News

Ravenswood school district faces looming budget crisis

Declining enrollment, state revenue shortage requires $3.3 million in cuts

Standing at a podium in front of the Ravenswood City School District Board of Education and a full room on Thursday night, a consultant hired to review the district's finances delivered dire news: If the district does not cut $3.3 million from its budget, it will face insolvency within a year.

A steady decline in enrollment — down almost 30 percent since the 1999-2000 school year, with projections it will continue in that direction — is the primary culprit for the loss of revenue, the consultant said. Ravenswood, which serves East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park residents, relies heavily on state revenue through the Local Control Funding Formula. That funding is distributed based on average daily attendance or the average number of days a student attends school divided by total days of instruction.

If cuts aren't made, the district will have to deal with a $1.7 million deficit next year and $6.4 million the following year.

The district's overall revenues this year total $47.7 million.

Ravenswood received about $31.5 million through the Local Control Funding Formula last year; the amount is down to $30.4 million this year and targeted to drop to $27.6 million next year, according to a report prepared by School Services of California, a financial-management company the district hired to evaluate its budget.

"A lot of times, boards want to know exactly when they'll run out of money, and we're going to tell you: about November of next year," Debbie Fry, director of management consulting services for School Services of California, told the board members.

Thursday's presentation was in sharp contrast to a brief press release the district issued on Tuesday announcing a new "fiscal reform package, part of a continued push to cement the new Ravenswood culture."

"With a combination of spending freezes, controlling hours, and where necessary, reductions, the District has developed a fiscal reform package that saves the district $3.3 million," the release states. "As the District prepares to begin discussions with the City of Menlo Park regarding a Joint Powers Agreement, and the possibility of having to go back out to the ballot box in 2018 for a parcel tax, district officials felt it critical to demonstrate the district’s strength in fiscal management, and equally important, a change in culture when it comes to protecting the district’s resources."

The district hopes the plan will make Ravenswood "an appealing investment partner for outside organizations seeking to make a difference in public education," the release states.

The budget cuts will not impact the students' classroom experience, the district said. But that statement contrasts with proposals from the district's chief business official, which among other items includes potential cuts to special education paraeducators.

On Thursday, Chief Business Official Steven Eichman presented some details of the "fiscal reform" plan for the K-8 school district. He attributed the decline in enrollment to an increasingly high cost of living in the area that's caused families to leave East Palo Alto, and the impact of charter schools (such as KIPP Bay Area Schools, which opened in East Palo Alto this fall, and Priscilla Chan's The Primary School in 2016) and the longtime Voluntary Transfer Program, which allows a number of Ravenswood students to attend neighboring districts, including Palo Alto Unified, through a lottery system.

About 2,700 students are enrolled in Ravenswood this year, down from 3,500 in 2014-15. The district will lose just under $5 million over the next two years as enrollment continues to go down, Eichman estimated.

Despite the drop in students, Ravenswood has maintained healthy staffing levels, Fry said. The district plans to review its staffing ratios, identify areas that are overstaffed and reduce accordingly, Eichman said. Staff reductions will be done through layoff resolutions that will be subject to board approval this spring.

Additional employees and resources that have been allocated over the last 17 years to support the district's compliance with a federal special-educational mandate should be reduced this school year, Eichman said. The district officially exited the federal Ravenswood Self‑Improvement Plan, or RSIP, in August, but given the timing, it started the year "fully staffed as if we were still under the federal mandate," Superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff said. This staffing costs the district about $1.4 million.

Other district programs that have a direct impact on the student experience, including special education; nutrition services; the After School Education and Safety program; and the Child Development Center (CDC), will also be reviewed for cuts. "Areas for possible savings" within special education include psychologists, speech services and paraeducators.

Some school board members appeared shocked on Thursday and gave little feedback to staff. Vice President Sharifa Wilson asked that staff create a detailed spreadsheet that lays out all of the district's expenses and funding sources to provide clarity for the public.

