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No Boundaries: Was Your Child Assigned to the Nearest School?

Kindergarteners entering the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District learned of their school assignments in early April. Some families are not happy with the process.

[Editor's Note: Per the request of many Patch users, above is a photo of the map used in the school assignment presentation at last week's meeting of the BRSSD board of trustees. Patch will try to obtain a higher quality version of the map Wednesday. See map key at bottom of article.]

When the new class of kindergarteners in the  enter school in the fall, 80 percent of them will be attending the school closest to their homes. The rest will be attending schools that are either the second (15 percent), third (.8 percent) or fourth (3.6 percent) closest.

At last week's meeting of the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District board of trustees, Dr. Suzanne Roy, the assistant superintendent of education services for the district, gave an overview of the enrollment numbers for the 2012-13 school year.

251 New Kindergarteners

"During the first enrollment period, we had at total of 251 kindergarteners," said Roy, pointing out that that number represented students who did not have siblings at that elementary school.

This is the first school enrollment period following the district's adoption of the , by which students are assigned to elementary schools based on an algorithmic formula that takes into account the student's home address, physical distance from the school, and the number of seats available at the school.

"There has to be some kind of mistake."

That formula, although well intended, has some parents upset with the outcome.

"You can imagine how we felt when our daughter was assigned to the school farthest from our home," said Michele Maia.

"We are the ones your policy doesn't address," continued Mara, referring to the fact that although her two older children who are now in high school, attended Fox, but her daughter was assigned to Nesbit, several miles away.

In an earlier email message to Belmont Patch, Maia said, "After several reassurances from the district that the new policy would not result in changes for most families. I am wondering how many other families are surprised by their school assignments and question the stated goals of the new policy to keep families close to their neighborhood schools."

The board discussed the various capacities and capping levels at the schools throughout the district and because some are more impacted than others, not every student will be assigned to their closest school.

"No matter what we do we are going to make some people unhappy," said board president Brian Matthews. 

Another parent addressing the board asked if the algorithm had been tested before being put into place. "There has to be some kind of mistake. Did someone check to see why this happened especially since you guys knew this would be the biggest kindergarten class coming in," she said.

Maia requested the board take measures to rectify the situation and put a fairer process in place for assigning students to schools.

Percentages of K students assigned to their closest school

Assistant superintendent Roy gave a breakdown of the percentage of kindergarteners assigned each school (2012-13) for whom that school was the closest, second closest, etc.

  • Central: For 66 percent of incoming K students, Central was the closest school; for 34 percent of K students, Cipriani was the second closest
  • Cipriani: For 100 percent of incoming K students, Cipriani was the closest 
  • Fox: For 82 percent of incoming K students, Fox is the closest; for 18 percent, Cipriani was the second closest
  • Nesbit: For 59 percent of incoming K students, Nesbit is the closest; for 22 percent, Central and Cipriani are the second closest, for 4 percent Fox is the third closest and for 17 percent, Redwood Shores Elementary is the fourth closest
  • Redwood Shores Elementary: For 82 percent of incoming K students, Redwood Shores Elementary is the closest; for 17 percent, Sandpiper is the second closest
  • Sandpiper: For 100 percent of incoming K students, Sandpiper is the closest

The board asked the district administration to look into the possibility of re-assigning students at the end of each enrollment period if seats open up at schools closer to that particular student. 

[Map key showing residences of families in school areas: Yellow-Fox; Red-Cipriani; Blue-Central; Brown-Nesbit; Green-Redwood Shores; Gray-Sandpiper]

