In East Palo Alto, a microcosm of the state's heated charter school debate

Rapid rise of public-school alternatives leaves school districts scrambling for funding and students

Brentwood Academy fifth graders from left, Marcus, Gerry, center, and Valeria, right work on essays in English class on March 18, 2019. Photo by Veronica Weber.

Three years ago, Maria Rodriguez, then a high school freshman, pleaded with the Ravenswood City School District Board of Education to give the green light for a new public charter school — for the sake of her younger sisters, whom she wanted to have a better education than she'd received.

"I want nothing more than my sisters to make it to a four-year college and graduate from college," she said. "Everyone deserves to succeed."

The school district had been at this point before, having both approved and rejected a series of charter school petitions over the prior two decades. This time, the board approved Kipp Bay Area School's request to open an elementary and middle school — albeit reluctantly, and with a warning that the charter could pose an existential threat for the long-struggling district.

"The only way that we're going to prevent the district from being eaten alive by every charter school that can put together, frankly, 80 parents (to) sign a petition, the only way that we can combat that is to keep moving forward," board member Sharifa Wilson told the standing-room only crowd.

Over the past four years, Ravenswood has lost more than 1,000 students — nearly one-third of its enrollment — faced fiscal insolvency, discussed closing a school to make room for the growing Kipp and is without a permanent superintendent — all issues that are intertwined with, though not exclusively related to, charter-school growth in East Palo Alto. The district — whose enrollment in its neighborhood schools this year was 2,395 students — is also losing students to other schools, both private and public, including through the longtime Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP). Students also are moving out of the area when their families can no longer keep up with the cost of living in East Palo Alto.

The state of Ravenswood is like that of many districts across California that are grappling with the booming charter school movement. California has more charter schools and students than any other state, accounting for 10 percent of the state's K-12 enrollment. According to the California Charter Schools Association, 660,000 students are enrolled at 1,323 charter schools this year, up from 746 schools a decade ago.

These are also some of the state's neediest kids. More than half of California's charter enrollment is in districts where the majority of students receive free and reduced-price lunches, according to CALmatters, a nonpartisan journalism nonprofit based in Sacramento.

The tension that loomed in that packed boardroom in East Palo Alto three years ago — between those who support families hopeful for a high-quality public-school alternative in their community and those who feared that the success of charters would come at the expense of neighborhood schools — has only intensified since, polarizing the community.

And it's happening not just in Ravenswood. School boards across the state are considering charter-school moratoriums as teachers hold high-profile strikes and the California Charter Schools Association and California Teachers Association draw their battle lines. Gov. Gavin Newsom (who was backed in his election by the state teachers union) has convened a panel, led by the state superintendent, to study the impact of charter growth on district finances — the state's first deep dive into the issue since the Charter Schools Act became law in 1992.

Charter-school advocates, for their part, insist that they need autonomy to meet low-income and minority families' demands for better public education. They say charter schools are being unfairly blamed for districts' financial woes.

"This villainization of charters driving districts to the brink of insolvency is salacious," Myrna Castrejon, president and CEO of the state's charter school association, told CalMatters.

Defenders of school districts, meanwhile, argue that more accountability and acknowledgment of the fiscal impact charters have on districts is needed.

On both sides of the debate there are also those who are working to move past the polarization to the broader issues affecting all public-school students in California.

"Charter schools are a Band-Aid on a bullet hole," said Ravenswood Board of Education Vice President Stephanie Fitch, who has taught in both public and charter schools. "Public education is bleeding out, especially in communities of high needs like East Palo Alto.

"I don't like that 'us against them' thing," she added. "Splitting between public schools and charter schools divides us away from the actual problem, which is a systemic issue of how schools are funded to begin with."

East Palo Alto's history with charter schools

More than 20 years ago, when California's charter-school movement was nascent, a group of East Palo Alto families rallied around their desire for a different kind of public school in their community.

The K-5 East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS) opened to elementary school students in 1997 and several years later joined with Aspire Public Schools, which was founded by a former San Carlos School District superintendent in 1998. Aspire is now a charter-management organization that runs 40 K-12 schools in California and Tennessee.

In 2006, those same families helped to found a new secondary school, Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy — the city's first public high school since 1976, when Ravenswood High School closed due to low enrollment. In the intervening decades, East Palo Alto students had been bused to other local districts for public high school. (The private high school Eastside College Preparatory School opened in 1996.)

Today, East Palo Alto Charter School enrolls 447 elementary students and has a wait list of 47, according to Aspire. Phoenix Academy serves 200 secondary-school students, primarily in middle school.