She said that "programs that are encroaching on our general fund is the first thing to tackle," before looking at the relationship between enrollment and staffing.

Trustee Marielena Gaona-Mendoza urged staff to look to the district administration for savings.

"We're not going to survive if this keeps going and if we keep getting more people in the administration," she said.

President Ana Maria Pulido asked her fellow trustees to be available for additional special meetings that will likely be needed to address the impending budget crisis.

"I just ask the board to prepare themselves for what's to come," she said.

Ronda White, president of the Ravenswood teachers' union, said in an interview Friday morning that the district has been open about the impending financial crisis in negotiations but had not identified the exact amount of the deficit. Questions from union leadership about specific line items in the budget, such as the high cost to operate the school cafeteria despite the fact that most Ravenswood students are on the state's free-and-reduced lunch program, have gone unanswered, White said. (Eichman said Thursday that the cafeteria is overstaffed compared to the number of students who use it, which is on the decline. Minimum wage for those workers also went up in 2015-16.)

The teachers and classified unions are set to meet with district leadership next week for a special budget-focused negotiation session, White said.

She hopes the district looks to trim what she described as a top-heavy district office rather than teachers or classified staff, such as aides, who work directly with students.

She also attributed the decline in enrollment to gentrification and the emergence of new schools in East Palo Alto, particularly this year. Enrollment dropped sharply this fall by nearly 400 students.

"How do you still give students the services that they need and deserve with this declining enrollment?" White asked. "It becomes a big question that I don't think any of us have an answer to."

Last spring, the teachers' union took a "vote of no confidence" in the superintendent, calling for her immediate resignation. (Hernandez-Goff called it a "publicity stunt" at the time.) White said that concerns about Hernandez-Goff's leadership persist and teachers are "very concerned" about how the district will weather this financial crisis.

The news about the district's budget comes at a time when Ravenswood, a historically embattled district with low student-achievement rates, has been emphasizing its progress toward a new and improved culture. The district opened a standalone middle school this fall in the hopes of better preparing students for high school and college. A $26 million bond approved by voters last summer promises to upgrade aging facilities to keep students "warm, safe and dry." In a new drive toward STEM education, every school in the district now has a makers space.

Staff said Thursday that Ravenswood is launching an outreach campaign to publicize these efforts and recruit families to enroll in the district.

The challenge, Hernandez-Goff said, will be to sustain forward momentum in the face of budget cuts.

"Our goal is to trim all of the fat, but we have to keep essential programs going, and our movement, our progress towards really improving our educational programs that will make us attractive to students and parents in our community," she said.

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 19, 2018 at 10:13 am

At niche.com, the latest rankings for the Ravenswood Elementary School District:
Web Link

At the same web site, the latest overall rankings for school districts in the State of California:
Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by A parent
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2018 at 11:31 am

I was at the meeting last night and they approved to add restrooms for kindergartens. How can they do this when they are doing so bad financially. There have been many donations from Facebook and other organizations. What did they do with this money? How was spent? Superintendent shall give a report. Also is her son one of the first ones to go? They said there need to be cut, I think that shall be the first one.


7 people like this
Posted by bemused
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2018 at 12:09 pm

@JA3+, what's the point of your post? Any local person is well aware that Ravenswood has a more difficult mandate than neighboring districts. Does this ranking take into account the education level of the parents, the economic level of parents, the amount of outside enrichment and tutoring the child receives including summer academic programs, how many children are English language learners, how fancy a preschool the child attended, how many children are homeless, etc.? Do you think if your district's administration and teachers were transplanted into Ravenswood they would get a better outcome? Not a rhetorical question, I'm actually interested in what you think.


