Looking for a way to address student overcrowding in both cities it serves, the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District Board of Trustees voted 4-1 last night to put a $130 million bond measure on the Nov. 5 ballot that would rebuild and expand Bowditch Middle School to add Foster City fifth graders and reopen Knolls Elementary School in San Mateo.
Trustee Ellen Mallory Ulrich was the only trustee who voted against the measure. She said she supports opening Knolls, but she doesn’t think it would be a complete solution to overcrowding. Ulrich said she would really like to see Bowditch be able to take in San Mateo students and worries about equity in the district between schools in Foster City and San Mateo.
Over the past five years, the district enrollment has grown from 1,703 students from 10,079 to 11,782.
“The board has been wrestling with what to do with overcrowding for four or five years,” Superintendent Cyndy Simms said at the meeting. “We could talk for a while about the perfect plan, but I think it’s time.”
The Bowditch plan would bring the school from 1,000 to 1,500 students. The school would grow up and out — adding a floor and expanding on the ground level as well. Bowditch is currently grades 6-8.
Knolls is located at 525 42nd Ave. and has been used as a temporary overflow school while others undergo construction. This measure would make Knolls a permanent school, expanded and repurposed to be brought up to code with other permanent schools.
If approved by 55 percent of voters, the bond’s aim is to help both schools open for the 2016-17 school year, following a design process and construction of about three years.
Simms said the district has been doing a good job of absorbing the growing enrollment since 2006, but it has a short time left before it won’t be enough. Trustee Colleen Sullivan agreed, saying she has watched each district campus have growing pains because of size.
If the measure passes, a committee would be formed to decide on changing school boundaries in San Mateo because of the reopening of Knolls. There is a possibility it could be opened as a magnet school, which wouldn’t affect the borders. Simms said it’s best to wait until Knolls is confirmed to open before making a choice on boundaries.
Parents and others in the community spoke in support of the measure.
Teresa Harvey, Highlands Elementary School teacher, said as a parent with kids in Foster City, she sees the schools as being far too overcrowded without enough supervision. San Mateo parent Sherri Verducci said she’s definitely willing to pay extra for school improvements.
Some community members brought up concerns, however.
Attorney, parent and San Mateo resident Diane Papan said the bond measure would be a much easier sell for San Mateo voters if there are some spots for San Mateo students.
Last year, the district nixed a $130 million bond measure that would have proposed buying up land in Foster City to build a new school so it could better communicate its goals with the public. This came after the Superintendent’s Committee on Overcrowding Relief recommended the board replace Bowditch and move fifth graders there, which is now part of the current bond measure. The bond would cost property owners $19 per $100,000 assessed property value.