By the mid-2000s, Ravenswood trustees started to push back against charter school growth. In 2010, facing the same concerns of today over declining enrollment and financial survival, they voted to close the Stanford-sponsored East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School, citing low test scores.

The next year, still facing a major budget deficit, the board denied in a 3-2 vote a petition by charter operator Rocketship Education to open a new elementary school in East Palo Alto that eventually would have served 650 children. Dozens of students, parents and teachers attended a board meeting, concerned that Rocketship would "take money away" from district students. (Ana Maria Pulido, then a newly elected board member, cast one of the two votes in support of Rocketship. Five years later, she cast the sole dissenting vote against Kipp's petition. She did not respond to interview requests by the Weekly's press deadline.)

Two public high school charters also operate in East Palo Alto under other local agencies. East Palo Alto's newest public charter high school, Oxford Day Academy, was initially rejected by the Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees but won approval in 2016 on appeal with the San Mateo County Office of Education. Oxford is an independent charter school that pays an oversight fee to the county, which is its authorizer rather than the district, and rents a private facility.

East Palo Alto Academy, a charter high school, opened in 2001 at the invitation of the Ravenswood school district. Operated by a Stanford University-run nonprofit, it was initially chartered by Ravenswood but moved to the Sequoia Union district in 2014, according to Principal Amika Guillaume.

Unlike the majority of charter schools in East Palo Alto, East Palo Alto Academy is a dependent charter, which means the district office and school board provide more oversight, and all teachers are union members and considered full-time district staff, said Guillaume, a former Ravenswood principal. The school shifted to this structure in 2014 under a new charter agreement approved by the Sequoia Union Board of Trustees, which was renewed last year.

East Palo Alto Academy doesn't pay for its facilities except for a custodian and for expenses that go beyond regular maintenance. Stanford still provides support through the school's advisory and foundation boards, professional development, academic collaboration, volunteers and connections to long-term donors, Guillaume said.

Guillaume is enthusiastic about the dependent-charter model, which she said provides "a way for big districts to provide small schools of choice that have autonomy over programming, while still being a true partner of the district."

Do charters cost traditional school districts?

Assessing the financial impact of charter schools on districts is thorny, contentious and rife with politics. It is not required as part of the school-district approval process. It's also difficult to measure, and supposedly objective research on the topic is often criticized as having political slants.

People on both sides of the debate agree, however, that it is a question that must be analyzed in considering the future of public education in California.

A controversial 2018 study by In the Public Interest, an Oakland-based research and policy organization, drew a direct line between three school districts' multi-million-dollar budget shortfalls and the "unchecked expansion" of charter schools. In the Public Interest believes that charter schools led to net fiscal shortfalls of $57.3 million for Oakland Unified, $65.9 million for San Diego Unified and $19.3 million for the East Side Union High School District in San Jose — "conservative" estimates under the organization's methodology. The organization compared each school district's current budget with a hypothetical alternative in which all students remained enrolled in traditional schools, then calculated how much additional revenue that would bring back to the district as well as the costs of educating more students. The difference between lost revenue beyond any savings accumulated by educating fewer students is the net fiscal impact.

The organization's report, "Breaking Point: The Cost of Charter Schools for Public School Districts," acknowledges that districts are "under multiple sources of fiscal stress" but argues that charter-school growth significantly exacerbates district budget woes and has largely gone unchecked.

In the Public Interest said the report "does not advocate either for or against charter schools as an educational policy; nor does it support or oppose any particular charter school or school model. ... It aims, instead, at something more fundamental: enabling lawmakers, school officials, and the broader public to engage in policy discussions armed with complete information regarding the costs and benefits of educational policy choices." (In the Public Interest, however, is affiliated with the Partnership for Working Families, an advocacy group that lobbies against income inequality and whose funders include organized labor, according to CALmatters.)

The California Charter Schools Association sharply criticized the study as "an error-ridden document commissioned by a biased organization with a political agenda and conclusion in mind."

In the Public Interest Senior Policy Adviser Clare Crawford said they focused on this issue because of the policy opportunity in California, where state law doesn't address the potential costs charters have for districts. In Massachusetts, for example, districts are provided with additional funding to make up for the gap.

When school boards are considering charter applications, they are legally limited to a certain set of requirements. They can only deny an authorization if: The charter's proposed educational program is unsound; the charter is unlikely to successfully implement the program; there are insufficient petition signatures; the proposed school violates one of the three basic requirements for all charter schools; or the petition does not include a reasonably comprehensive vision for the school. Rejected charters can appeal local boards' decisions at the county and state level.

