 pm

Why is it that a small town like Menlo Park has 2 School Districts? If Las Lomitas would combine with Menlo Park City School District we could get rid of the administration staff for one of them. Hopefully, this would mean more money to pay teachers salaries and have smaller class room sizes. All of the schools in both of these districts are excellent, but do we really need 2?


30 people like this
Posted by Tim
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 8, 2018 at 1:58 pm

It's interesting to note that if the 2016 parcel taxes had passed, MPCSD would be receiving less parcel tax money now. That's because Measure X brings in more revenue than those two parcel taxes would since student population is staying relatively static or declining.

Yet, even with this additional revenue, the district still needs more money. Amazing!

I guess it never stops.


25 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 8, 2018 at 4:31 pm

It just doesn’t end with this school district. The ink isn’t even dry on the last parcel tax and now they want more money from it’s residents. Didn’t they just announce lower enrollment numbers ? Haven’t all the buildings at every school been improved and enlarged? Guess the schools need all the hallways paved in gold. k


16 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Feb 8, 2018 at 8:24 pm

"Why is it that a small town like Menlo Park has 2 School Districts?"

Menlo Park doesn't have a school district, per se. The city and the school districts are completely independent government agencies with independent borders.

There are 4 elementary school districts that have boundaries which overlap the City of Menlo Park. They are:

* Las Lomitas Elementary School District
* Menlo Park City Elementary School District
* Ravenswood Elementary School District
* Redwood City Elementary School District (just a tiny bit, in the northeast section of Menlo Park where the new apartments just off Marsh and Bayshore).


IMHO, "Menlo Park City School District" should have a different, more accurate name like "Menlo-Atherton Elementary School District", or something with no references to any town, like"Las Lianuras Elementary School District", to make it clearer that it's not affiliated with any particular town or city.


17 people like this
Posted by Sam
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 8, 2018 at 8:59 pm

posted by CB: "Why is it that a small town like Menlo Park has 2 School Districts? If Las Lomitas would combine with Menlo Park City School District we could get rid of the administration staff for one of them. Hopefully, this would mean more money to pay teachers salaries and have smaller class room sizes. All of the schools in both of these districts are excellent, but do we really need 2?"

I completely agree with you. But this question/suggestion comes up every few years and nothing happens. Both districts want strong programs, have similar demographics and seem to be asking for money a lot. If no one wants to pay teachers less, nor cut programs, nor increase class sizes, then perhaps it's time to seriously consider a merger...

This may not be what the current parents favor, with their autonomy and small town feel but is staying separate really what's best for the community at large? If we are losing teachers, then why not do as CB suggested and save some money by cutting overhead? Two HR departments? Two SSD departments? Two business officers?

I don't have children in the district yet but I'd rather see us be more efficient than lose programs or small class sizes. If the reduction areas mentioned in the article are not likely to gain support, then perhaps we can save by cutting our overhead?


18 people like this
Posted by Karen Dearing
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2018 at 5:45 am

Karen Dearing is a registered user.

Thank you MPCSD for sticking to your pledge to solicit community input! As was made plainly clear during the Measure X campaign, that parcel tax was likely a stop-gap measure to buy the district and the community time to establish a more sustainable long-term financial plan, meaning that, yes, another parcel tax may well be coming. I, for one, appreciate seeing our district's effort to consider competing priorities and don't envy the position that they are in (per Stacy Jones' quote in the article).

I do find it interesting that posters talk of combining MPCSD (yes, Train Fan, I agree the name is misleading) with Las Lomitas but never mention Ravenswood in their pleas to combine districts in an effort to create leaner governance. Seems to me that such posters truly want to have their cake and eat it too.


22 people like this
Posted by Jennifer Bestor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 9, 2018 at 7:22 am

Jennifer Bestor is a registered user.

Could we please stick to the knitting of what kind of educational experience residents of the MPCSD district want and are willing to pay for? I can appreciate the appeal of a simple administrative solution, but there isn't one.