Michele Maia April 20, 2012 at 06:07 AM
Every school is a distinguished school but in a time of economic hardship as we are in now, that is not enough. The school board must do more to serve all the residents of Belmont not just the lucky 95%.
Michele Maia April 20, 2012 at 06:08 AM
Well said
Bob April 20, 2012 at 06:09 AM
Jane it seems you have left out the fact that a good portion of Cipriani was sold off to the owners of Serendipity. Luckily they didn't sell the whole school as they did with the other 2 schools that used to serve the West side of El Camino community.
Michele Maia April 20, 2012 at 06:13 AM
Pitting one neighborhood against another is counterproductive. In fact the blame for this mess needs to stay on the school board. They are the ones who did not show the leadership necessary to do the right thing. Clearly, capacity is needed in the west end of Belmont. They failed us with their implementation of "no boundaries" and they are failing us with their allocation of bond money.
km April 20, 2012 at 02:00 PM
Marit- You are a voice of reason in all of this insanity... Well said my dear. Kristi
Joan S. Dentler (Editor) April 20, 2012 at 03:08 PM
Hey folks....thank you for your thoughtful, passionate dialogue on this issue. It's clear that Belmont/Redwood Shores parents care deeply about our kids' education, but please keep the conversations civil and void of personal attacks. Thank you.
Concerned Parent April 20, 2012 at 04:52 PM
As Jeff Selman says above, " Hopefully those who remember the proposed boundaries from last year also remember that one of the key decision points was the realization that by implementing those boundaries there would likely still be too many kinders at the capped schools, and therefore the proposed boundaries were inadequate to address the problem." The boundary change solution was not a solution. There would have had to have been a lottery or some other method too. Because SF's lotteries are so loathed, it was not viewed as an acceptable way to go. These flexible boundaries, for all their issues, will allow attendance areas to change based on supply and demand. Now that the Board put all its hard won bond money into expanding Nesbit, the real solution to this "problem" is for the district to support Nesbit's unique challenges and help it grow into a school that is as strong as the others in Belmont. How's that new Nesbit principal and that great PTA president doing this year anyhow?
Concerned Parent April 20, 2012 at 05:06 PM
The reality is that if fewer families with K-8 children move into Belmont/RWS because they don't like the assignment process it will actually HELP the situation--a lot. Belmont Redwood Shores School District is a Basic Aid district. That means we do NOT get additional money for additional new students. Our schools are jam-packed. The district relies on School Force and the parcel taxes to fund core programs. There is only so much money and so much space. They are already building out Ralston to serve 1400 students. That's a middle school. Your child will go from 400ish to 1400 in a couple years. It will be huge! Having this district become a bit less attractive might actually work in our favor.
Lisa Rothstein April 20, 2012 at 05:54 PM
I love our community and know that we have amazing schools with dedicated educators and involved parents. But I must say, if I was looking to move to Belmont from another area and did some reading on the Patch, based on the negativity and unpleasantness of some of these comments, I would skip right over our beautiful city and look elsewhere. Great API scores or not.
Megan April 20, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Dear Kristy (Im), I agree with you that this is all insane, but really what is the insane part? Do you have to tell your child he can not go to the same school as his neighbor, friend ? Do you have to travel down Ralston, El Camino, 101 several times a day, out of your way to bring your child to school? Is your life put on hold because you don't know where your child will be going to school? Are you trying to sell your house, but unfortunately it's not close enough to a school and this uncertainty is turning buyers away? Yes, It's insane that self-righteous people like you keep telling others what they should do, while you don't have the balls to do it yourself. My dear, nobody is stoping you to follow your voice of reason to Nesbit.
Susan April 20, 2012 at 07:34 PM
It won't necessarily reduce enrollment, it may simply mean a shift in the income level of those buying in Belmont. Every district on the Peninsula is facing increasing enrollments and decreasing funding. The fact is that if Belmont becomes less desirable, housing prices fall, property taxes fall, and ultimately we have less money for schools and other public services. Lose, lose.
Susan April 20, 2012 at 07:39 PM
