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School board faces tough decisions on new campus, bond measure

Original post made on May 31, 2013

The members of the Menlo Park City School District's board of education have had to make some difficult choices in the recent past as they struggle to deal with a flood of new students, and it appears there are still some hard decisions ahead.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, May 31, 2013, 11:50 AM

Comments (15)

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Posted by laurel parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 31, 2013 at 12:25 pm

So it looks like parents and staff members want all schools to be K-5. Thygesen and Rich seem to believe that a state of the art multi-purpose room is necessary for an excellent K-5 education. Why not leave Laurel alone and turn it into a K-5 and renovate O'Connor to create a nice, small K-5 neighborhood school and save the taxpayers $30 million!

Why isn't the board listening to the parents and staff members?

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Posted by Willows Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 31, 2013 at 11:20 pm

I was at the meeting and would disagree that most speakers wanted K-5. Several wanted a two campus K-5, split with Laurel. I didn't keep track of how many were for each option, but it wasn't a clear majority.

@ Laurel Parent - renovating O'Connor to create a nice, small K-5 would not save $30M. By the District's own accounting, it would cost a minimum of $5.5M.

Keep in mind that O'Connor was built in the 1950's - over 60 years ago. As a professional engineer in the construction industry, I can assure you it has used up most, if not all, of it's design life. In other words, if they open it up to do a "light modernization", it could turn out to need major work that in the end could end up to cost more than tearing it down and rebuilding it. So, it would most likely be the case that the Board, to be good stewards with taxpayer money, should tear it down and rebuild something new that is purpose-built for the new plan (whatever that plan ends up being).

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Posted by laurel parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 1, 2013 at 9:04 am

Pardon my math estimation, Willows Parent. The difference between a full tear down and a renovation is a *mere* $24.5 million savings to community members.

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Posted by Watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2013 at 10:21 am

Wasn't Encinal School built around the same time as O'Connor? Those classrooms weren't torn down. They were modernized for a fraction of the cost and work just fine. In fact, I think they are actually nicer than the new classrooms that were built in that behemoth building. The older classrooms have more windows and light and even seem bigger than the new ones. I think if the board is to be a good steward of our money, you should look to the examples you already have right in front of you. You decided several years ago to renovate 1950s classrooms to save us money, why not do it again?

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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 1, 2013 at 11:23 am

While I'm not negative on education, does a year go by when the schools don't need more money for something?

Sounds to me there are 2 issues -- that the education system is funded in piecemeal manner and that real strategic planning isn't occurring.

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Posted by Facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Oh, no! Our schools are so good that people are beating down the doors to move here, and we have to plan for increasing enrollment. Oh no! This is also has a positive impact on our property values. We need to put a stop to this right now!

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Posted by Old MP
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Encinal was originally a junior HS (7-8) as was Hillview.

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Posted by Lisa T.
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm

Facts: I don't understand the need for your sarcasm. The enrollment issue in Menlo Park started several years ago, when Hillview was a run down old elementary school and the elementary schools were full of portables. Clearly, the new buildings are not responsible for the enrollment growth. I'd rather see my tax dollars go towards excellent academic programs and highly qualified teachers than new buildings. How much did the PAC end up costing? Does it really add to the educational experience?

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Posted by Old MP
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm

Um, Hillview has never been an elementary school.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2013 at 4:04 pm

Old MP
Hillview used to be K through 8 in the 1960's. No middle schools in MP back then.

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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 1, 2013 at 4:20 pm

More important than the construction cost and amount of the bond, is the type of bond, length of the payback period and the full cost of paying off the bond. What kind of bond will the district go for this time?

Currently the Menlo Park City School District has two Capital Appreciation Bonds (CABs). The first is for a principal of about $13 million with a total debt service of about $55 million. The second CAB, is for a principal of about $24 million with a total debt service of about $90 million.

If the O'Connor site bond principal is $30 million then the total debt service on a CAB would be a minimum of about $120 million. Or nearly doubling he current CAB debts.

Here's why. CABs are similar to zero coupon bonds and not the more typical current interest bond (municipal bonds). They are issued for periods well in excess of the normal 25 year municipal bond. A normal payback for a municipal bond is 2 to 3 times the amount borrowed by the municipal bond issuer. CABs are usually for 40 or more years with the compounding deferred interest resulting in a payback of 3.5 to 23.4 times the amount borrowed. Effectively this passes on the debt to a new generation and imposes on that generation the consequences of a possible default.

CABs usually are not callable nor do they require a sinking fund, so once issued they are a permanent fixture in the school district, creating a serious problem for a future generation of homeowners with a greater chance of the school district defaulting on the bond.

CABs are carried on the books of the school district at their principal value: the discounted amount for which they are first issued, not their payoff costs. The true cost of the CABs does not show on the school district's balance sheets.

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Posted by Something to think about...
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 1, 2013 at 7:12 pm


I agree with you, the older classrooms seem larger and with the abundance of windows and light, they are much more welcoming than the new classrooms. The new rooms feel cold and sterile, even when the teachers have them nicely decorated, and some of the rooms at Laurel are oddly shaped and feel cramped.

You are correct about O’Connor and Encinal being built around the same time. Per the MPCSD website, phase 1 of Encinal was actually built in the late 1940’s, before O’Connor was built in the 1950’s. Laurel and Oak Knoll were also built in the 1950’s.

Below is an abbreviated version of information that is posted on the district’s website regarding the history of school facilities in the MPCSD. The recent renovations and the construction of “New Hillview” are not included in the history.

Originally, all of the schools in the MPCSD were K-8, and the district operated a 5th school, Fremont. In the early 1980’s, due to decreased enrollment, Fremont was closed and the schools were reconfigured. Laurel became a K-3 and fed into Encinal 4-8. Oak Knoll became a K-4 and fed into Hillview 5-8. In 1989, Hillview began serving 6th – 8th graders.

Laurel is 6.5 acres. It was built in 1959. Over the years, additional classrooms were added.

Encinal is 10 acres. It was built in 1948. A second phase was added in 1952, and an additional classroom was added in 1960. Portions of the campus were converted in 1970.

Oak Knoll is 8.13 acres. It was built in 1952. Additional classrooms and other facilities were constructed in 1953, 1955, 1956 and 1959.

Hillview Middle School is 9.36 acres. It was built in 1949, with additions to the core campus in 1950, 1951, 1953 and 1959.

O’Connor is 6 acres. It was built in the 1950's and has never been modernized.

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Posted by former MP
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 3, 2013 at 12:25 pm

We moved out of MP to a K-8 elementary, and strongly advocate the single location approach. It creates a much stronger community, less traffic, and better continuity for kids. And as a working parent with multiple kids, having them at the same campus for more years is a HUGE plus.

And 75% of moms work out of the home, so please please please make it easier on parents, not harder!!

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Posted by frustrated
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jun 3, 2013 at 7:37 pm

The bottom line is this:

The board members, Ghysels and Liner don't care what we think. Their plans are made and they are just doing lip service by holding these meetings. Just try and schedule a meeting with any of them to discuss the O'Connor site and see how difficult it is. They say there is an open door policy yet they do everything in their power to limit the amount of communication they have with the public.

Very much looking forward to casting my NO come ballot time in November. Perhaps they will wish they had listened to interested community members when they had the chance.

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Posted by John Ricky
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Sep 2, 2013 at 12:29 am

I have on a number of times suggested that the district stop bussing high school students. There are many ways students can get to school, including RTA, car pooling, riding bikes and healthy walking. The saving would be adequate to overcome the loss of bond revenue.

Web Link.

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