Peninsula school district spending differences highlighted in budget crisis 

The already-striking disparities in student spending between Peninsula school districts could grow even larger with deep state budget cuts looming, local educators warn.

The differences can be stark, even among neighboring districts. While the Redwood City School District spent $5,251 on each of its roughly 9,000 students in the 2009-10 school year, the one-school Woodside Elementary School District spent $17,320 on each of its 450 kids, according to data compiled by Redwood City officials.

While all districts are likely to feel pain from an expected $2 billion to $5 billion statewide cut to K-12 education, “the difference between Woodside and Redwood City is going to increase,” said Shelly Masur, the president of the San Mateo County School Boards Association.

For kids and teachers, the lower spending often means fewer elective programs, larger class sizes and in some cases a shorter school year. While districts with higher per student funding also are facing reductions, many districts have already made significant classroom cuts in recent years.

“None of us should be having to think about things like closing libraries or eliminating entitlement programs,” said Masur, a Redwood City School District trustee. “It’s not how California’s education system is supposed to be and it’s not what kids deserve.”

“Basic aid” districts, including Woodside and Portola Valley, get most of their funding from local property taxes. “Revenue limit” districts such as Redwood City and San Carlos receive a certain amount of funding through the state based on their student population.

“The fact they have that money is not necessarily impacting us,” said San Carlos Superintendent Craig Baker. “It’s just an unfair system in that all of the schools that feed into the same high school district are spending way different amounts of money on their children.”

Since 2008, the Hillsborough School District, a basic aid district in an affluent community, has cut about $1 million out of its budget, Superintendent Anthony Ranii said. Ranii has proposed $136,000 in additional cuts and plans to explore new revenues and potential savings from employee unions to solve the rest of an estimated $1 million deficit.

But Ranii acknowledged that the district has only made “modest” cuts to teaching staff and hasn’t drastically increased class sizes.

“Is it fair to say certain districts are facing more difficulties than us? I think that’s fair to say,” Ranii said. “It’s also fair to say there are some districts better positioned than us as well.”

Redwood City, meanwhile, has increased student-teacher ratios in grades K-3 to 30 to 1 and might be forced to shorten the next school year by five days. Jefferson Elementary School District also cut staff, increased class sizes and closed two schools.

“You have districts like ours that have already cut to the bone,” Jefferson Superintendent Matteo Rizzo said.

While the cuts for the next school year are still uncertain, Woodside’s per pupil funding increased by $1,867 from 2008-09 to 2009-10, while Redwood City’s decreased by $592 during the same period, Redwood City Chief Business Official Raul Parungao said.

“The gap is wider,” Parungao said. “And what will it look like when you go into 2010-11? You don’t know that yet.”


Ten San Mateo County elementary school districts are primarily funded with local property taxes (basic aid). The remaining seven receive most of their funding based on attendance (revenue limit).

- Belmont
- Redwood Shores
- Brisbane
- Burlingame
- Hillsborough
- Las Lomitas
- Menlo Park
- Portola Valley
- San Bruno
- San Mateo-Foster City
- Woodside

- Bayshore
- Jefferson
- Millbrae
- Pacifica
- Ravenswood
- Redwood City
- San Carlos

Source: California Education Department

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