The vagaries of Prop 13 make combining Las Lomitas and MPCSD very hard. Los Lomitas ended up with a higher percentage allocation of property taxes in a district with a lower density of pupils per household than MPCSD. Reducing administration costs would not make up for a significant loss in LL student funding (which would flow to MPCSD students, but not proportionally as there are many more of them). This makes it highly improbable that combining the districts would get the required majority vote from LL households. Discussing this is a waste of pixels.

Meanwhile, the structure of the state's LCFF funding for disadvantaged districts like Ravenswood would result in a sizable net loss of funding to any combined district. One ray of good news amidst the bad there (see Weekly article a few weeks ago) is that Governor Brown just proposed to fund LCFF 100% in the 2018-19 school year. This could mean as much as $1.5M a year more to Ravenswood. However, in a combination with MPCSD and/or LL that (and an additional existing $3.2M in "concentration" funding) would disappear completely, for a net loss of about $1,500 per student (ADA) with no gain elsewhere (except the state coffers). (See "waste of pixels" above. ;-))

Margomca, another by-blow of Prop 13 has been that school buildings are funded through a completely separate mechanism than ongoing operating expenses. The current buildings are a function of the school bond measures that were passed a decade ago. Those monies cannot be used for operating expenses. That said, I do remember a number of choices that were made to try to reduce heat/light and other ongoing costs.

Having watched the MPCSD budget process for 15 years now (and having not had a child in the district for 6), there are three key controllable variables: teacher compensation, class size, and curriculum depth/quality. There are also three key uncontrollable variables: property tax revenue, local cost-of-living, and state mandates (pensions, special education provision, testing, etc.).

I hope this is all heading towards a point where the district lays out a clean set of decisions around the first three, with specific assumptions about the last three. I would also hope that -- given the unknown of how the new federal tax scheme will affect local property prices (hence property-tax receipts) -- there is also buffer built into any final proposal.


5 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 9, 2018 at 7:51 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Jennifer - "Having watched the MPCSD budget process for 15 years now (and having not had a child in the district for 6), there are three key controllable variables: teacher compensation, class size, and curriculum depth/quality. There are also three key uncontrollable variables: property tax revenue, local cost-of-living, and state mandates (pensions, special education provision, testing, etc.).

I hope this is all heading towards a point where the district lays out a clean set of decisions around the first three, with specific assumptions about the last three. I would also hope that -- given the unknown of how the new federal tax scheme will affect local property prices (hence property-tax receipts) -- there is also buffer built into any final proposal."

Superbly well stated - Thank you.


17 people like this
Posted by Caryn Wasserstein
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 9, 2018 at 8:25 am

Thank you Karen and Jennifer for your excellent and informed feedback and thank you to Peter for you positive post. I was in attendance at this meeting and was disappointed to count only two comments to the school board from non MPCSD families. Erik and the school board put themselves out there for just that point. In the spirit of community building, and for ultimately what’s best for all parties, I would very much appreciate those who post strong negative feedback here, either anonymously or with their real name, take the time to attend these meetings in person and share their feedback in a live discussion. If you had been in attendance you would have heard many comments, none of which asked the school board to go out for any additional funding at this time, simply a request by many for continued vigilance about how money is being spent with their own view on where those priorities should lie.


13 people like this
Posted by Parke Treadway, MPCSD PIO
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 9, 2018 at 9:05 am

MPCSD thanks the community for its interest in being part of the conversation around fiscal and program priorities. This year there have been two well publicized community input sessions, on October 24 and February 6; you may also send comment directly to info@mpcsd.org. To be clear, MPCSD is not asking for more money as part of the current conversation. MPCSD is listening to input from all stakeholders - teachers, parents, taxpayers - about what they value and how the district should prioritize the funding it has. We remain grateful for the community's overwhelming support of Measure X, without which MPCSD would have been forced to cut even more than the $2.2 million it has from its current budget. For more factual details about MPCSD's financial situation, visit our FAQ site at Web Link.


25 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Feb 9, 2018 at 11:42 am

Karen Dearing wrote:
"I do find it interesting that posters talk of combining MPCSD (yes, Train Fan, I agree the name is misleading) with Las Lomitas but never mention Ravenswood in their pleas to combine districts in an effort to create leaner governance. Seems to me that such posters truly want to have their cake and eat it too."

I agree with this.

