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Guest Opinion: To reduce inequality, local school districts need to merge

Original post made on May 6, 2023

This week, reader Henry Donald makes the case that the Ravenswood and Menlo Park school districts ought to merge, erasing a legacy of segregation that can still be felt today.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, May 6, 2023, 8:44 AM

Comments (17)

Posted by Dave Boyce
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 6, 2023 at 4:42 pm

Dave Boyce is a registered user.

Having seen the fury on the faces of parents whose children attended Las Lomitas schools (and were within the jurisdiction of Woodside High) upon hearing that their kids might no longer be absolutely assured of admission to M-A (all they had to do was write a form letter to the high school district), I cannot see happening this fine and forward-thinking answer to EPA’s educational woes.

Rising property values and the exclusivity in education are third rails around here, and a more vile and reptilian vibe it could not be.

I would like to see a reverse-Tinsley program, a semester spent by 20 kids from the Menlo Park, Woodside, Las Lomitas and Portola Valley districts at a Ravenswood school. Imagine what they could bring back to their communities.

I remember sitting as an Almanac reporter in a get-together of Woodside Elementary students with the town manager, who asked them, I think I recall, what they might like to see in their town in the future. One kid spoke up to the effect that he wouldn’t want to see any echoes of Redwood City. A Tinsley kid from Redwood City happened to be present and gave voice a pained note of offense. Silence ensued, a rich accusatory silence that could not be mistaken for anything but shame. So it's not just the parents.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 6, 2023 at 10:28 pm

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I attended Ravenswood elementary schools as a child and my children now attend Menlo Park Schools (my neighborhood chose to leave Ravenswood and enter the Menlo Park District around 1983). I can say that the education I received at the Ravenswood District school was horrible and not something I would subject my children to under any circumstance. I would hope that they have improved significantly since I was a student there but based on their ranking by the state I am guessing they have not. I don't think simply merging districts will fix the problem, it might alleviate some off the financial issues from the past such as accusations of financial mismanagement when the spent a huge amount to built a laundry facility or when they hired one of the board members son's at a very high amount of pay (I do not remember the exact details but recall that these were covered by the Almanac in the past) but it probably will not fix the other problems. Personally I think that the state needs to evaluate the problems with Ravenswood schools and address those, I don't think the issues are purely financial as property taxes have been going up significantly in the county, attendance have dropped by a lot (since 2000 enrollment has dropped 76% from about 5,000 in 1998 to only 1,530 this year) and they are also making money by leasing out their unused schools and the land at Flood School for development.

Just as a quick look at financials the budget for Ravenswood School District in 2022-2023 was $45,343,968 which divided by the number of students (1,530) amounts to $29,637 per student.

Menlo Park School District had a budget in 2022-2023 of $65,096,357 and an enrollment of 2,797 which amounts to $23,274 per student or $6,363 LESS per student than Ravenswood.
I will share the sites where I got this data in the next post.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 6, 2023 at 10:34 pm

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Here are the sources for the numbers in my previous post. Basically this was back of the envelope math and I welcome anyone who can point out any mistakes in my numbers. Assuming my numbers are correct there is no financial inequity between the Menlo Park District and the Ravenswood District, or maybe I should say there is an inequity but it is significantly in the Ravenswood Districts favor. That leads me to conclude that the issues are not financial and probably not as easy to solve. I don't know what the problems are or the solutions but I don't think it would be as simple as merging districts....

Ravenswood 2022-2023 enrollment numbers:
Web Link

Ravenswood 2022-2023 budget:
Web Link

Menlo Park School District budget and enrollment:
Web Link

Posted by Lifetime Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 6, 2023 at 11:47 pm

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Look at the number of schools in the Los Lomitas, Woodside, Portola Valley and Menlo Park unified. I believe that is a total of 9-10 schools. I do not have the financial numbers for administrative overhead, but this a good guess.
1. MPUSD $225,000 a year
2. Los Lomitas (2 schools) $279,000 a year
3. Woodside School (1 School) $~250,00
4. Portola Valley school district (2 schools) $215.000 a year

That is roughly over a million dollars a year to oversee approximately 10 schools.. Why not consolidate these districts which would reduce the number of all overhead positions and save maybe 3-4 MILLION dollars a year? Imagine what that money could be used for within the districts?