9 people like this
Posted by Have a heart
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 19, 2018 at 12:26 pm

Some stats from 2014-15 - likely to be worse today
Web Link

93% Low Income
61% English Language Learner
25% homeless (this is about 40% now as defined by living in shared housing, RV or motel within the last year)

These kids are magnitudes worse off than those in neighboring districts. There are some excellent and amazing hardworking teachers in RCSD who are doing wonderful work with kids who have little support at home because their parents are working 2-3 jobs and/or have an 8th-grade education and/or don't speak English. They have to offer a whole lot more than reading, writing, and 'rithmatic.


11 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 19, 2018 at 1:10 pm

"Not a rhetorical question, I'm actually interested in what you think."

The article mentions choices now available to parents; key coverage:

"Chief Business Official Steven Eichman ... attributed the decline in enrollment to ... [in part] the impact of charter schools (such as KIPP Bay Area Schools, which opened in East Palo Alto this fall, as did Priscilla Chan's The Primary School) and the longtime Voluntary Transfer Program, which allows a number of Ravenswood students to attend neighboring districts, including Palo Alto Unified, through a lottery system."

When choices are available, will not parents in East Palo Alto do as parents world-wide generally do and avail themselves of such choices, if the outcomes -- whether measured rankings or otherwise -- show such move is likely wise? When the Ravenswood Elementary School District's ranking is noticeably low, would not any smart East Palo Alto parent consider an alternative? I may be wrong but I think parents, in a broad sense, no matter where they live, are smart and savvy when attempting to do best for their child or children. I think the article is interesting and the problems now faced by the District are tough; I wish all the best to the District in its search for solution(s).


16 people like this
Posted by Perhaps its time to rethink the VTP
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2018 at 1:37 pm

Perhaps its time to rethink the VTP is a registered user.

The Voluntary Transfer Program allows Ravenswood school district K-2nd grade students of color to transfer to Belmont-Redwood Shores, Las Lomitas, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Portola Valley, San Carlos and Woodside. The following is considered being of color - African-American, Asian, Pacific Islander, Filipino, Hispanic/Latino, American-Indian and Alaskan Native. There are no income requirements for these students which means that the children of two Indian engineers living in East Palo Alto qualify to transfer (and yes, that actually happened). The VTP not only takes real money out of the Ravenswood school district, it also siphons off the parents who are more likely to be involved in the schools (again, back to the Indian couple who are quite active).

Info on the VTP program

Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by bemused
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:17 pm

Ah, I see, thanks for elaborating. Yes, if parents are smart and saavy and are in a position to prioritize their child's education, they often will chose a charter. Unfortunately, it can take some time to determine whether a charter or private school is producing better outcomes. From what I recall, though I can't find a news source to back it up, the Stanford based East Palo Alto Academy Elementary school was closed after not doing any better than public schools. I believe, (but again, I'd need to verify), Eastside Prep has just recently gone from 6-12 to 9-12 because there was no evidence that their 6-8 program was achieving better results than local programs. (I think Eastside does outstanding work, but apparently the big gains are in high school.) Brentwood Academy was originally a charter too, Edison Brentwood. I don't recall why it transformed back to a normal public school. James Flood, a science/tech magnet school was moved (greatly disrupting it's student population) and then closed.

My point being that there's no guarantee a charter is a better option, but parents are desperate and will take that risk. So, I take your point, that parents' concerns about the public school drives them to charters, which then adds to the problems of the public schools. The public school ends up with less funding and an even larger percentage of the students who are from families who do not have the savvy or means to choose a charter. And those are usually the least well off students. So the public school now even has a higher percentage of the students with multiple disadvantages. And so the school's performance metrics, regardless of the actual accomplishments with these students, suffers. It's a vicious cycle. Of those who do remain in the public schools through elementary, the best academic performers often find spots in peninsula private schools for middle school. So another culling off of the better performers that would help metrics and perhaps even what courses can be offered in middle school occurs.

So the district is put in a pretty impossible situation. They are never going to be able to get the same outcomes as the neighboring districts. And that's not because of any lack of intelligence in the students or poor performance by faculty and staff. It's all about what advantages the children have before they even step into the classroom.