Somewhere during the earlier debates on school district consolidation, I recall some math that made the case that Ravenswood students *lose* revenue/student if Belle Haven was transferred to MPCSD, since there'd be a substantial drop in state funding for Belle Haven students (Jennifer Bestor's post above makes the same point). That drop in state revenue would be far greater than the savings from consolidation in administration. Even offsetting that loss of revenue by merging LLESD with MPCSD (in addition to transferring Belle Haven) make the financial advantages tenuous at best.

You'd really have to combine LLESD, MPCSD and PVSD-or-Woodside in order to offset the loss of State revenue to Belle Haven students.

Another theoretical option would be to make MPCSD completely encompass Menlo Park (including Belle Haven) and Atherton. But there's virtually no chance of that happening; Atherton is a property-tax cash cow for Redwood City Elementary and there isn't a snowball's chance in you-know-where they'd give up that free money: Atherton residents routinely send somewhere between zero-to-one student to the Redwood City school district.

To those of you who wish to convince LLESD, MPCSD, PVSD and Ravenswood officials to create a combined LLESD+MPCSD+PVSD+Belle Haven school district...I wish you good luck. You're gonna need it.



8 people like this
Posted by Sam
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 9, 2018 at 12:35 pm

Thanks everyone for sharing this information.

Parke, Train Fan, Jennifer, can anyone tell us if MPCSD would save money by merging with LLESD and if so .is a merger to be added to the list that been stated: compensation, class size, and programs?

Thanks Karen for encouraging everyone to keep the conversation positive.


13 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 9, 2018 at 12:38 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Given the complexities of property tax distribution and State funding the best way for MPCSD and LLESD to save money would be by shared services agreements whereby certain functions are consolidated and provided to both entities at a hopefully lower per student cost.


36 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Feb 9, 2018 at 12:50 pm

"The vagaries of Prop 13 make combining Las Lomitas and MPCSD very hard. Los Lomitas ended up with a higher percentage allocation of property taxes"


Hmmmm, I'm not spoiling for a fight here, but the statement above deserves clarification.

Your statement implies that the allocation percentages (apportionment) of property taxes to government agencies is due to Prop 13. That is not accurate.

Prop 13 has no bearing on how property tax revenues are apportioned between cities/towns, school districts, counties, special districts (like Fire) etc. AB8 and SB154 did that, with several adjustments by the Assembly and State Senate over the years. The discrepancy in property tax funding between LLSD and MPCSD that you cite has more to do with AB8/SB154 than Prop 13.

The distinction is crucial: Prop 13 is routinely blasted by high-tax/additional-parcel-tax proponents as *the* reason for alleged funding constraints on California school districts, which is just not true. It is the *apportionment* of our property taxes as defined by SB154/AB8 and subsequent changes that created these discrepancies in agency funding, more-often-than-not at the expense of school districts.

The state legislature is fully empowered to change the apportionment to send more funding to school districts like RCSD, MPCSD, RWC, etc. It chooses to *not* make big changes because the OTHER agencies LIKE the increase in funding.

The boogeyman is the State Legislature, not Prop 13.


20 people like this
Posted by Mitch
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 9, 2018 at 3:36 pm

@Train Fan

I agree. I would also add that the property tax local agency re-allocation process would not only be super-political because every local agency would be fighting for every last dollar. It's a zero sum game. It would also be super-complex.

The percentage of property tax each local agency receives is not only different between agencies of similar type, but also within agency jurisdiction as well. Each MPCSD tax rate area (TRA) of which there are many pays a different percentage of their property tax to the district. Each tax rate has different agencies it needs to pay, so you can't just make the MPCSD percentage the same across the board.

Here's an Almanac article on topic for Atherton: Web Link

Atherton produced a handy spreadsheet showing the 39 TRAs and their property tax allocation differences. No TRA in Atherton pays the same percentage for any one particular government agency.
Web Link

One interesting aspect of the long term financial future discussion that is not being addressed is whether the district should pay more than the minimum in pension contributions.

It seems everyone wants as much spent possible today, even if it mean district tomorrow will be under even more financial pressure. The teachers want to get paid the most today. The parents today want the most spent on their children today. Even some property owners want to pump up their property values today with a robust district.