Crawford argues that the authorization process should allow the consideration of a charter's potential fiscal impact and other factors, such as whether a proposed charter is offering a program distinct enough from the district schools.

"Right now they (school boards) have no power to decide when the number of choices becomes so many that it's not actually a better option for all of the students in the district," Crawford said. "It's a system that doesn't have logic right now."

Without giving school boards more oversight in the charter-authorization process, the current public-education ecosystem in California is unsustainable, she said. Bruce Fuller, a University of California, Berkeley, education and public policy professor who has studied charter schools, likened a more rigorous approval process to how agencies conduct environmental impact reports for proposed development projects.

"You want to know, how is it going to affect the whole ecosystem if we approve a new institution?" he said in an interview. "In places like Ravenswood or Oakland if you drive the system into the ground it's not going to have the resources to bounce back to try new things."

Fitch said boards should be allowed to consider charters' potential impact on district budgets, but not within a vacuum. Charter schools are one piece of the puzzle, she said, particularly for Ravenswood, which faces as much pressure from new private schools like Priscilla Chan's The Primary School and from gentrification as from charters.

In the Public Interest advocates for several policy changes, including requiring school districts to conduct an annual economic analysis of the cost of local charter expansion and amending California's charter law to allow public officials at the local, county and state levels to incorporate the findings into future charter decisions. The law should be "amended to empower elected officials to act as effective stewards of the community's education budget in balancing the potential value of charter schools against the needs of traditional public school students," the report states.

Assembly Bill 1508, part of a new legislative package backed by the California Teachers Association, would allow agencies to consider the facilities, fiscal and academic impacts on districts in granting charters. Other proposed bills aimed at supporting neighborhood public schools would set a cap on charter-school growth, remove the right to appeal if a charter's application is denied and ensure local governing boards have control over all decisions related to charter schools' authorizations and renewals.

The California Charter Schools Association opposes these bills.

"These new proposals are seeking to really target and diminish California's public charter schools," said Beth Thompson of Kipp. "I don't think it's moving the California education system in the right direction."

Kipp, for its part, serves almost 6,000 students throughout the Bay Area and plans to "nearly double our impact over the coming years," the organization's 2018 annual report states.

The state's current charter-school law is sufficiently "robust," Thompson said, and does not need to take into account charters' financial consequences for districts. She did not deny the financial impact charter schools have on district schools.

"Anytime a student leaves a public school system — whether it be a district or a charter — there is a financial impact because our state funding system is structured such that the funding follows the child," she said. "In terms of the fiscal impact, ultimately families are deciding where to enroll their kids in a community with public-school options."

Robin Lake, the director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), a Seattle research and policy analysis organization, has publicly criticized In the Public Interest's report as misleading and inaccurate. Its hypothetical budget alternatives ignored broader enrollment trends and overlooked structural and management problems that are districts' own doing, she wrote in an opinion piece after the report's release.

In an interview with the Weekly, Lake said that charters "have been unfairly burdened with the heft or the majority of the cause for financial pain" in districts. Other significant pressures — rising pension, health care and special-education costs and in some cases mismanagement — are at the core of districts' financial struggles and are the responsibility of school boards to address, she said.

"The performance of the schools ... really should drive whether a charter application is approved or not. Why would you want to say 'no' to an opportunity for a public-school student?" Lake said.

University of Oregon professor and political economist Gordon Lafer, who authored the In the Public Interest report, defended their findings last year.

"The exact costs imposed by charter schools — and the services that should be cut to make up for this — is something over which reasonable people can differ," he wrote in a post on Medium. "What no one can reasonably do is pretend the cost is zero, or to suggest that elected officials should be prohibited from accounting for such costs in figuring out how to make scarce education dollars serve their community as a whole."

The fight over facilities

Despite the rapid rise of the charter-school movement, a 2018 Center on Reinventing Public Education report suggests that charter growth in the Bay Area is slowing down due to scarce facilities, rising costs and political opposition. The 2016-17 school year was the first time in at least a decade when more charters closed than opened in the Bay Area, according to the report, which Lake co-authored.

In interviews with CPRE researchers, charter operators identified a lack of facilities as their top concern.

"Facilities are the heart of the issue for charter schools growth," Lake said. "I don't think anyone wants public school students to attend school in a subpar facility, and that's what a lot of charters are driven to if they can't find adequate space."

State Proposition 39 requires districts to make "reasonably equivalent" facilities available to charter schools to ensure all public school students have equal access, but many charters are offered a patchwork of small spaces through one-year lease agreements that are re-negotiated every year, as is the case with Kipp and Ravenswood.

