Belle Haven Elementary School is the largest elementary school of the Ravenswood City School District of East Palo Alto. Facing potential budget shortages once COVID-19 stimulus funds dry up, RCSD will lease two of its properties to secure future funding for educational mterials, summer school and afterschool programs. “The idea of these leases is to help make that money sustainable for us so it’s a recurring revenue stream,” Chief Business Officer William Eger said. Photo by Jerry Xia.

Ravenswood School District to lease unused East Palo Alto properties

To fund instructional programs and increase teacher pay during budget shortages, the Ravenswood City School District of East Palo Alto will lease two properties by spring 2021.

RCSD will rent out its district office and an unused school site to help fund better class instructional materials, summer school and after school programs which were initially funded using COVID-19 stimulus funds, RCSD Chief Business Officer William Eger said.

“These leases represent a way to keep making investments in smaller class sizes, family coordinators, an extended school year for more of us, summer school and extending the day, all these great programs that we’ve been able to do because of stimulus funds,” Eger said.

COVID-19 stimulus funds and record donations from the Ravenswood Educational Foundation have helped the district’s financial situation this year, according to the district’s 2020-2021 budget report. However, Eger said the expiration of the COVID-19 funding will leave a big gap in the district’s budget.

“The idea of these leases is to help make that money sustainable for us so it’s a recurring revenue stream, not just one-time money like the stimulus funds or a little bit riskier like the donations,” Eger said.

Eger said a large portion of the district’s budget goes towards students who need extra support, which further strains its limited funds.

“Students, for example, who are English learners cost a little more because we provide additional services,” Eger said. “The students with special needs cost a little bit more, and students who have additional academic needs — whether they’re homeless or have some other need — get a little bit more money. And so when you account for all of those things, we’re actually a little bit below average in the county, and our students have a little bit less money on a per-pupil basis.”

The district will lease its office at 2120 Euclid Ave. and its flood lot site at 320 Sheridan Dr. to maximize its revenue, Superintendent Gina Sudaria said at a Sept. 9 board meeting.

“We want to choose the highest responsible bidder,” Sudaria said. “We understand the complexity in regards to maybe including (a) high proposed ground lease and then having to negotiate down or undesirable payment terms or an infeasible project, but we want to maximize or get the highest market value for our property.”

The current district office will be demolished, according to the district’s budget proposal. Eger said the district will move out of its unnecessarily large district office to cut costs.

“We’ve gone from having 3,000 kids in the district to little under half of that in the last few years, and as part of that we’ve shrunk the district office staff too,” Eger said. “The space is also a lot bigger than the 30 people or so that work here need, so we’re planning on moving in the short term to a temporary space.”

The district’s budget plan states Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate brokerage firm, will be used to find and negotiate a lease by the end of the winter of 2021. Once the proposals are finalized, construction is scheduled to begin in 2022 and the district will start receiving lease revenue around 2024.

Not only are the leases intended to supplement funding for students, Eger said they would also benefit RCSD teachers, who are often paid less than their counterparts in other districts in Santa Clara County.

“We want to make sure that our staff members are paid similar amounts relative to the rest of the county,” Eger said. “Right now, our teachers make a good bit less money than someone across jurisdictional boundaries across an arbitrary road, and we want to start to close those salary gaps.”

Sudaria said the long-term goal of the leases is to boost RCSD’s revenue to be on-par with other districts in the county.

“We believe that it’s the best way to benefit our community if we have excellent schools, so the district needs to be financially stable in the long term,” Sudaria said. “We believe this is the only way forward to be able to be self-sufficient and to compete with affluent communities like Menlo Park and Palo Alto.”