John Horgan

The stark local disparity in public school dollars continues to grow. It’s been a San Mateo County phenomenon for decades.

The latest data released by the state Department of Education indicate that, for the first time, the county’s highest-spending public school district provides three times more fiscal resources per student than the lowest-spending district.

In 2019-20, according to the department’s online figures, the Woodside Elementary District spent $33,248 per pupil. Conversely, the Pacifica Elementary District spent $10,932, a yawning gap of $22,316 per child.

Throughout the county, the listed per child expenditure numbers vary wildly. The causes are many.

California public school finance is a complex subject that tends to make the average citizen’s eyes glaze over when studying the convoluted topic in any detail.

In a nutshell, here are some key historical factors that have helped to create this striking imbalance: Court decisions and finance measures that moved most districts’ taxing ability into a financial system controlled by the state; exemptions for districts who have the ability to self-fund due to very high property values; historical anomalies that essentially kept relatively low spending levels from rising dramatically over time.

And there’s more. Take self-funded Woodside as a prime example. Like several other wealthy Peninsula communities, it features two important monetary boosts that go beyond high land values and the typically generous tax haul that go with them.

Woodside voters have blessed the district with hefty parcel tax revenue; further, affluent families and others continue to provide extra cash via donations.

Here are the 2019-20 per pupil total operating expenditure figures (which do not include capital improvement costs) for each of the county’s 23 K-12 public school districts:

Bayshore Elementary, $15,376

Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary, $15,479

Brisbane Elementary, $19,879

Burlingame Elementary, $11,808

Cabrillo Unified, $12,855

Hillsborough City Elementary, $25,436

Jefferson Elementary, $13,255

Jefferson Union High, $15,681

La Honda-Pescadero Unified, $22,960

Las Lomitas Elementary, $24,864

Menlo Park City Elementary, $19,970

Millbrae Elementary, $11,888

Pacifica Elementary, $10,932

Portola Valley Elementary, $27,780

Ravenswood City Elementary, $23,413

Redwood City Elementary, $14,994

San Bruno Park Elementary, $13,227

San Carlos Elementary, $13,854

San Mateo Union High, $19,964

San Mateo-Foster City Elementary, $13,150

Sequoia Union High, $21,449

South San Francisco Unified, $14,042

Woodside Elementary, $33,248

ARCHIE WILLIAMS’ NAME LIVES ON: When Archie Williams enrolled at what was then San Mateo Junior College in the early 1930s, he almost surely had no idea he would become part of international sports history just two years later.

Williams, an exceptionally fast runner who was encouraged to pursue his athletic gift by San Mateo Coach Tex Byrd, would go on from the two-year school to the University of California, Berkeley, where he became a heralded world record holder in the 400 meters.

That got him a place on the U.S. Olympic team in 1936, a fateful year. Those iconic Summer Games were held in Berlin under the watchful gaze of German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and the Nazi high command 85 years ago.

The world spotlight was on America’s Black athletes, especially Jesse Owens. Williams, a future member of the Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame, was part of that gifted cadre of 18 African Americans.

Owens won four gold medals and got most of the attention. Williams, though, captured the 400 and grabbed gold as well. Hitler would not shake hands and congratulate either of them.

Williams went on to a laudable career in the U.S. Army Air Force (later the U.S. Air Force) and, finally, as a revered science and math instructor at Sir Francis Drake High School in Marin County.

Early this week, public education officials there were scheduled to consider renaming the school (Drake was a prominent English explorer, naval officer and privateer with a link to the slave trade) in honor of Williams.

There has been a great deal of controversy about a name change as you might imagine, but few, if any, arguments that Williams would not be a worthy alternative.

You can get in touch with John Horgan by email at

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(3) comments

John Baker

High property values and a smaller per capita number of kids will lead to such disparities. That's what we see in Woodside, for example. High property values and a lot of kids and you're looking at something like South City. Some districts, Redwood City and Ravenswood, for example, also get Title I federal funds to aid disadvantaged students, so their spending per pupil is higher than it might otherwise be.


Perhaps the elephant in the room.........but where is the money going to come from to support school funding for the influx of all the illegal immigrants that will soon flood the schools? Homeowners already complain about high property taxes. And most of the money for education comes from tax payers without kids in school.

Thomas Morgan

Burlingame schools are highly regarded and spend closer to what Pacifica spends.

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