Frequently Asked Questions
Why do we need to open a new elementary school?
Enrollment in our District has increased approximately 40% in the past 10 years, a testament to the appeal of our high performing school district, excellent teachers and staff, and extraordinary community.
Current elementary enrollment of 1,986 at the District’s three existing elementary schools —Oak Knoll, Encinal and Laurel — is already significantly over the 2006 master plan, which planned for maximum target peak elementary enrollment of 1,795. Based on the most recent enrollment study conducted last fall, new additional enrollment growth is now anticipated over the next decade. Current registrations for elementary students for the 2013-14 school year are now at 2,061, with a further increase projected for 2014-15.
By 2022, we will need the flexibility accommodate overall K-8 enrollment of up to 3,350, in comparison to the ‘06 master plan targeted peak enrollment of 2,755. Our community of parents, educators and students have made it clear that overcrowded schools are unacceptable. Although Hillview’s new campus will be able to accommodate the projected increase in our middle school population, our three elementary schools cannot. As such, the school Board voted last month to open a new elementary school at the O’Connor site.
Why are we have we chosen the O’Connor site as the place to add capacity?
An exhaustive survey of all available options for housing a new MPCSD school was conducted by the District last summer and fall, and it was concluded that the only realistic and financially responsible option was to use the District’s O’Connor site.
Some background on the O’Connor school site: In 1984, when the Willows neighborhood was annexed from the Ravenswood School District and incorporated into the Menlo Park City School District, the O’Connor property was also transferred over to MPCSD.
At that time, the District had significantly fewer students and there was no need for MPCSD to use the site for its own students. Since 1991, it has been leased to the German American International School (GAIS).
Exactly where is the O’Connor school site, and what does it look like?
Located on Elliott Drive in the Willows neighborhood, the approximately 6.1-acre site has one permanent building, which contains 10 classrooms, some office space and bathrooms. These 10 classrooms are slightly smaller than the standard MPCSD classroom size of 960 sq.ft.
The main O’Connor building was constructed in the 1950's, and although it has not undergone any major modernization work, our District’s facilities development team considers the building to be in fair to good condition for a building of its age.
To accommodate its 315 students (of which about 90 are in pre-school), the GAIS also has portables that house a library, music room, gym and about 13 classrooms of various sizes. These portables are in good condition, but were not installed under the Division of the State Architect (a branch of the California Department of General Services, which provides design and construction oversight for K-12 schools, community colleges, and various other state-owned and leased facilities).
When can MPCSD start using the O’Connor site for District students?
In 2005, the District considered incorporating use of the O’Connor site as we embarked on a facilities master planning process to deal with increasing enrollment, but decided to add capacity to Laurel, Encinal and Oak Knoll instead. In 2009, amid growing concerns over further enrollment increases in the District, the District once again considered the possibility of using the O’Connor site. But due to the uncertainty of the global financial crisis, MPCSD decided instead to add capacity at Laurel and Encinal and take more time to see whether O’Connor would definitely be needed. This is why the District was only willing to opt for a short-term renewal of the German American International School (GAIS) lease of the site, with a provision to allow the for early termination of the lease by either party.
GAIS has now been served with that termination notice and based on a new lease agreement approved by the Board at the June 17, 2013 meeting, GAIS will vacate the O'Connor site by May 15, 2015.
How long would it take to get the school ready for kids?
Three different timelines were presented to the board on April 9:
Occupy the school in the fall of 2014: Conduct rapid, minimal improvements to the existing structures, install portable classrooms, and open the school in the 2014-15 school year
Occupy the school in the fall of 2015: Undergo a more extensive remodel/rebuild on an aggressive timeline beginning July 2014, and have construction finished and ready for students to begin using the campus in the Fall of 2015.
Occupy the school in the fall of 2016: Allow more time planning and executing a remodel/rebuild, with construction completed for Fall of 2016.
What kind of school will be located on the O’Connor site?
After much community consultation, four options were presented to the Board on April 30 by the Director of Facility Planning and Construction, Ahmad Sheikholeslami:
Option 1 or 2: All four MPCSD elementary schools are K-5 schools (neighborhood or choice)
Option 3: Laurel and O’Connor are a two-campus school, with K-2 at Laurel and 3-5 at O’Connor
Option 4: Laurel and O’Connor are a two-campus school, with K-1 at O’Connor and 2-5 at Laurel
More details on these options can be found here on the District website.
What will need to be done to get the O’Connor campus ready for MPCSD students?
This will depend both on the configuration option chosen from the above, as well as the extent of modernization that the Board ultimately chooses. It was presented with three options on April 30:
Minor Modernization Project: If Option 4 is selected, and O’Connor becomes a K-1 campus that feeds into Laurel, it would be possible to modernize incrementally over the summers of 2014 and 2015, and have students move into the school in the fall of 2014. Modernization measures would include minor interior improvements, technology upgrades, door and hardware upgrades, interior and exterior painting, playground site projects, and the addition of six portables to house four classrooms, library, art and music.
Move in date: August 2014
Major Modernization Project: Another possibility for the option 4 configuration, a major modernization would include new electrical, mechanical, and interior and exterior shell upgrades to the existing 10 classrooms, as well as constructing 7,400 sq. ft of new facilities, including four classrooms, library, art, music, support spaces, and bathrooms.