Maybe a lottery is the fairest way to go in ensuring everyone gets into the school of their choice. The no boundary structure favors those with the money to purchase closest to their preferred school. I don't think that the SF analogy is fair. It takes an hour to drive across SF. At worst, you can get across Belmont in 15 minutes.
Susan April 20, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Thanks for explaining the logic, Jeff. Basically, if you aren't very close to a school, and your are equidistant to several schools, you will get sent to Nesbit. This explains why 41-43, Chula Vista, Carlmont, and Hastings are now Nesbit areas. If enrollment increases, other areas could also get sucked in.
Jane April 20, 2012 at 08:25 PM
Megan, is everyone in the world that doesn't agree with you 'self-righteous'? I guess you can call me that too then! What a fine example you are setting to your children. Let's all fight one another & show hate & intolerance. I have a lot of admiration for our school board. They are just folks like the rest of us, EXCEPT, they volunteer many many hours to help our schools. And for what thanks? To be slandered & bullied by small minded people. At least they try to play fair! I don't agree with the 'no boundaries', because I believe it to be too ambiguous. But the board was stuck trying to solve a basically unsolvable problem, amongst a group of parents, none of which were prepared to give even a little. Good job Brian, Andrew, Rob, Cathy & Chuck and thank you for all your hard work. From......yet another self-righteous Belmont resident!
Megan April 20, 2012 at 09:32 PM
Dear Jane, everyone in the world is quite a lot op people. There a lots of definitions of the word self righteous. In this case it's those people who want others to do something they don't want to do themselves. Do they want to have uncertainty? Do they want to drive or walk their child down Ralston, cross El Camino, 101 or any other dangerous road several times a day? Are they in a position to have to sell their house for less because they are not lucky enough to live close to a school and have the certainty that others have? And when those people affected by all these changes speak up, they are called an embarrassment to our community, bullies, and small minded. Some of the comments on the patch even show that when a certain group of people is forced to go to a school they don't want to go to, others that are not affected, seem to get satisfaction out of the hard ache and pain it causes others. Yes Jane, those are the people I call self-righteous. And the example I'm setting for my child is to fight for what is right, even if it's not the most popular choice, or even if it's not to their advantage.
Kerry - ND April 21, 2012 at 05:56 PM
While I do feel for people driving from the Carlmont area to Nesbit, and it's not optimal for neighbors to go to different schools, what else is there to do with extra kids and not enough school space at their closest option? Clearly increasing capacity at Fox would at least send driving parents in the lesser congested area and should be revisited. But kids that can walk to a particular school should have priority at that school. Why does it sound like some are complaining about this? Unfortunately, the decision to sell school land in the 1980s was a poor one in retrospect. There are always going to be unhappy people in this scenario, but property values should not be part of the discussion.
Kerry - ND April 21, 2012 at 06:04 PM
Morris, I suspect a lot of people who don't live walking distance to a school like yourself would expect people like me to drive their kid to Nesbit when they could walk to Central. Hopefully I don't need to explain why your priority system isn't well suited to a school where there is already huge backups of cars at pickup and dropoff time. This is exactly the kind of thinking that annoys me: push people who are relatively close to Nesbit (but not walking distance) to Nesbit so that people can drive their kids to Central. It of course probably applies to other combinations and makes just as little sense.
Denny Lawhern April 21, 2012 at 07:03 PM
I agree that every child should go to the nearest school if possible. When we moved to Belmont in the 1960's the School District had a fleet of buses that moved children around the district as needed. There are many other values to teach your children that help your children with their educational needs then API and home values and which side of the street you live on. After reading some of the comments, I think that there are some parents that need to go back to summer school for a refresher course instead of the students. Denny Lawhern
Bob April 21, 2012 at 07:35 PM