Few districts have long-term leases with charters, according to the CPRE report.

The Ravenswood school district has both long- and short-term facilities agreements with charters. Kipp and the district return to the table annually to negotiate one-year agreements. Kipp is currently housed in 18 rooms at the contiguous Brentwood Academy and Los Robles/Ronald McNair Academy schools. In response to the charter's request for next year to be housed long-term in a single campus, district leadership initially said an entire school would likely have to close to make room for Kipp. Board trustees pushed back against displacing a neighborhood school, and staff are now pursuing, at Kipp's suggestion, how to make additional space available at the charter's current location for this fall. Come next year, the district will face the same dilemma as Kipp continues to grow, with a maximum total enrollment of 610 students expected by 2021. Fitch has urged staff to start evaluating the district's long-term options with Kipp immediately and to engage the community in those options — to delay the inevitable would be "messy and irresponsible," she told the Weekly.

Though the district is responsible for providing facilities and oversight of its charters, Ravenswood receives some funds to cover those costs. In California, district authorizers are allowed to charge 1 percent of a charter's state revenue for oversight costs. Districts can also charge a pro-rata share of the facilities costs, based on the ratio of space allocated to the charter school divided by the total space of the district.

Kipp currently pays the district 3 percent of the charter's total state revenue: a 1-percent oversight fee and 2-percent facility fee. That totaled $64,651 last year, and the school expects to pay about $120,000 at the end of this year as its enrollment and state funding has increased.

Ravenswood and the K-5 East Palo Alto Charter School, by contrast, have a five-year facilities agreement for 1286 Runnymede St. The district and the school are now re-negotiating the 2014 lease, according to Danny Shapiro, marketing and communications manager for Aspire. The charter school does not plan to request additional space and wants to stay there long-term, Shapiro said. (Aspire does not have a facility agreement with the district for its secondary East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy because it owns the campus at 1039 Garden St.)

Aspire also pays fees to Ravenswood but did not provide the amount by press deadline.

Across California, there are examples of school boards fighting back against charters' Proposition 39 requests, often prompting lawsuits from the charters and protracted, public battles. The Center on Reinventing Public Education study describes how "increasingly serious and organized resistance from districts and teachers unions" is "playing out most pointedly and painfully in facilities fights."

Thompson said Kipp has never taken legal action in the context of a Proposition 39 request. However, Crawford of In the Public Interest said that districts are often at a disadvantage when negotiating with large charter management organizations like Kipp and fear being sued.

"I want to fight but also know there's a risk," Ravenswood Board President Tamara Sobomehin said at a February community meeting in response to the prospect of closing a district school to accommodate Kipp's expansion request. "Do we go to court?"

In an email responding to a request for comment for this story, Sobomehin took a more balanced position.

"I believe there is a way for public, charter and private schools to work together to create exciting and specialized options for students. The tricky part is understanding where the right balance exists," she wrote. "If we focus resources and invest in solutions that build community and work for all students — not just those that create separate, solitary options — I believe we will be successful."

The Center on Reinventing Public Education report makes a series of policy recommendations regarding facilities, including revising Proposition 39 to allow a third-party arbiter to handle facilities disputes between districts and charters. This person could "force some of those hard decisions about reconsolidating a couple of schools or more timely access," Lake said.

The report also proposes the state provide grants for facilities or academic improvements to incentivize districts to consolidate or close under-enrolled schools; require that districts that "fail to reduce costs responsibly get out of the property-ownership business" by having the state take over, placing buildings into a third-party trust or establishing a cooperative to which charters have equal rights; and negotiate "grand bargains" through which the state could grant funds or regulatory relief to districts that want to partner with charter schools.

This would allow a district "to get on firm financial and academic footing to better compete with charters if the district can show it has a great plan and is responsibly reducing costs," Lake said. "Charters might agree to slow their growth temporarily, serve more students with special needs or contribute to the district's debt relief in exchange for better access to local school buildings or more state funding."

Controversially, Lake has suggested state oversight for districts that fail to adapt to declining enrollment and funding.

"Districts that don't rethink their policies and spending priorities accelerate their own declines—and it is kids who suffer most," she wrote in an opinion piece in response to a study that found charters in North Carolina have a "consequential" fiscal impact on neighborhood public schools.

At the root of the charter movement is a grassroots spirit of experimentation that in principle — more so than reality — is meant to encourage innovation in public education as a whole, Lake said.

"My grounding principle is do what's best for the public-school students in your community. If quality is a problem in the charter space or in the district space, attend to it, but don't stop high-quality schools for the sake of protecting what really is an artificial institutional designation," Lake said.