Move in date: August 2015 or August 2016, depending on construction timeline
Major Construction/New School Project: If O’Connor is to become a K-5 or 3-5 school, housing 360-400 students, then major construction of approximately 31,000 - 32,000 sq. ft. would include a 16-20 classroom school, library, art/science classroom, music room, administration and support space, a multi-purpose facility, as well as a new field, playground, landscaping, parking, lunch shelter and drop-off/pick-up area.
Move in date: August 2015 or August 2016, depending on construction timeline
How much will it cost to expand District capacity to accommodate the 3230-3350 students recommended by the 2012 Demographic Study?
If the District builds out O’Connor to provide functionally comparable facilities to those currently in place at Oak Knoll, Encinal and Laurel, the program costs including escalation and contingencies for building out O’Connor as a 3-5 school with 16 classrooms is estimated to cost $18,700,000 to $21,600,000, depending on whether the existing 10 classroom building is modernized or replaced.
If O’Connor is built out as a K-5 school with 18 classrooms, the program costs including escalation and contingencies is estimated at $20,400,000 to $23,000,000. The cost to upgrade Laurel’s multipurpose facility to provide comparable facilities for grade 4-5 students is estimated to be an additional $2,500,000, but the Board has expressed the desire to avoid further investment in Laurel at this time. The reason for this is the small field space at Laurel limit’s the ability for it to become functionally equivalent as standalone K-5 school in comparison to other District schools.
Details are available in the presentation documents from the May 29th board meeting. The actual amount of any potential bond measure would need to be adjusted to take inflation and contingency into account.
If no new funding is secured, the O’Connor campus will be brought on-line as a K-1 school with a minor modernization of the existing 10 classroom building and additional portables for a cost of $3,600,000.
How will we pay for the costs associated with the additional new enrollment growth?
Annual operating expenses: As a community-funded District, we receive no additional state or federal money to pay for hiring new teachers and other operating costs when more students enroll, and we rely instead primarily on local property taxes (both regular and parcel taxes) and charitable giving from the Menlo Park-Atherton Education Foundation and our PTOs. We have been able to fund enrollment growth thus far thanks to growth in the assessed values of our property tax base and increased generosity of MPAEF and PTO donors.
Capital Costs: If the Board decides to build a new school, the District would require a new facilities bond to fund the majority of the construction costs. The District currently has about $3 million remaining in funds available for capital projects which could be allocated toward providing a portion of the funding for building a new school. A modest amount of additional funding may become available at some point in the future from the State’s facility modernization program, but these programs are currently out of funding, so this is uncertain. The District would most likely need to out for a facilities bond this November. It is also possible that the District could wait to go out for the bond next June, but this would carry a significant risk of delaying the project to the point that the school might not be ready for students in the fall of 2016.
Currently, a Bond size of $23,000,000 has been estimated to cost the taxpayers an estimated $8.70 per 100,000 of assessed property valuation.
If the Board decides to open the O’Connor site to MPCSD students in the fall of 2014 with minimal construction and upgrades, the existing monies in the District’s Facilities Modernization and Construction fund should be sufficient to cover those costs. However, this will make it difficult to place the desired number of students at O’Connor over the long-term. It will also have the effect of defunding additional improvements and maintenance for the existing campuses (new roofing, etc.).
What’s the difference between a facilities bond and a parcel tax, like the “Measure C” parcel tax approved by voters in 2010?
Both are property taxes, but bond measure proceeds may only be used to support capital projects such as the modernization of school facilities, infrastructure repairs, seismic upgrades, and classroom construction. Bond proceeds may not be used for operational or instructional purposes.
Revenue from parcel taxes provide an annual stream of income and may be used to support whatever purposes were stated in the ballot language. In our District, we use parcel taxes to support the instructional program for students. Parcel taxes are assessed at a fixed amount per parcel, regardless of the value of the parcel. Seniors are eligible for exemption.
The amount paid by the individual taxpayers for a bond is determined by assessed, not market, value of the homeowner’s property. There are no senior citizen exemptions permitted by law for school bonds, but homeowners who purchased their homes many years ago generally have very low assessed values relative to the actual market value of their property.
Passage of a Proposition 39 bond measure requires a 55 percent voter approval. Regular bonds and parcel taxes both require two-thirds majority vote for a parcel tax.
Both facilities bonds and parcel taxes may be deductible on state and federal income taxes.
What will happen to the Spanish Immersion program, as well as any other existing or future specialty programs, when the O’Connor site opens?
Once the configuration is established, the District will be working to develop strategic directions for our curriculum and instruction programs to guide the innovation we need to deliver on our student engagement agenda. While the most pressing need is to ensure successful implementation of Common Core State Standards in Language Arts and Math, which District staff are already engaged in, this work will encompass everything that our students do and how they do it. Visual and performing arts, P.E., foreign language instruction (both immersion and other forms), technology-enabled learning, looping and multi-age classes, and a variety of other interests will be included as we develop our programmatic strategy.
The MPCSD currently has two strands of K-3 Spanish immersion at Laurel and Encinal, with these students coming together in fourth grade for combined 4/5 instruction at Encinal. These students will be kept in mind during the process.
When and how can I give my input on the configuration and funding options of the O’Connor site?
The Board will meet on May 13 at 6pm at the District Office, and the public is welcome to attend and provide comment in person. Board members also welcome emails, and may be available to meet in person or talk on the phone. Contact members here.