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Editorial: School cuts or school taxes?

Original post made on Mar 11, 2010

In just a few weeks, voters in the Menlo Park City and Portola Valley school districts will decide whether to approve a modest parcel tax to help their schools get through a spurt in enrollment and financial meltdown that were not of their making.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 12:00 AM

Comments (11)

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Posted by Publius
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 11, 2010 at 12:17 am

You would think the sky is falling given all the rhetoric being spewed by the proponents of Measure C. Let’s talk reality. Yes, funding is down and as with any individual, business, or local government agency, when your revenue is down you need to make some trade-offs. However, these cuts are not catastrophic, in fact there could be additional cuts which would not greatly impact the learning of students in the Menlo Park City School District(one of the highest per student spends in the state). If you want to talk about catastrophic cuts, just go and look outside our cozy little white upper middle class world and look at the situation in districts in our neighboring communities such as Ravenswood, Redwood City, and Mountain View, to name a few (I invite anyone from those district to list what those cuts mean in their districts). These are the real needy districts and their potential cuts are far more drastic and will have a serious impact on the children that can least afford these cuts. And our precious property value? Anyone who thinks our property value will suffer to any real monetary extent is sure stretching the argument. Also, the argument that our children somehow will suffer without this highly privileged educational system is a stretch as well. The children coming to school in this district are already coming well prepared for learning. They are well ahead of those children coming to school in most other school around the state. Most of our kids in this district will all be going to college regardless of class size or if we have programs above the core academic requirements. In fact, it would probably be a good bet to say that if these cuts were made that the test scores will not drop by any statistical significance.

Again, some cuts would not be drastic (here is a short list – I could go on).
- Do the MP schools need a certificated Librarian? A big cost when you could hire a very competent non-certificated individual (just means that the certificated classroom teacher would need to be in the library with the class)? The Science teacher at Oak Knoll is not certificated and she is an excellent teacher.
- Do the MP schools need assistant principals at the schools? Big expense. Most other schools in the state do not have this luxury for schools the size of Laurel and Encinal.
- Do we need certificated PE teachers for the lower elementary grades? 3rd, 4th, 5th maybe but not K thru 2. I can remember my classroom teacher did the PE when I was in elementary school.
- So what if class room size goes up to 23 or 24 from 20. Nothing compared to what other districts are proposing. I don’t think this will negatively impact our childrens' learning.
- Do we need so many reading specialist in the schools? At Oak Knoll, I notice them working with students yes, but I also see them reading to entire classrooms. Get rid of the classroom reading sessions and focus just on the student pull out and you can probably reduce one certificated specialist.
- I heard one proposal is to eliminate the Tinsley transfer by claiming to the courts that the cost is hurting our ability to maintain the schools educational levels. Before cutting the under served, how about eliminating the transfer of children of teachers and staff. Some may argue the this is an important component of attracting and retaining top talent. I can guarantee that the salary alone is drawing top talent. I invite any of you to pull the certificated salary schedule (it is public information usually found on a districts web site), and you can see that the salary is much higher than pretty much any other district in the valley with the exception of Palo Alto, Los Lomitas, and Portola Valley.

I could go on and on, but I will end with the obvious, I will not be supporting Measure C. I have an idea, why don’t we pass this tax and instead of sending it to Ken Ranella so he can take the easy way out by always coming to the money well, we use it to support the Ravenswood School District. I would support that. Remember, those children at the highest risk are the ones that our privileged children may be paying taxes to incarcerate in the future. That would be the real social cost.

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Posted by old MP
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 11, 2010 at 11:55 am

The majority of Tinsley funding comes from the state, not from the MP school district. The elimination of Tinsley previously discussed was over headcount/crowding in the classroom, not educational levels.

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Posted by Mel
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 12, 2010 at 10:11 pm


While I completey agree it's important to help the children of other districts too, and many of us who are passionate about passing the parcel tax in our district also volunteer our time and resources to helping children in other districts, but we can't vote on and pass parcel taxes for other districts. We can only pass the one here.

Many people are well-meaning, but it's impractical to think that a large majority of the owners of the close to 8000 parcels that pay parcel taxes in Menlo Park will instead send their money to another district. At least if we pass our Parcel Tax, we can continue to give the children in our district a great education and they can have the where-with-all to make a difference when they grow up. Otherwise, we're just dragging all children down to the least common denominator, not to mention making our nation's economic situation even worse by contributing to greater unemployment.

Firing good teachers isn't the answer to our problems. And, while our school district may not be perfect, and there may be room for a few further refinements to increase efficiency and decrease costs, for the most part it's very well run. For now, the best solution for Menlo Park and for the greater good is to pass Measure C.

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Posted by Publius
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 13, 2010 at 5:34 pm

Sorry Mel, I just cannot see the logic in your comments. I realize this is a passionate issue and respect your opinion but just supporting a tax without looking at the larger picture does not make since.