"When I talk to families who are desperate for options, that's their lens. They really don't care what the label is."

There are examples of districts and charters across the country working together successfully on behalf of students, Lake said. She pointed to the Innovation Network Schools in Indianapolis, where new state laws allowed districts to create autonomous schools with their own 501(c)(3) board — whether by converting existing schools, restarting failing ones or opening new ones — a hybrid between a traditional and charter school. The schools receive state funding and the districts are still accountable for student academic performance, but administrators and teachers have more freedom than in traditional schools.

Fitch expressed enthusiasm for a similar idea — districts and charters working together to create alternative programs within neighborhood public schools.

"There's definitely a need for that in any and every community to have some sort of alternative thing that's smaller, a different style for those kids who need it," she said. "But I don't think (a district) should be all charter schools."

Fitch sees her own employer as an example of the potential for collaboration between charters and traditional districts. As an English-curriculum manager for Summit Public Schools' personalized learning platform, which has spun off into its own nonprofit, she said she actually works more with public schools that want to use the software than with charters.

"I feel like they're doing what many charter schools set out to do: experiment, find something that works really well and then apply it to public schools," Fitch said.

Ravenswood, for its part, can take steps to retain students through more transparent communication, strong leadership, fiscal stewardship, investment in teachers and being responsive to parents, Fitch said.

"If we can find ways to meet those needs within the district, the need for outside charters to come in just won't be there," she said.

Thompson, for her part, answers difficult questions about the growing polarization between charters and traditional schools with optimism. She hopes that Kipp and Ravenswood, and charters and school districts across the state, can push past the divisive rhetoric to work together to address critical issues that affect all public-school students.

"There are real, systemic funding inequities and challenges that are disproportionately impacting urban school districts and communities of color that are making everyone feel squeezed," she said. "How do we not turn on each other and really instead turn to parents, community members, districts and high-performing charters and think about how we could amplify our voices together?"

Weekly journalists discuss this issue on an episode of "Behind the Headlines." Hear the conversation on our YouTube channel and podcast page.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

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16 people like this
Posted by Winifred
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 22, 2019 at 9:17 am

East Palo Alto could take it one step further with wealthy donors assisting in the development of an exclusive private preparatory school complete with school ties, dormitories, & a Exeter of EPA concept. This would add to the overall prestige of EPA academics.

Wealthy & meddling Palo Alto 'do-gooders' who are always commenting about how to best improve East Palo Alto should be the first ones to contribute & create various fundraisers for such an effort.

That will be the day.

9 people like this
Posted by Product of VTP (Paly grad)
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 22, 2019 at 12:24 pm

Winifred-Do you mean replicate what Eastside Prep School is already doing?
EPA/MP families need options like VTP, charters, privates. We need them all. Families should decide what is best for their kids. Consider Ravenswood school board members. You have two board members who are products of VTP and one who sends their children to private school outside of EPA. Board members need to ask themselves if they would send their OWN children to Ravenswood schools? Families have a right to look for the best option. Especially when Ravenswood has been failing kids for over 50 years.

6 people like this
Posted by Academic Pride
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 22, 2019 at 12:39 pm

A preppy EPA academic environment would be something new.

Navy blue sports coats and gray slacks + lacrosse teams?

I say go for it!

3 people like this
Posted by Charter schools are destructive.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 22, 2019 at 12:43 pm

Charter schools are destructive. is a registered user.

People who promote and run charter and private schools for a living love to say, "Let's cooperate to create more options for students." They are motivated by self-interest, not student achievement. If they were collaborators, they'd be collaborating in the public school system, instead of peeling off the best an brightest along with public school money. Charter schools are vampires...sucking the life out of our public school systems.

If you want to create better options for kids, get civically active in our PUBLIC school system and advocate for those options. Make our public schools the best they can be for EVERY child.

6 people like this
Posted by Jacquille
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 22, 2019 at 1:07 pm

EPA should also have its own private college. Start off that way first & then become a major university granting doctorates.

The University of Nairobi (following in the footsteps of Nairobi College) has a nice ring to it & an NCAA sports program would help to stimulate revenue.

When/if EPA became a bonafide 'college town' then real estate valuations would increase, resulting in more tax revenue for infrastructure improvements & advancements.

Perhaps they could even play Stanford during the inter-collegiate football & basketball seasons.

A fresh injection of community pride would work wonders for EPA>

7 people like this
Posted by Homeschoolers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2019 at 3:06 pm

According to the Brookings Institute: "Web Link

It’s disconcerting that homeschooling and autonomous education are not a part of this discussion, because they could bridge the gap, including the financial gap.