Posted by Concerned Citizen in Menlo Park
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 8, 2023 at 9:10 pm

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I do not profess to know enough about the intricacies involved in following the suggestion proposed in this piece to advocate for one side or the other, but I am reasonably certain that such a move would have to be accompanied by a very serious consideration of the gentrification pressure that would likely result. Not every family that sends their kids to Ravenswood Schools owns the property in which they are living within the district.

Indeed, property values would likely experience a spike, but would that also result in a reduction of the spaces for rent as the owners of rental homes either scramble to "cash out," or respond to the increased demand by raising rental rates?

Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 9, 2023 at 7:09 am

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I agree with the author. Its long overdue that we make this happen. We should fully integrate both districts. Imagine if the Ravenswood district got the benefit of the MPAEF dollars and the resource of the parent volunteers that Menlo gets by virtue of their affluence.

Posted by Marina
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on May 9, 2023 at 9:22 am

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@Dave, there is a reverse component of the Tinsley program where non-minority students from the participating districts can transfer into Ravenswood but it seems it’s not advertised by those districts

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 9, 2023 at 11:17 am

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Michael, As I stated above, Ravenswood already has a budget that exceeds Menlo Park School Districts by over $6,000 per student. How would merging help them financially? If you find fault with my math please point it out. One thing I will say MPCSD has going for it is parent volunteers. I know several parents that spend time to enhance our children's education through volunteering in the classrooms and helping out with other things like Hot Lunches, etc. This is something that any parent that has time can do regardless of what district their child attends.

Marina, What would be the incentive for any Parent currently in a Menlo Park School to send their child to a Ravenswood school? As I said, I attended schools in the Ravenswood School District for 7 years and there is no way I would send my children there. The things we were "taught" and the quality of some of the teachers made me thin the state should have taken over those schools long ago...

Posted by Menlo Lifestyle
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on May 9, 2023 at 11:53 am

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Brian is spot on. It isn't the money. When my kids were in elementary school you could see a marked difference in performance and the common denominator was "were the parents involved." Merging these districts won't benefit either side. MPSD will inherit awful test scores and RCSD communities will see a hard turn toward gentrification forcing many families out.

Posted by Michael
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 9, 2023 at 1:42 pm

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@brian, those per student numbers do not accurately capture the value of MPAEF$ and the parent volunteer labor. The affluence parents have in MPUSD allow them to be able to offer so much labor that you have to get in line to be able to do it, many families do not have both parents working 100 hours a week to survive. Also, not captured is the vastly better infrastructure that MPUSD enjoys.

Posted by Tecsi
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2023 at 2:43 pm

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Lots of good comments here.

Could we look at examples where two bi-modal populations were at the same schools and learn what happened?

Los Altos School District has such a population. What has happened?

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 10, 2023 at 4:16 pm

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The whole premise of the article can be summed up by the paragraph:

"While there are many drivers of this inequality, one of the largest, and most within our power to resolve, is the disparity in resources allocated to predominantly minority elementary and middle school districts and those allocated to predominantly white districts. We must merge them."

Based on the basic number crunching I did, and so far no one has pointed out an error there, the entire premise the author gives for merging district is wrong.

Now as for volunteers, I personally think this is more than the value of their time and what is provided by that time spend volunteering. I think it sends an important message to the students, especially the children of those volunteering, that the parents value education. This example by the parents transfers to their children. If it were just about extra help in the classroom that could be easily accomplished. As I pointed out in my first post there is over $6,000 spent per child in Ravenswood District than in the Menlo Park District. if the class size is roughly 25 students per classroom that is $150,000 more money per classroom that MPCSD has budgeted. That could pay for a good amount of extra help, especially if it were teachers aides that did not have to have a teaching degree.