So what happens tomorrow when the bill for the chronic pension underfunding comes due?

In fact, that is starting to happen, which is the real reason MPCSD may need yet another parcel tax. The district only paid the legal minimum or near minimum required to fund the pensions, which was not enough to account for true obligation.


26 people like this
Posted by Other side of the tracks
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 10, 2018 at 8:53 am

This whole thing seems pretty straight forward to me since most of the budget is in salaries and benefits (of which pension benefits are also a function of salaries) and could be resolved with neither layoffs nor class size increases. The entire 2021/2022 deficit equates to about 1.3% annualized on last year's salary base. The district simply needs to throttle back salary increases and the problem is easily corrected. Keep in mind that during this same period, state and district combined pension matching is ramping up to 27% of annual salary. For reference, the private sector average 401k match is 2.7%, so district employees are receiving a benefit 10X as large as the rest of us. Total compensation is increasing dramatically even if raises were to be throttled back to balance the budget. Meanwhile, employee pension contributions are only ramping to about 10.3%. This compares with a private sector 401k contribution in excess of 16% for someone making a SC county average salary and maxing out their 401k (avg salary is lower in SM County, making this percentage higher). As a ratio of employer/employee retirement contribution, MPCSD employees have a >16X advantage over those in the private sector. And that's before we include the effect of teachers being exempted from social security tax. Think about that for a second when the district or the teachers quoted in this article make claims about employee retention. The reality is teachers are more than fairly compensated at MPCSD and retention is unlikely to be impacted by slowing the rate of salary growth. I would appreciate it if the board would represent the electorate and start making data-driven decisions when it deals on our behalf with the teachers union (as opposed to, for example, approving salary scale increases without any budgetary basis, then seeking community input on another parcel tax when property tax revenue is already increasing at a rate in excess of 6%.


18 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 10, 2018 at 9:09 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

other side of the tracks:

You are dead on. Your comments are exactly why I voted against the last parcel taxes. As I expected when it passed, rather than be responsible with the money, the board gave it all away in pay raises. Now they are about to come back and ask for more. The answer from the voters this time should be a resounding NO! Unless the board guarantees they will not grant pay raises and will start acting in a fiscally responsible manner. AND will address the elephant in the room, unfunded pension liabilities.


19 people like this
Posted by Salaries
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 10, 2018 at 9:19 am

The continual comparison of government employee salaries to the highest possible neighboring salaries to justify raises is a self-serving cycle of cost escalation. For reference, here are the salary schedules for Mountain View and MPCSD. MPCSD BA+30 starts 5% higher, is 4% higher at 10 years, and 13% higher at 19 years.

Web Link

Web Link


21 people like this
Posted by Train Fan
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on Feb 10, 2018 at 11:35 am

"This whole thing seems pretty straight forward...and could be resolved with neither layoffs nor class size increases...The district simply needs to throttle back salary increases and the problem is easily corrected.

Keep in mind that during this same period, state and district combined pension matching is ramping up to 27% of annual salary."


THIS. Well said!

This is exactly right, and the statement above is similar to comments I've made in the past. In a nutshell:

1: Nobody wants...and we shouldn't need...staff cuts to balance the budget long-term.

2: Nobody wants...and we shouldn't need...net increases in class sizes.

3: Budget stability can be achieved by smaller pay raises & smaller bonuses.

4: The pension plan IS PART OF THE COMPENSATION package and absolutely counts as part of calculating whether MPCSD staff is fairly compensated. Focusing on just salary is unreasonable (and, it should be pointed out, MPCSD teachers pay on average is higher than tech workers, on average), unless there are significant changes to pension funding and vacation time.


"I would appreciate it if the board would represent the electorate and start making data-driven decisions"

Here here! In fairness, though, I do think they're trying their best to balance competing interests. I just think we need to remind them that the community, including taxpayers, is an important part of the constituency they represent, and I think they under-represent that constituency.

Also, Board member Lucas does appears to get it: "we, the board, don't represent the teachers, we represent the community"

Correct, and this statement gives me hope that all parties at the table may, in the future, have representation to ensure that the district is financially stable 5-8 years from now.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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