According to the Brookings Institute (and many other sources) "there are more children home schooling than in charter schools and public voucher programs combined.”

In particular, in the Bay Area, the homeschoolers tend to be those who choose freedom, innovation, and customization of their children’s education. Another major motivation is to be able to put one’s energies into education and healing rather than overhead or even dealing with all the hyper “mean girl” administrative flak that can characterize school for special needs families. My observation is that especially at the high school level, there seems to be a disproportionate number of homeschooling 2e and gifted boys.

One of the quick solutions for East Palo Alto is for the district to simply adopt an independent study program for homeschoolers, similar to the one in SJUSD, which actually makes money for the district because of students transferring from other districts where they don’t have such programs. This could be done overnight, but it might be hard to start up since what draws families is typically a desire for a working relationship with the school district (they don’t want to homeschool entirely on their own) and the ability to take some classes at district schools.

The second options, that could solve those problems, is for the district to create a homeschool/independent study charter that could serve anyone in Santa Clara County, that is geared to serving homeschoolers. This would allow the district to take students from all over the county (and get their state funding), without requiring them to provide a physical location for the students. Although the teachers would still be needed as Educational Specialists to meet with the students and keep track of their progress (and ensure the education meets state rules), this is still cheaper, and often helps with retention of good teachers who find what they love about education again by working individually and more flexibly with truly motivated students focused on their educations rather than traditional academic overhead. Teachers who need to take leave from classrooms for various reasons could stay because of the flexibility.

The flexibility also helps students better succeed, and could both allow students not doing well in traditional school as well as those who are otherwise high performers to bring up test scores for the district. (Studies of homeschoolers find they perform higher on standardized tests and have no gender or achievement gap.)

This is not going to attract students away from school — homeschooling is hard in other ways and not for everyone — but it could attract students TOMORROW from outside the district to an East Palo Alto distance charter, but there just aren’t enough charters like this in the area. All East Palo Alto has to do is just add homeschooling to an existing charter (that wants to), and open enrollment to homeschoolers around the Bay Area.

Valley View Charter Prep in Berkeley is a good model — it has a reputation for helping families be flexible and innovative, and thus has so much interest, they have to hold a lottery — they didn’t even have the staff to hire the ES’s fast enough to provide for everyone who wanted to enroll.

The beauty of it is that an East Palo Alto could support a successful program (first) that would then enable it to attract funds for a facility from investment outside of the district. A facility wouldn’t be a school, it would just be like a kind of community center for independent learners, such as Connecting Waters East Bay in Union City has.

I wonder if homeschoolers are being left out of these discussions because it makes the arguments about costs and funds moot? But we are badly impacted by these discussions that don’t take us — and the benefits to students who don’t fit in the system — into account. East Palo Alto: if you expand to homeschooling with an existing well-functioning charter, you will have too many students for you to even handle by the end of this school year. (If the funding available to families is competitive with Ocean Grove, the only real competitor in this area.)

13 people like this
Posted by Seperate But Equal
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 22, 2019 at 5:49 pm

> Wealthy & meddling Palo Alto 'do-gooders' who are always commenting about how to best improve East Palo Alto should be the first ones to contribute & create various fundraisers for such an effort.

I agree Winifred...

(1) The best thing is for Palo Altans not to add their 2 cents worth about EPA as East Palo Alto's destiny is its own business.

(2) Along the same lines...why the heck should wealthy Palo Altans subsidize the or be concerned about redevelopment or public education in EPA? Deal with the pressing issues on your own. Palo Alto residents have their own 'presing' concerns.

(3) Until EPA gets further gentrified, its inherent problems will continue. Developers can resurrect EPA to a vibrant Silicon Valley community but that is the call of its residents & municipal government.

5 people like this
Posted by Homeschoolers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2019 at 7:03 pm


Palo Alto has a VTP program that means a fair number of students come to Palo Alto for school from East Palo Alto. I think it is does matter to Palo Altans, morally and for that reason, that East Palo Alto is able to enjoy the same quality of schools.

If East Palo Alto started a distance homestudies program like Valley View Charter Prep, we would transfer there from PAUSD. Anyone in Santa Clara County and any county touching SC County (provided they could get the ES's) could send their kids. East Palo Alto would get the funding for them but would not have to provide a facility.

Palo Alto could do this, too, but for the purpose of innovating for its own students and giving them options. Especially since PAUSD has done such a brutally abysmal job with 2e and gifted students.