Denny the Bond Measures were sold to the community with "keeping children in their neighborhood schools". If you are aware of that, the current situation is unacceptable. It isn't just the people of 41-43; the same line was sold to the people of Belmont Shores when they sold them on a different bond measure. Those families complained and were reassigned by the District. Seems some favoritism is in play. Here is a quote from the Superintendent Emerita Camilleri June 10, 2010. “We want to ensure that all of our students have the ability to learn in safe and modern classrooms and continue to attend school in their own neighborhoods. That is why the Belmont-Redwood Shores School Board has been considering facilities bond measures to continue the process of upgrading and improving our classrooms to continue student success."
Denny Lawhern April 22, 2012 at 02:42 AM
Thanks Bob, I agree 100%.There is a big problem with our elected officials and other elected officials at the City, County, State and Federal level promising one thing and doing something else or nothing at all.This is where the political process kicks in. We have removed elected people from office in the passed when they do this kind of thing. I was involved in the process when we closed some schools in Belmont.. My advise at the time was hold on to schools as we will need them in the future. Barrett was the most central school and should have been retained for future use. I was on the committee when we decided to build the first new school on the east side of the district in RWS. I also know that in about 10 years we will see another downturn in school population. Which school do you see in the future that may need to be closed? or will it by done by favoritism. I have lived in Sterling Downs next to Nesbit for 45 years. All of my family and all of my neighbors children have gone to Nesbit and I would not have it any other way. Nesbit is a great school that has always served children of all needs. I live here not because I have to but because I love my neighborhood , I love my town and I love Nesbit School. Denny Lawhern
Denny Lawhern April 22, 2012 at 03:00 AM
Posted on Drew & Christine Morgan, REALTORS® Belmont Real Estate Specialists."Helping People Make Good Decisions"sm. Susan 11:00 am on Friday, April 20, 2012 Tx, Derek. I would still be interested in Drew and Christine's opinion based on what they hear from their buyers. My understanding is people pay for high API scores, regardless of whether the school is any better. Central is a top 10% school (by API score), Nesbit is top 40%. Considering demographics, Nesbit is bottom 50% for CA. I see 3 BRs near Nesbit selling for $550K. I have never seen anything close to that price on the other side of ECR, regardless of size or condition. This is the kind of crap above that turns a lot of people off Denny Lawhern
Denny Lawhern April 22, 2012 at 03:04 AM
My response to the post on Realtors page To Susan I have lived in Sterling Downs- Homeview neighborhood for 45 years. Not because I have to but because I love my town, my neighborhood and Nesbit School. All of my family and friends families have gone to Nesbit, Ralston and Carlmont. All of our schools in Belmont have their strong and there weak points. Our neighborhood has always served the entry level middle class families that wants to have home ownership. Nesbit serves children from all walks of life and educational needs and I am proud of that. I get a bad feeling about you that you are an elitist who's only concern is API and home value and where you live. I fail to see your comment about the price of homes in our area or which side of the street you live on, has anything to do with anything other than an attempt to put people down for where they live. There are many other values that help your child succeed in school and help them grow in their community. Denny Lawhern
Derek April 22, 2012 at 04:24 AM
I applaud the Morgans for not sugar coating things. Real estate agents shouldn't beat around the bush with their clients hard earned $.
Kerry - ND April 22, 2012 at 05:30 PM
There are many valid thought experiments/analyses on what API is worth, but the statement the realtors Denny quotes is a classic confusion of correlation vs causation. When I bought here, I simply was attracted to the quaint feel of hillside Belmont. I suspect the attractive setting is why people pay more for the west side of ECR, not the API. I mean this as no insult to Sterling Downs, as I know people who live there who decided they value the sidewalks and suburban feel of the neighborhood over the weirdness that is the housing stock in the hills. Further arguments against API affecting value: - while we currently have a kinder population bubble, Belmont is spoken of as a "retirement community" by realtors, even for buyers today. "Empty nester" buyers will only value API for resale, and it certainly diminishes its effect. - adjusting locally for the fact that all elementary schools feed into Ralston and Carlmont again further diminishes elementary-API-based effect on price. When I bought, I didn't even look at API scores despite having young children. I heard Belmont-RWS was a good school district and that was that. That's just anecdotal, but I'm sure most buyers aren't API-obsessed. Those folks are probably shopping Palo Alto.
