Author: Don Obrien

Guest opinion: Big financial challenges ahead for Menlo Park schools | News

Oak Knoll Elementary School first graders sit on socially distanced markers on the ground at the end of recess before heading back to class in Menlo Park on Sept. 29, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The last two years have shown the central role public schools play in our thriving community. In homes throughout our town, teachers became heroes and our schools became lifelines. We are incredibly proud of how well Menlo Park City School District – Encinal, Laurel, Oak Knoll and Hillview schools – managed the pandemic, opening before any other Bay Area districts and keeping children safely engaged in in-person learning since September 2020. While the pandemic is by no means over, we have stabilized and are familiar with how to operate during COVID. Now, we must also focus on tackling long-term financial challenges.

As a community-funded district, MPCSD receives nearly 90% of its revenue from local sources: property and parcel taxes and philanthropic giving. MPCSD enjoys strong support from the community, but is not without threats to the district’s future ability to offer robust programming and attract the best educators. Here are four challenges, along with an invitation to engage in partnership to further understand and address them.

1: MPCSD recently lost federal “Title 1” funding used to support students from low-income families, of which there are many within our schools. Due to a quirk in the federal government’s allocation of Title 1 funds, two of the 24 school districts within San Mateo County — San Carlos and MPCSD — do not receive Title 1 funds, even as wealthier, less diverse school districts do. This resulted in MPCSD losing out on $600,000+ in federal COVID aid. As future federal aid is likely to be tied to Title 1 eligibility, MPCSD may continue to miss out on hundreds of thousands of dollars.

2: Over the next four years, California will require all school districts to provide transitional kindergarten (TK) for all 4-year-olds. MPCSD believes in the benefits of TK. However, community-funded districts like ours will receive no additional funding to pay for the added grade level, facilities or staff to educate all district 4-year-olds.

3: MPCSD will likely lose the $1.5 million in annual funding for the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program, through which 200 students attend our schools from neighboring Ravenswood. Much has changed in the 36 years since the TVP’s inception, yet the funding model written into the law has not kept up. Without a fix, MPCSD and several surrounding districts stand to lose an important source of funding on which they depend.

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Oliver Bolt

Oliver Bolt

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