Increasing communication while contending with changes to the state’s funding formula and new Common Core standards are among the top issues for the seven candidates for three open seats on the Belmont-Redwood Shores Elementary School District Board of Trustees.
With incumbents Brian Matthews and Andy Stulbarg opting not to run for re-election, the only incumbent in the race is Charles Velschow, who was appointed in 2011 to replace Michael Parker. The other candidates are Suvarna Bhopale, Rakesh Hegde, Amy Koo, Herb Neuman, Naomi Nishimoto and Kelly Redmon.
An in-office forum was held to help the Daily Journal determine endorsements. To allow each candidate a forum to express their opinions on the issues discussed, candidates were given the same questions and asked to answer each in 50 words or less. Answers are arranged alphabetically by the candidate’s last name.
Do you support the extension of the district’s parcel taxes on the November ballot?
Suvarna Bhopale: Yes. Renewal of existing parcels, without raising taxes, will prevent cuts in funding, lessen our dependence on state aid and retain local control over budgetary decisions. Defeating the measure now and revisiting the issue later, as some suggest, will result in funding uncertainty at a time when we need stability.
Rakesh Hegde: Absolutely. I support Measure R renewal of the funding for local schools without increasing taxes. It is essential for high-quality education and smaller class sizes, that we do not lose existing funding. Our school district has seen enormous growth in enrollments but our revenues have been fairly flat.
Amy Koo: Yes. It makes sense to pass the parcel tax measure now to create funding source stability, since long-term budgets look out three years. This funding stability would enable change by allowing the board to focus on issues like creating capacity for increasing enrollment and improving communication with stakeholders.
Herb Neuman: I support fully funding our public schools. The district is seeing revenue increases and measures G and U do not expire until mid-2015 and 2016. There will be new trustees this year and prematurely extending the parcel taxes now will impair their ability to analyze and optimize revenue sources.
Naomi Nishimoto: With growing enrollment, the district’s passion for excellence and high expectations from the community, I support the extension of the parcel tax.
Kelly Redmon: Absolutely. I think a secondary focus in this campaign and election season will be to also support and help pass the parcel-tax extension. With a growing district and schools already at capacity, we need to ensure we maintain a current stream of guaranteed funding, while looking for other ways to bring in revenue.
Charles Velschow: Definitely, its $2 million annually the district cannot afford to lose, we are currently spending down our reserves to maintain services and by all accounts we run a very lean operation with more than 85 percent of our budget allocated for classroom instruction.
How do you feel the district has balanced the needs of both the Belmont and Redwood Shores community?
Suvarna Bhopale: BRSSD is best served with representation from Belmont and Redwood Shores on the board, though trustees must make decisions with the best interests of the whole district in mind. An impartial, transparent process with appropriate community input will result in balanced decisions and create community trust in the decision-makers.
Rakesh Hegde: Both Belmont and Redwood Shores communities have unique challenges, but on the whole all the seven schools in the district provide quality education that our kids deserve. The capacity issue due to high enrollments needs to be solved to ensure that the kids go to their neighborhood schools.
Amy Koo: The message of seven schools one district is a unifying theme, but Belmont and Redwood Shores are two different communities and more should be done to acknowledge the differences and account for them in district policies, communication messages and methods and task force selection criteria.
Herb Neuman: The district seeks to treat both communities fairly and frequently achieves that goal. The recent surprise announcement targeting certain Shores kindergartners for displacement from a neighborhood school followed by an equally surprising reversal serve to undermine our residents’ trust in the fairness and thoughtfulness of the trustees’ decision-making.
Naomi Nishimoto: As a school district, we are one community. However, because the district has made decisions based on short-term solutions and then failing to clearly communicate its decisions, both communities have felt neglected. Envisioning long-term goals and improving communication should be a top priority for any prospective board member.
Charles Velschow: Given that huge mistakes were made years ago (the selling of district land in the ’80s when enrollment dropped), fairly well. The district and community has built two schools, received matching funds to expand Redwood Shores Elementary, with room for growth. We need to communicate better with all community members.
Kelly Redmon: I think the district has done a decent job balancing the needs of both of these communities, but I believe there’s a lot more work to be done. One way to help strengthen the bond between these two communities would be to improve communication and transparency with all communities.
Do you agree with the Common Core standards?
Suvarna Bhopale: Yes. The Common Core curriculum is designed to teach students skills relevant to succeed in higher education, career and life. These K-12 learning standards delve deeper into key concepts in math and English language arts and require students to apply acquired knowledge, rather than master multiple-choice tests.
Rakesh Hegde: I think Common Core standards, if implemented correctly, ensure that no matter where the students live, they are equally skilled and equipped to compete with their peers globally. It is also important that the transition phase is coupled with well-equipped instructional materials and adequate training for the staff.
Amy Koo: Yes. I believe Common Core will enable everyone who has an influence on a child’s education to be on the same page regarding expectations no matter where they live, but allows local jurisdictions and teachers themselves to create the content and curriculum that best fits their students’ needs.
Herb Neuman: Since 1997, California has led the country in adopting statewide academic content standards for English-language arts and mathematics. These standards have helped our students succeed academically. I anticipate the Common Core standards, once fully implemented, will similarly be leveraged by teachers and families to the benefit of our children.
Naomi Nishimoto: I agree with the concept of the Common Core Standards because students are required to think and reason more than before. The new standards emphasize the need for students to understand and explain their answers.