First, I should have made it clear that my comment about passing a tax and sending it to another district was more sarcastic then real. I realize that this would most likely not be legal. I was just making a point about the real problems facing districts in our greater community.

Second, these cuts will not “drag all children down” and 12 positions will be less than a .00000% of the unemployment. The children in this district, of which I have two, will go on to college regardless of whether the class size is 20 or 30. It is not only the schools that are responsible for this; it is the parent involvement in their children development. Most parents I know directly and thus probably a very go chance this applies to most parents in the district, all are using some type of out of school tutoring or other academic programs to support their children. Our kids come ready to learn when they enter Kindergarten and are given an educational silver spoon all the way through. Thus, thinking that these cuts will somehow impact the educational growth of our children is not supported.

Third, I agree that firing good teachers isn’t the answer. It is the fall out of larger systemic problems on the local, state, federal and union levels.

Fourth, I completely agree with you on the importance of volunteers. I volunteer many hours at my kids schools. Volunteerism a critical component of a school education system, but you need to have a volunteer base to pull from. We are lucky in this area. Many families are single income households with one parent at home. This provides ample time to provide volunteers. This even supports my argument that we could reduce some positions such as full time credential librarians, and parent volunteers could take up most of the responsibilities. The parents at our school do a tremendous amount of work in the library, and given they all are college educated, they all have the skill to run the library. Now contrast this with districts like Ravenswood or Redwood city where most families are dual income in hourly or low salary jobs and volunteerism is probably not nearly as high as in our district. So that begs the questions; where would a librarian have more of an impact? MPCSD with all its educated volunteers or Ravenswood with few if any college educated volunteers.

In fact, what we could do as the 8000 parcels paying into the MPCSD, is to also right a donation check in the amount of the parcel tax and send it to a needed district in the area. And we could do it for 7 years. Now that would potentially make more of an impact and you could take the tax deduction. Wouldn’t that make a story for the press?

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Posted by Economix
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 16, 2010 at 8:18 am

So long as there is a fixed students to teacher ratio it will be economically impossible for schools to become more efficient.

Teaching is a service industry. It can only become more efficient when the output (students taught per teacher) increases. Yes, I understand the belief that reducing the students per teacher ratio increases quality, but if teachers want to make more money (they do), and districts fix the student teacher ratios (they do), the cost of the service must increase, end of story. (Fixed output, increasing costs.)

Who supports a management policy that guarantees ever-increasing unit costs? Not me.

This is the "shut up and pay decade." There are two different models for how to shut up and pay. One is to pay the increased parcel tax, but for people like me, who have *NEVER* been direct customers of the school district that no longer works. Sorry. I funded your children's education for years and years. Been there done that.

The other way to pay is for direct customers of the school district to pay directly through vehicles like foundations, or to find ways to improve efficiency, by allowing modest increases in student teacher ratios. If school districts can find ways to measure and maintain service quality as student teacher ratios rise slightly, fine. If not, the then customer rightly pays the cost in reduced service quality. Either way, it is the customer who pays, not the rest of us.

Finally, I'm not sure where the teacher pension issue shows up in school districts, but I have to imagine that school boards need to begin grappling with the same issue that city councils are grappling with. It's time to being reporting the facts on costs associated with teach pensions.

As parents, the quality of your children's education is your responsibility not ours.

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Posted by What?
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:35 am

Dear Economix,

The logical extension of your argument is that there should be no publicly funded education at all. Children should only be educated if their parents are able and willing to pay.

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Posted by Publius
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 16, 2010 at 10:38 am

Posted from "MP school board OKs teacher layoffs"

Thank you “teacher” and “exasperated” for your contributions, however once again I must highlight the realities verses the passions that I read in many of these comments. I will not go down the path of arguing what teachers should or should not be paid. Let just suffice to say that everyone usually feels under paid and over worked. Instead, let’s look at the numbers. This will also highlight the inequity in the current system.

First, I took the liberty to look at the salary grades for the districts in the area, as this is public information. Below are the numbers from four districts. What I have done is to list the start salary (right out college with a BA) then I listed the max salary a teacher could make. To also be fair, I put in the 10 year salary for a teacher with a BA plus 45 educational units. These numbers however do not include all of the stipends given for masters, doctorates, or National Board Certification. These tend to be about $1,500 per degree/certification per year. Here are the numbers. Any one is welcome to go to these any district to view salary schedules.

$50,942 (Start BA)
$101,029 (22 year BA+90)
$78,399 (10 years BA+45)

$51,422 (Start BA)
$100,751 (25 years BA+90)
$78,689 (10 years BA+45)

$43,817 (Start BA)
$79,325 (23 years BA+75)
$60,741 (10 years BA+45)

Redwood City:
$43,879 (Start BA)
$85,395 (23 years BA+90)
$66,328 (10 years BA+45)

Now that we have the data for the salaries, let look at the overall theme that “Reality Bites” tried to bring up, although with a little too much passion. Below I have calculated the hourly rate of pay for teachers in the four districts. Here are the assumptions made, I am sure there are some minor inaccuracies so please only comment on the assumptions if they are way off.