Bottom line is that from what I have seen and read over the past two decades as well as my own personal experience attending Ravenswood schools, merging the two districts is not the answer. There are other issues that need to be identified and addressed that won't be solved by such a simple answer.

Posted by Kevin
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on May 10, 2023 at 4:57 pm

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Don't jump to your conclusions yet. Your raw numbers are sound, but raw numbers don't tell the real story for a variety of reasons.
* All schools have had amped up budgets due to COVID relief funds, so these numbers aren't steady state.
* RCSD planned for the bump and has socked away a good chunk of 2021-2023 surplus for 2023-2026, when there will be a shortfall. RCSD under Gina is far more fiscally responsible than in the past.
* There are also higher costs associated with educating kids that come from non-English-speaking and housing insecure households. California bakes this into funding formulas based on real-life data. With weighting, the RCSD number comes to about $15K / pupil.

Web Link

Based on my personal opinion, doing weekly tutoring at Belle Haven, Gina is doing a good job moving the ship I the right direction. She's done som very unpopular, but fiscally needed things, like closing multiple partially occupied schools and looking at ways to monetize unused school real estate. We'll see.

Posted by Jeff Mead
a resident of another community
on May 11, 2023 at 7:27 am

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Henry, I am very proud of you for writing this! Congratulations for getting it published! Well done! - Mr. Mead

Posted by Not-Jeff
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on May 12, 2023 at 1:43 pm

Not-Jeff is a registered user.

"I would like to see a reverse-Tinsley program"

There IS a 'reverse-Tinsley program'. It's called the 'Tinsley Program.'

It already supports kids going into Ravenswood. My understanding is that in the 30+ years of the program, a grand total of 1 kid participated in Tinsley in this manner (I believe that's buried in old Almanac articles or comments).

Posted by Not-Jeff
a resident of Hillview Middle School
on May 12, 2023 at 1:52 pm

Not-Jeff is a registered user.

"We should fully integrate both districts. Imagine if the Ravenswood district got the benefit of the MPAEF dollars"

Merging Ravenswood with MPCSD (which is the district associated with MPAEF) would LOWER per-student revenue for ALL students.

Ravenswood gets more revenue per-student than MPCSD, and that's including MPAEF donations.

This has been debated many times, and the financial math is indisputable: that merger REDUCES funding for ALL students in those districts. And there are many archived articles and comments that discuss this.

From prior discussions, there IS a way to both keep funding levels consistent and merge MPCSD+Ravenswood. You'd need to include the Atherton homes that are in the Redwood City School District.

Those Atherton homes are cash cows for RWC. You have ZERO chance of convincing RWC to give up that revenue.

You're dreaming.

Posted by JBS
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on May 12, 2023 at 8:16 pm

JBS is a registered user.

This opinion is very well written and to the point, which most commentaries are missing. His point is that school district's fixed boundaries are in fact barriers to equality. The south had Jim Crow laws to enforce segregation but outside of the south we had red lining and school board boundaries to enforce segregation. We finally got rid of red lining neighborhoods for mortgage financing but we still have school district's fixed boundaries. Any student can go to Las Lomitas, Woodside, Menlo Park, or Portola Valley schools, all their parents have to do is buy a house or rent an apartment in the school district!

There are several solutions to this segregated system:

We can open all elementary schools in the county to any family that lives in the county. This might result in a school lottery but that is common in many school systems, even Palo Alto, I believe.

We can have the county distribute the property taxes, which they collect for the schools, on a per-capita(student) basis rather than a geographical basis by school district.

And, we can merge school districts -- similar to the Sequoia Union High School district which seems to function well -- families can request that their children attend a different High School then the one assigned to their feeder district.

Ending segregation is hard, change is hard, it takes work, determination, and perseverance, but it is worth doing and, in fact, what we must do.

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