Jeff Selman April 22, 2012 at 08:27 PM
For those focused on API and property values, here are some objective statistics about our district, which suggest little, if any, correlation. I purchased my house in May 2002 (without looking at API) in a neighborhood which was then assigned to Central, but has bounced around between McDougal, Central and Cipriani during the last 30 years. The district’s API during that school year (2001-02) was 807, and Central’s was 843 (identical to Nesbit’s last year). By the time 3 years later my oldest children were ready to begin school, the neighborhood was assigned to Cipriani (API of 761 the school year I purchased my house). Kinders in my neighborhood have now been assigned to Nesbit, which in 2011 had an API of the same 843 that Central had in 2002, and ahead of Cipriani’s going into my oldest beginning kindergarten. As for the district, it is now at 908, an increase of 101 the last decade. As for property values, according to a report from the Morgans (http://www.morganhomes.com/samplereport.pdf), although there was a rise in median price from 2002-05, with all of the twists and turns in the national and local economy, median price has changed little since 2005, all while API for the district was rising. This suggests that our housing market is likely just as much impacted by the tightness of demand on the Peninsula and local employment as it is by the excellence of our schools, which itself I would argue is impacted by parent involvement and great teachers.
Denny Lawhern April 23, 2012 at 02:13 AM
Comments by Drew & Christine Morgan, REALTORS® 12:26 pm on Sunday, April 22, 2012 Hi Susan, From a buyer’s perspective, you are correct that many will shop for homes around the school where they would like their child to attend; and many put a great deal of weight on API scores—more so than I feel they should. With Belmont’s new “No Boundary” policy the school where your child will attend has just become a little more certain—not less. We sold a home last year to a client who lives in the Skymont neighborhood (by 92) and their child was enrolled in Central. Under the new district policy (using the “closest proximity” test) that would probably no longer be the case. I suspect Nesbit will only continue to improve in the years to come and so will the home values in Sterling Downs/Homeview area. It is a great neighborhood with a warner microclimate than some other areas in Belmont. All the best, Drew
Susan April 23, 2012 at 05:20 AM
Denny, what turns people off? I wish that people didn't make housing decisions based on scores. Unfortunately it is a fact.
Susan April 23, 2012 at 05:32 AM
Kerry, you mention Palo Alto. If API does not drive housing prices, why are prices in PA nearly double what they are in Belmont? Why are prices in E Menlo (rwc or red. City schools) so much lower than in W. Menlo? Why did certain homeowners, not parents, threaten to sue when 41-43 was almost rebound aired to Nesbit? It doesn't matter whether API scores are a poor metric for evaluating the quality of education, it only matters whether people believe it will change home values. Perception drives demand
Susan April 23, 2012 at 05:39 AM
Jeff, that is interesting that scores have risen so much. Do you know whether scores across the state have risen over the same period? This might be the case if the schools haven't improved their ranking vs other schools over the same period. Regardless, I think that people evaluate various towns and neighborhoods when buying a house. Thus it is relative score (or ranking), that drives differences in demand and prices, not absolute scores. This may be less so if the schools are all ranked in the same decile or two.
Jeff Selman April 23, 2012 at 06:42 AM
Susan - Juana Briones in Palo Alto in 2011 had an identical API to Redwood Shores Elementary, and one point more than Central. There are also elementary schools in Palo Alto with lower and higher APIs (ranging from 870-973). South Hillsborough, in the top district in the state, last year had an API of 970, which is statistically not that significantly better than the 940 of Redwood Shores or Juana Briones. But Palo Alto has higher real estate values than Belmont Redwood Shores, and Hillsborough higher yet. When looking at districts on the Peninsula with excellent schools, the factors that influence prices are going to be varied. As for comparison of relative API growth with a district such as Palo Alto, in 2001-02, it had a range of 852-944, so while it has seen growth in the last decade, just as has Belmont Redwood Shores, our district has seen more growth. I suspect that this has not stunted housing prices in Palo Alto. But it has resulted in a substantial influx of students into our district which is more affordable than Palo Alto.

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