First, I believe the school year mandated by the state is 180 days, I added 10 days for to allow for teacher work days before and after the school year. Second, I used an 8 hour day to calculate the hourly rate. Again for argument sake, this is a standard work day, I know most people do not work a standard 8 hour day but this is the true whether you are a teacher or a white collar professional. Third, I used 2080 hours (56 weeks a year, less two weeks’ vacation and another 2 weeks’ paid holidays) and times that by the hourly rate to calculate what that salary would be for someone working in the year around job. Below is the break out.

$78,399 / 190 days = $412.63/day / 8hr = $51.58/hr
2080 *$51.58= $107,286

$78689 / 190 days = $414.15/day / 8 hours = $51.77/hr
2080 * $51.77 = $107,682

Ravenswood School District
$60,741 / 190 = $319.69 / 8 hours = $39.96
2080 * $39.96 = $83,117

Redwood City School District
$66,328 / 190 = $349.09 / 8 = $43.64
2080 * 43.64 = $90,764.63

So, here is what I see, the “haves” are paying very good salaries while the “have not’s” are having trouble attracting the best and brightest as they cannot compete with the “haves”. This does not even look at the benefits package at these districts. Conservatively, I figure they comprise about an additional 30% of the salary. Let be realistic, people are attracted to the best paying salaries.

Here is an idea I have not heard, why doesn’t the school board negotiate with the teacher union to reduce the salary bands by 5% to 10% for certificated employees and 10% to 15% for administration. Again, using the 10 year number (I assume this is a good middle number, although I would venture to say that is low for the MPCSD) and that there are 100 teachers in the district, at 5%, that would be $3,920 per teacher saving for a $390,200 savings and at 10% that would be $784,000 savings. Add in the saving of 10% to 15% of administration salaries, you could get close to $1M. Teachers could then be part of the solution to help save the jobs of their fellow teachers. Even if the salaries were at par with Ravenswood or Redwood City, I hardly think we would see teachers leave for these districts as working conditions are not nearly as posh as in MPCSD.

So MPCSD board, why don’t you first exhaust all these options. You can renegotiate the contract. Cities, counties, municipal agencies all across the country are asking for their unions to help offset budget issues before coming to the taxpayers again. Companies in the valley have for years used the practice of either eliminating pay raises or cutting salaries by X% as a way to contain costs and/or save jobs. Come knocking when we are talking about cuts that compare with those being proposed in Ravenswood, Redwood City and other like districts in the state.

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Posted by Publius
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 16, 2010 at 10:48 am

Dear What?,

Isn't that what we are doing indirectly anyway with the current inequity we see between districts. The haves can pay more while the have not’s cannot. Just look at the difference between the MP Foundation and ones for Ravenswood, Redwood City or Mountain View - Seems quite disgusting. If every student should be given a quality education in this country, maybe we need to look at eliminating the district based funding for either a county or state funding solution where funds are directed to those individual schools based on some criteria of student need.

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Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Mar 16, 2010 at 8:25 pm

What has the right idea. Only people with plenty of money to waste would vote for this tax, so that it can be shoveled into the maw of greedy public sector unions. It's sad that so many believe the money goes "For The Children". That's about the last thing on the union's mind, far behind jobs, salaries, and benefits.

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Posted by ted
a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2010 at 8:34 pm

I like where Economix and Publius are taking this discussion. There is so much passion around public schools and their funding that no one ever takes the time to ask the question "how can we control costs a little bit". Every business needs to address cost containment and keep customers happy, the problem is that the public sector has a hard time doing the same.

How about giving every kid in those poor performing districts an iPad and hiring Phd's in other countries to tutor them individually via teleconference? We could pay a half dozen foreign nationals for one salaried position above.

OK, perhaps I have taken this too far, but the reality is that more private options and vouchers could help to drive accountability and cost effectiveness in schools.

This discussion is highly correlated with the Prop 13 discussions making the rounds on other boards here. Like it or not, we have decided to abandon the public school investment in California by capping property taxes and shifting the spending and power to Sacramento. Tiny measures to provide incremental funding are a "fart in a windstorm", we need to turn the big wheel to fix the problem.

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Posted by sure
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 17, 2010 at 12:28 am

Why should we expect our public schools to be able to educate kids for less than half the price of most of the private schools in this area? Educating children is a labor intensive enterprise. The reason that private schools spend so much more per child than public schools is that they have much smaller teacher to student ratios. Sure, we can save money in our public schools by further degrading the student/teacher ratios. But this will certainly come at the expense of what is best for the kids (not to mention at the expense of our property values when our home values decline to the level of communities who don't have public schools like ours). Gee, I've got a great idea: why not just have all kids stay home and do self-study from the internet? That would be really cost effective.

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

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