Schools - May 11, 2011

Residents transfer from Ravenswood to Menlo Park school district

by Renee Batti

Residents of 25 townhouses at 600 Willow Road in Menlo Park will be able to send their children to Menlo Park City School District schools after approving a ballot measure transferring their parcels from the Ravenswood City School District — a development that is "not a good financial deal" for the Menlo Park district, according to its superintendent.

The mail-in ballot was counted on May 3. Out of 35 voters, only one was opposed to the school district transfer. There are only 36 registered voters on the parcels, known as Pacific Parc.

The ballot measure — Measure D — was the last step in a four-and-a-half-year effort by Pacific Parc residents. Both the Menlo Park and Ravenswood school districts opposed the transfer, but the state Board of Education cleared the way for it in June 2010, pending approval of voters in the small area affected, according to Peter Burchyns, special adviser to the San Mateo County Board of Education and superintendent.

With the transfer, Pacific Parc residents are getting more than access to schools with far more modern facilities and an academic program that produces significantly higher test scores and other measures of achievement. They're also getting higher tax bills. Annual parcel taxes in the Menlo Park district total nearly $753 per parcel, compared with $196 in the Ravenswood district — a difference of $557. They also will pay an additional $28 toward general obligation bonds.

Superintendent Ken Ranella of the Menlo Park City School District noted that while his district will receive an additional $18,818 per year from parcel taxes, revenue from the transfer won't begin to cover the cost of educating the additional students. That's due in part to the fact that all property tax revenue generated by Pacific Parc goes into Menlo Park's redevelopment district rather than other agencies, such as school districts, that normally benefit from property taxes.

"This is not a good financial deal for the Menlo Park City School District," he said. "It's not like funding is coming with these children."

Although the transfer won't take effect until July 2012, Mr. Ranella said that four children from the transfer area are likely to be enrolled in his district's schools this August through interdistrict transfers, which parents of the children have already applied for.

He said he believes all four children will be in kindergarten in the fall, and "now that the decision (to transfer the parcels) into the district has been made, we welcome the children and families to our district."

The Menlo Park and Ravenswood districts had convinced the San Mateo County Committee on School District Organization to reject the transfer application submitted by Pacific Parc residents in September 2006. The residents successfully appealed the decision to the state Board of Education.

In addition to the financial factor, the district opposed the transfer because it "wasn't interested in (further) increasing enrollment" at a time enrollment was already skyrocketing with children living within the district's existing boundaries, Mr. Ranella said. Although there will be only four additional students next school year, that number is likely to grow in the future. He acknowledged, however, that the increase "is not going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back" in terms of overcrowded classrooms and campuses.

Another factor in the district's opposition was the fact that the Pacific Parc townhouses are adjacent to Willow School, which, although located in Menlo Park, is part of the Ravenswood district. The children will now have to be transported to school rather than attend classes within walking district, Mr. Ranella noted.

Mr. Ranella also noted that the transfer further exacerbates the imbalance in "the racial distribution of the children as a whole." The children in the transfer area are likely to be Caucasian, while "Ravenswood is pretty much a district of color," he said. The great majority of students in the Ravenswood district are Hispanic, and the district serves many low-income and poverty-level families.

The lead petitioners for the transfer were Maria Kaval, Rob Ultan, and Kelly Blythe, according to Mr. Burchyns. The Almanac was unable to reach any of them by deadline.


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