1 person likes this
Posted by Charter = Public School
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 22, 2019 at 7:48 pm

People seem to believe that charter schools are not state public schools but they are. Charter school = California public School. Ocean Grove, mentioned above, is a California public school that helps families homeschool while still meeting state requirements. There was a thread about it here on Palo Alto Online over a year go.

3 people like this
Posted by Pulido a Lier and Dishonest Board Member
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 22, 2019 at 9:57 pm

The article reads
The next year, still facing a major budget deficit, the board denied in a 3-2 vote a petition by charter operator Rocketship Education to open a new elementary school in East Palo Alto...
The article also provides a link that takes you to the Rocketship article and found out that Ana Pulido have voted yes to bringing Rocket Ship to East Palo alto. I cannot understand this woman thinking. She has scold one of the trustees and blames her for KIPP being in EPA, when she herself voted yes to Rocketshi in 2011. By the way I heard that Rocket Ship was not as good but still she voted yes at that time. Here is the link to it:
Web Link

Another thing, today's article reads that two of the board members are a VPT product and I think that is probably Pulido and Fitch. However last years campaign, Pulido said in front of more than 50 people who attended the debate organized by Inonvate that took place at Saint Francis Church she said: "I AM A PRODUCT OF RAVENSWOOD SCHOOL DISTRICT''
Pulido lie through her teeth just to get more votes and she forgot all about being honest and transparent. How can she be representing our students when she attended Palo Alto School District as a VPT student and not Ravenswood? .Why did she had to lie. Was it to say that Ravenswood is great or just so people would think that she knew about our district? What ever the reason was she is an embarrassing for our community and shall not be allowed to serve as a board member anymore. Lying in order to win the election is wrong and speaks really bad about her character.
I do have a copy of the writing that Pulido submitted to Innovate before the debate on that questionnaire she also said that she was a product of Ravenswoo, but she really is a product of VPT. Puled has a BA, and am wondering if had got degree if she in fact had gone to Ravenswood Schools.,
I wish there was a way to attach documents here so people could see that I am telling the truth when I said that Pulido lie in front of about more than 50 East Palo Alto and Belle Haven residents, and even worst in a church site. I google her name and found out that she in fact graduate from Palo Alto School District and that she did not attend Ravenswood at all. Can Pulido be recall for lying to the voters?

10 people like this
Posted by EPA & PA Are Like Night & Day
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2019 at 9:47 am

"I think it is does matter to Palo Altans, morally and for that reason, that East Palo Alto is able to enjoy the same quality of schools."
"why the heck should wealthy Palo Altans subsidize the or be concerned about redevelopment or public education in EPA? Deal with the pressing issues on your own. Palo Alto residents have their own 'pressing' concerns."

EPA issues are not a Palo Alto responsibility. different city, different county, different school district, different demographics, different law enforcement agencies etc.

EPA & Palo Alto are two distinctly different cities with different perspectives on how to go about their business.

2 people like this
Posted by Homeschoolers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2019 at 11:34 am

I am not really interested in arguing about that issue. I am interested in making East Palo Alto aware of a possible solution to the conflict brought up in this article, about whether charter schools cost money. If a charter school has a homestudy/homeschool/independent study component, like Valley View Charter Prep, they can solve that problem pretty much overnight, while increasing options for local homeschoolers and without requiring new facilities.

Wired Magazine awhile back did a story asking techies to stop abandoning public schools en masse for homeschooling and unschooling, to stay and try to fix them. But the article didn't seem to understand that a lot of homeschooling happens through public entities, and when districts are open to that kind of partnership with self-directed learners, the learners will often choose to stay in public programs. East Palo Alto would be able to attract students from all the adjacent counties and districts throughout Santa Clara County. Properly managed, this would be a net cash inflow for East Palo Alto. It can be set up in no time flat.

4 people like this
Posted by Homeschoolers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2019 at 11:35 am

I am not really interested in debating whether we owe a responsibility to our fellow man here. I am interested in making East Palo Alto aware of a possible solution to the conflict brought up in this article, about whether charter schools cost money. If a charter school has a homestudy/homeschool/independent study component, like Valley View Charter Prep, they can solve that problem pretty much overnight, while increasing options for local homeschoolers and without requiring new facilities.

Wired Magazine awhile back did a story asking techies to stop abandoning public schools en masse for homeschooling and unschooling, to stay and try to fix them. But the article didn't seem to understand that a lot of homeschooling happens through public entities, and when districts are open to that kind of partnership with self-directed learners, the learners will often choose to stay in public programs. East Palo Alto would be able to attract students from all the adjacent counties and districts throughout Santa Clara County. Properly managed, this would be a net cash inflow for East Palo Alto. It can be set up in no time flat.