6 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2018 at 9:07 am

Ravenswood has had a troubled history. Waring factions pitting groups (district, teachers, parents) against each other instead of supporting each other. As for money being the threat for dissolution, I am shocked! Ravenswood has an amazing foundation that provides them with enormous funds, as well as multiple benefactors of grants. Someone once said to me that Ravenswood could not become successful, because groups would stop throwing money at them.


17 people like this
Posted by Need New Supper
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2018 at 10:58 am

Ravenswood gets a lot of donations from donors, I mean by the millions; some of those donations become public on the news, and some do not. However, the donations have not been spent wisely and some examples of it are:

1. The district spent a good amount of money to a consultant to review the budget and come to tell them in public that they are doing really bad financially, when the district already has an assistant superintendent whose main job is to take care of the budget and report on it (is he so incapable that needs someone to help him do his job?)

2. They recently opened an assistant administrator called Administrative Chief Officer to help the superintendent (they claimed in an article that it was because there were not that many Glorias or something like that) when they are very short on the budget.

3. They are paying money to a PR Office or firm, again, when they know the budget is very short. is this the right thing to do? Do they have enough funds to pay for this services or person?

4. They are getting program after program for students when they in this economic situation,

5. I am sure this last board meeting is not the first time they knew they were short on money, and that is been dragging year after year, but they kept spending money as it grew on trees or as if we were a big school district or as if students enrollment was growing.

7. Before the school year ended last year, they said they had to do cuts, (so they knew they were short on money before they hire the new administrator), and laid many kitchen helpers, custodians, teacher aides, and some more, but few months after they hired them back. Why did they hire them back, is it because they did not do the math right, or because they were not doing so bad? I do not understand their actions.

8. After the pretended laid-offs, and teachers came to the board and ask their supper to resign, the superintendent decided on her own, t to retro-paid many employees who worked part-time, Why did she do this at this time? Employees were not complaining about it. Was it because super was asked to resign and wanted the employees to support her and she wanted these employees who got retro-paid to come to support her when she needs hem to say good things about her in public? This supper is very sly. This sounds fishy.

The board shall support teachers, and get rid of the supper now, she is taking the district down. I wish someone other than the teachers should have seen this, but it is not too late. She shall resign now. How come the board members do not see this. They are blind.


10 people like this
Posted by Need New Super
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 20, 2018 at 3:54 pm

I forgot to add number seven an eight
9. For a long time, Ravenswood School District has had a principal and an assistant principal at each school, even not that they have fewer students. Not even which not even PAUSD a rich district does this, neither other schools with the same populations as Ravenswood’s
11. They opened a new middle school In spite of the number of students knowing ahead of time how many students would be leaving the district to transfer to KIPP. Also, They are blaming KIPP for their situation, but in fact is their fault students leave because they do not provide them with the education parents want them their kids to get. Even the Anna Campbell, San Mateo County Superintended, and other public officials supported the opening of KIPP publically. Ms. Campbell a smart person and is the first one to know what is really going on with Ravenswood district and what kind of job they are doing for Ravenswood Students. If KIPP was not necessary Ms. Campbell and other officials would not have supported its opening. Also, I believe they knew they doing poorly financially, and still they went ahead and open a new Middle School who only serves 6th Graders, without closing Mcnair Middle School that now only serves 7th -8th Graders. Maintaining two middle costs a lot more money and the district is not in a position to do that. This was one of their biggest mistakes
12. They kept overstaffing when they know they had fewer students as their consultant pointed out.
13. The spent a lot of money to defend the district when super goofs and does not mediate with staff or parents. She shall use her own money to defend herself not student’s funds. To the super, I ask how much money do you spend each year on attorney’s fees to defend yourself when fail to solve a problem among parents, or staff, and instead ignore it resulting having to get help from law firms?
I ask parents, teachers and community why do we keep these inept board members who blindly believe in her and always end up saying “yes” to super’s requests for approval? I believe this is called rubber stamping. We the people voted for them so they can guide our super improve students education and protect student’s funding. It seems like they are afraid of the super and want to be nice to her. However, they were not put in these seats to make friends with the supper. Perhaps they should be recalled? I am wonder can we do that?