Charles Velschow: Yes, they are a marked improvement over the previous state standards. Common Core requires more critical thinking, cross curricular analysis and align with international benchmarks. The board must support professional development to ensure their implementation, they will be a welcome challenge for our students.
Kelly Redmon: Yes. Finally standards that make sense, are achievable, increase rigor, prepare students for college and careers and allow for teacher creativity. These are a breath of fresh air compared the other standards we’ve had to use.
What curriculum changes would you like to see at the district?
Suvarna Bhopale: We must ensure that students at all levels, from those who have special needs to those in the GATE (gifted and talented) program, receive a high-quality education. Though the state has eliminated funding for GATE, teachers must be encouraged to provide differentiated instruction to GATE students within the mainstream classroom.
Rakesh Hegde: While we are in the transition phase to the Common Core standards and a new curriculum is being rolled out, I would like to see a larger emphasis on engaging the students in the STEM areas, which will build a solid foundation for quality education.
Amy Koo: I would like to see more support for specialized programs such as GATE or language immersion. Children are passionate about different things and should be given an opportunity to excel in the areas they are passionate about; these programs can be located at one school to serve the district’s students.
Herb Neuman: Our children will compete in a global economy and the district must focus on math, science and engineering. The district talks about “21st Century Education,” but in 2011, only 4 percent of the $2 million from measures G and U was spent on these areas. That is not good enough.
Naomi Nishimoto: In general BRSSD has a great curriculum, in part due to the support of the PTA, education foundation and general public. But there’s always room for improvement and that’s a discussion I would love to start with the teachers.
Charles Velschow: Long term: further implementation and strengthening of STEM programs, an organized GATE program, summer enrichment for EL and at-risk students and a districtwide standard for second language development for all students beginning in elementary school.
Kelly Redmon: With Common Core, there will be some curriculum changes. But this is a question that needs the input of the teachers, the master’s of curriculum. They should be the ones telling us what’s working, what isn’t working and what additional resources they need.
Do you think the Local Control Funding Formula will have a positive or negative impact on the district?
Suvarna Bhopale: Unclear. LCFF provides districts with greater control over their budgets and more money to districts with high numbers of economically disadvantaged, English-learners or foster children. Because LCFF will replace the basic aid/revenue limit distinction, the budgetary impact on BRSSD is undetermined — another reason to renew the parcels.
Rakesh Hegde: LCFF will shift control over spending and budgeting from state to districts. While this gives more control to the district, it is designed to give more money to disadvantaged schools. This may mean lesser funds for BRSSD. As the specifics of LCFF are rolled out, the impact will be clearer.
Amy Koo: The impact can be positive. As a basic aid district where per pupil funding is decreasing as enrollment increases, the district may revisit the decision to remain basic aid. Involving all stakeholders in creating an annual accountability plan per LCFF priorities will improve transparency in decision making and stakeholder engagement.
Herb Neuman: Simply by replacing the current funding system, LCF could be a net positive. LCF increases state spending for education with potentially more money for our district in the coming years. Overall state funding will not fall below 2012 levels. The required Local Accountability Plans could drive meaningful community involvement.
Naomi Nishimoto: I think it will have a positive impact on the district since it gives the district flexibility and more control on how to best use the funding for our schools’ needs.
Charles Velschow: If enrollment continues to grow, in five years or more we should benefit from LCFF, as we move out of basic aid status and revenue limit districts are funded appropriately. However, one projection has BRSSD second to last in per pupil spending countywide under LCFF in the short term.
Kelly Redmon: Overall, I believe the LCFF will help lift California up from our low ranking. It is exciting that our own community will have the freedom and responsibility to make decisions about where our money should be spent. That being said, the new formula probably will reduce current funds. No matter what the outcome, I think it will be important to truly involve all members of our community; there must be public transparency.
Education: J.D. from Georgetown Law, B.A. in political science from the University of Maryland
Experience: Attorney, Sandpiper Site Council, as its PTA Advocacy Chair; president, neighborhood homeowners’ association
Family: Married, two children
Residence: Redwood Shores since 2003
Education: Engineering degree in computer science
Experience: CEO for Rezopia Inc.; School Force board
Family: Married, two children
Residence: Redwood Shores since 2006
Education: B.S. from MIT and an MBA and MS from Stanford University
Experience: Manager of trade operations at Gilead Sciences in Foster City
Family: Married, two sons
Residence: One year in Belmont, last nine years in Redwood Shores
Education: Landscape architecture degree from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
Experience: Registered landscape architect, Art in Action volunteer, Central Elementary School design review committee
Family: Married, a son and a daughter
Residence: Belmont for six years
Education: Bachelor’s degree from Knox College, a master’s degree from Southern Illinois University, an MBA from Regis University and doctor of nedicine from Southern Illinois University
Experience: Physician, entrepreneur and former Fortune 500 senior executive
Family: Married, a son
Residence: Redwood Shores since 2011
Education: Mills High School, Cañada College, teaching credential from San Francisco State University, master’s in instructional technologies and a supplemental single subject credential in computer technologies
Experience: English teacher at Carlmont High School
Family: Married, two daughters
Residence: Belmont for 13 years
Education: Cipriani Elementary and Ralston Junior High (now ‘Middle School’), Serra High School (class of ’86), political science degree from UC Davis, teaching credential from San Francisco State University
Experience: Social studies teacher for the Business Technology Academy
Family: Married, three children
Residence: Belmont for 35 years