5 people like this
Posted by Homeschoolers
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 23, 2019 at 11:39 am

Stanford researchers often go to East Palo Alto hoping to help. They could be a part of setting up a self-directed/independent learning/distance program within an existing charter. They could also learn a tremendous amount about what works and doesn't work from people who are living and innovating in independent learning already.

The presence of Stanford researchers could also be a selling point for the program. Like I said, it could bring in a lot of funds without bringing in more facility-needing students.

4 people like this
Posted by Our Way - Their Way
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2019 at 12:48 pm

For EPA education to rise above its current standard, continued efforts must come from within (e.g. among parents, school administrators & the students themselves).

It's been over 60+ years now & nothing has changed much for the better.

An unstable school district, minimal civic interest, and a steady stream of crime are all factors contributing to this malaise.

Fortunately this is not a PA problem to contend with & PA bears no responsibility to ease the burden.

7 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2019 at 1:18 pm

“For EPA education to rise above its current standard, continued efforts must come from within.”

I’m pretty certain that the efforts will come from China and India. The population that inhabited EPA from the 50’s to 90’s is being displaced by entry level Silicon Valley workers, just as they had previously displaced the previous demographic groups.

East Palo Alto twenty years from now will indistinguishable from Menlo Park.

3 people like this
Posted by Our Way-Their Way
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 23, 2019 at 1:39 pm

> I’m pretty certain that the efforts will come from China and India.

Right now the Asian population (including East Indians) is less than 4% in EPA.

Most of the ones I've spoken to do not want to reside in East Palo Alto for various reasons of their own.

If there is to be a major change in demographics over the next 20 years, what will draw them to EPA before then?

6 people like this
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2019 at 2:15 pm

“Right now the Asian population (including East Indians) is less than 4% in EPA.”

Your numbers are out of date. The next census is in 2020.

“what will draw them to EPA before then?”

Skyrocketing house prices and rents in Palo Alto and Mountain View will draw them to it.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 23, 2019 at 2:43 pm

^ Didn't they remove that question from the next census?

Like this comment
Posted by Seriously
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 23, 2019 at 2:53 pm


Hadn’t heard that, and just googled it. Seems like there was some debate, but the race and ethnicity questions will remain.

2 people like this
Posted by No Room At The Inn
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 23, 2019 at 3:42 pm

East Indians are not ethnically's just a global geographic reference which is misleading.

At the risk of sounding non-PC, would you consider an East Indian whether Hindu, Sikh or even Pakistani an 'oriental'? Probably not.

East Indians are not ethically related to the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Okinawans, Cambodians, Laotians and Vietnamese et al.

1 person likes this
Posted by Victoria Thorp
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 24, 2019 at 1:17 pm

The name of one of the key players- KIPP- in this article is spelled incorrectly in both the online and print versions. In every case, the Palo Alto Weekly spells the name as "Kipp," but it is actually an acronym (Knowledge Is Power Program) and should be spelled "KIPP." This is pretty sloppy journalism.

3 people like this
Posted by Wayne Martn
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 24, 2019 at 3:07 pm

Using data provided to TransparentCalifornia, the job titles of those employed by the Ravenswood School District were organized into a spreadsheet, with average salaries and average total compensation costs show for each job title—

Ravenswood Job Titles:
Web Link

For the last four decades, schools have been receiving significant increases in their revenues. As a result, the number of non-teaching employees has increased to the point that money that could have been used for salaries, and dollars for the classrooms have been diverted to salaries and benefits for individuals whose contributions to education are difficult to prove in terms of increased student performance.

Looking at the Ravenswood District data, this “bloat” is not as bad as it is in larger school districts, like Oakland, Sacramento and the LAUSD. However, the question always remains—just how many employees does a school district need?

One of the rough numbers that comes out of an analysis such as this one is: ratio of students to total employees. The compensation data shows 692 employees for just under 2,400 students, or one employee for every 3.5 students. Which really seems like a lot of support staff per student. Will anyone challenge the District as to why they need this many empployees?

This Job Title Inventory is intended only to provide a top-down look at the School District as an organization. Meaning—how big is it, how does it spend its money on labor, and what kind of labor does it hire. School Districts generate a lot of data—which takes a lot of work to locate, collate and then evaluate. Sadly, datasets like this Job Title Inventory don’t appear when discussions about school financing are topical.

(Note--What’s not clear from the TransparentCalifornia data is whether the Charter School employees are included in this dataset.)

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