14. The super spends a lot of time asking organization and private parties for donations by causing pitty, and she gets many donations. However, she has been misusing these donations. I would not be surprised the result of this article ends up bringing more donations. Watch out donors: make sure your donations are used wisely and follow through on how that they are spent.
15. The Super spends lots of time at the food bank giving food to district families and toys to the kids when she is supposed to do the what is says on her job contract. I think she does this to create a positive image of her on parents and community. I have never heard of supers or not even principals doing this. She has bigger responsibilities that if done well will improve our student's education.
Another thing, when she fills that there is a possibility of losing her job, she asks her highly paid employees/those she gave promotions to/ special interest friends (Senior Center Director where the super's husband is a board member)/poor and needy parents she gives food toys at the food bank, to come and say to the public positive things about her behalf, adn of curse the employees positons or jobs will be on the line if they do not accept to do it or if they speak the truth about her. .


9 people like this
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 20, 2018 at 4:33 pm

"It's all about what advantages the children have before they even step into the classroom."

From Need New:

"They [the administration at the Ravenswood Elementary School District] are blaming KIPP for their situation, but in fact is their fault students leave because they do not provide them with the education parents want them their kids to get. Even the Anna Campbell, San Mateo County Superintended, and other public officials supported the opening of KIPP publically. Ms. Campbell a smart person and is the first one to know what is really going on with Ravenswood district and what kind of job they are doing for Ravenswood Students. If KIPP was not necessary Ms. Campbell and other officials would not have supported its opening. Also, I believe they knew they doing poorly financially, and still they went ahead and open a new Middle School who only serves 6th Graders, without closing Mcnair Middle School that now only serves 7th -8th Graders. Maintaining two middle costs a lot more money and the district is not in a position to do that. This was one of their biggest mistakes."

To me, there's some evidence here -- found in the comment quoted above and in other comments from this commenter and others above -- there's more at play than "... what advantages the children have before they even step into the classroom."


19 people like this
Posted by EPA RESIDENT
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Jan 20, 2018 at 6:59 pm

I have lived in East Palo Alto all my life and honestly Raveswood School District is getting worst every year. From my point of view it has to do with the leader, in this case it would be the Superintendent (Gloria Hernandez). You have to have a great leader to run a District and in this case the Superintendent see her employees as her work slaves and not as her team. She doesn't keep her employees happy which then the employees don't care about kids education but only about their monthly check. She hired someone to do her job and that's where all the money is going to. $250,000 a year it's what she's paying this individual to do what she can't do and clearly not even together they can run a District. All these changes that they are doing to the schools are ridiculous and very expensive. All this money could be saved but they rather spend millions and millions of dollars on one middle school they want to have and separate siblings from one school to multiple different ones. It's outrageous how they are clearly not thinking about the community we live in and how about 60% or more of our familes commute by foot and separating all siblings is having a great impact on enrollment. Families rather go somewhere else where most of their kids can be together in one single School. I would say we get rid of the problem and the problem is the Superintendent!


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2018 at 8:38 am

Reminder...the Ravenswood Teacher's Association called for Hernandez-Goff's resignation nearly a year ago and had very little support from the community or the Board. Maybe the RTA and the community can rally this year and motivate the Board to see what the real problem with this school district is - Hernandez-Goff.


2 people like this
Posted by A concer parent
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jan 27, 2018 at 1:06 pm

I agree with the last post. Hope this time Charifa and ms pulido. hear youand realize that if they keep supporting ms. Hernandez they are risking their seats by turning their ears an ignoring the community teachers and parents who come to complain and do nothing .


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