East Palo Alto district to shutter two schools

Larger classes, furlough days on tap for Ravenswood school district

Kids will have a shorter school year and bigger classes as East Palo Alto's Ravenswood City School District adjusts to state budget realities.

Two of Ravenswood's eight campuses will not re-open this fall as the K-8 district serving 3,600 children in East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park looks to save on administrative and maintenance costs.

In a budget session Thursday night, trustees brainstormed for revenue-generating schemes -- one suggested selling advertising space on the inside of school buses and on playing fields.

Several trustees asked whether they could eliminate the school transportation program entirely. But because of federal requirements for transport for special-education students -- as well as state funding available for transportation -- it would cost more to keep the buses for special education alone than to continue the current program, the district business manager said.

Already, the board has voted to eliminate the district's entire technology staff, though several trustees said Thursday they want to reconsider that decision.

The district's library staff also is on the chopping block.

The board will make a final vote on the job cuts -- and the district's 2011-12 budget -- June 23.

Nearly half of Ravenswood's $39 million budget comes from restricted federal and state grants targeted specifically to address things like poverty, special education, school improvement, migrant education and English-language learners.

About 80 percent of Ravenswood students are considered low-income under government guidelines, 61 percent are English language learners and 30 percent each year are new enrollees, according to the Ravenswood Education Foundation.

Business Manager Megan Curtis has proposed cutting $3.2 million in the unrestricted budget mainly through class size increases, furlough days and school closures.

K-3 class size this fall will go from 20 to nearly 25. In grades four through eight, class size will rise from 29 to 31.

The larger classes will save the district more than $1 million and reduce total classrooms in the district by 21 to 24, Curtis said. The teaching positions will be lost by attrition, officials said.

Five furlough days -- reducing the school year from 185 to 180 days -- will save $287,000, Curtis said.

By closing two schools, Curtis said the district will save $320,000 in principal and office manager salaries and an additional $100,000 in operation and utilities savings.

Parents will hear about specific school closures in letters next week, officials said.

Superintendent Maria de la Vega repeatedly has warned that "consolidations" will be necessary, but the affected schools have not been officially announced.

One official said Thursday that Flood and Brentwood schools will be "merged" and Cesar Chavez will merge with Green Oaks.

"We need to think about ways to generate revenue from the empty campuses," Board Chair Sharifa Wilson said.

Though it is still a low-performing district, Ravenswood's state test scores have inched up in recent years, and voters in May narrowly gave two-thirds approval to renew and increase a parcel tax, which will cost property owners $196 per parcel per year.

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Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 17, 2011 at 11:18 am

I am so sorry to hear this. P7ublic education funding is BROKEN in this state. Repeal Prop 13.

Like this comment
Posted by kc
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 17, 2011 at 12:24 pm

PA schools have 180 days, class size up to 24 in K-3, and up to 28 in 4-5. Good reductions to save money, but to take away technology and library is not in the best interest of the children.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm

I'm with "Mom". Prop 13 has nearly destroyed what was once the best State education system in the US.

Like this comment
Posted by DDee
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Just as I ask myself why no serious person high enough in the ranks to make a different call at city, state and national venues, I wonder why no one in the school district has seriously addressed the arrogance factor in this particular budgetary crisis.

What do I mean? We have drunk so long and so deeply from the fallacy of "best and brightest" that we can no longer see the herd of elephants in the room... the oversized salaries that we pay anyone in executive positions (while trashing the unions and negotiated salaries of the comparably lower paid associate professors, city, state and federal workers who - sigh - only provide direct services and save our collective tooshies from things like ignorance, bad people, catastrophe and fire). The UC system, State systems and local school districts suffer from the same cancer.

In this article, the savings from operations and utilities from closing 2 schools, plus the savings represented by taking 5 paid work days out of the pay checks of ALL the remaining staff of the other schools, barely overshadows the salaries of 4 people.

If our decision makers cannot see that there is something wrong with that equation, well, I guess the rest of us can pray that we end up in one of the better castes when the dust settles and the US power-brokers have finally met their goal of turning us into Calcutta, where the wealthy live opulently, the comparatively small upper middle class live quite nicely, and all the rest scrape out an existence...or not.

State budget, same issue... Federal budget, ditto.

The bubbles have long burst. Tec first, then real estate and its derivatives, yet we still think that CEO's and execs of any and all stripes --- including many in our non-profits and churches --- MUST be paid a salary that is decorous and decent and equivalent to what they would make in some fantasy private sector job. That this means that their salary and benefit packages are 500% + greater than what those same boards are willing to pay the people who staff the trenches, do the work, and are basically the backbone behind ours having been such a prosperous and privileged country, is unconscionable, unethical, unwise and - ultimately - killing us and any hope we can have for a good ending if not a better future.

We need to urgently re-define our terms and what it means to be middle class. We must ground ourselves on the real numbers of what our country can actually afford instead of what people “expect.” We are a country with values that have been jettisoned by 3 decades of embrace of Randian thought, but it isn’t too late to reclaim ourselves from the brink. That would allow us the mindset of raising the lower salaries that have actually lost incredible ground over the past 2 decades, while lowering – significantly – the top salaries across the spectrum of public service. I’d propose we set a goal of reducing CEO and top exec overall packages to a mere 60 to 100 times what the lowest paid staff person makes.

Simple math, people. How many property and sales taxes can one wealthier person pay into the local economy, and how many repairs, services, etc can one person generate that create demand thus jobs, that all feed into building up the common good?

But, if that person does well, AND others are at least kept employed and doing fairly… if instead of laying off teachers and janitors who live in the community, we figure out how to merge districts and cut excess while leaving people on the job, then we will have all that many more people paying their taxes, creating demand for services and basically creating jobs and supporting a healthier local economy.

Statewide, we can save money on such costs as pumping water and reducing the effects of drought and the dangers of flooding by switching to saner zoning and agricultural policies such as refusing to subsidize water-intensive crops, while offering help to change those out for water efficient crops and farming practices; encouraging valley homeowners and builders to relocate or build on high ground so that we can let some of the levies fail and perhaps allow one or two of the valley’s great rivers to run free at least part of the year so that once again the valley floods seasonally, which would benefit the bay, the valley’s natural fertility, the wildlife and the fisheries.

AND if we decide to restore even greater sanity to our budget and increase our revenue stream by actually collecting taxes on corporate profits obtained within our state or by ending the practice of destroying or giving away our common heritage for next to nothing – such as our water or our fisheries – or, worse, for free – as with our irreplaceable natural resources (unlike our red state giants of Alaska and Texas, whose political and fiscal conservatism has not impeded them from charging huge payouts for the mining rights to their oil and gas), then our shared picture and our future becomes bright indeed.

But we would have to start by breaking the mold we settled into with Reagan and got crusted over with every party and every administration since then. What trickled down was not prosperity, but canker, and it is now or never if we intend to beat this thing. Unfortunately, anyone paying attention to Washington or Sacramento will have seen by now that it will have to be a bottom-up healing, so why not start in Ravenswood?

Like this comment
Posted by Christopher Schmidt
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2011 at 1:20 am

Don't blame Prop 13.

Property tax revenue has far outstripped inflation--and all other major revenue sources--since 1978 (when voters approved it).

In the last ten years alone, East Palo Alto property taxes have nearly tripled, as assessed valuation increased from $664,964,025 to $1,958,097,243.

Schools created their own fiscal mess, by increasing the number of employees, and size of their salaries, in excess of their long-term growth in revenue. If they had a policy in place, limiting payroll growth to 5% annually (putting the excess in a combination of endowment/building fund), they would have never outspent revenue.

Like this comment
Posted by Christopher Schmidt
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2011 at 1:23 am

Whoops-- I meant to include a link to a county assessor page that shows property taxes since 1997.

Web Link

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