After San Mateo Mayor David Lim and Deputy Mayor Robert Ross made it clear Thursday night they would not recommend that the City Council support Measure P to upgrade local school facilities, a strange thing happened that may have strained the already tenuous relationship between the school district and city — somebody did not shake somebody’s hand.
Or did they?
Lim and Ross are on the city’s Legislative Subcommittee and heard arguments for and against supporting the $130 million bond measure Wednesday night.
The measure is on the November ballot and proposes to add capacity and upgrade a few schools in the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District.
After the meeting concluded, attended by about 20 people, district Superintendent Cynthia Simms allegedly refused to shake the mayor’s hand as he had it extended out in thanks for her presentation.
She also passed on shaking the hand of Ross before turning around and saying “I better shake your hand or you will tell everyone I didn’t,” both Ross and Lim told the Daily Journal yesterday.
Simms’ office has a different account of the scenario, however, in which the incident played out more as an awkward moment that Simms briefly hesitated to reach out her hand because they voted “no” against the bond, Assistant Superintendent Molly Barton told the Daily Journal yesterday afternoon.
In the end, there was a handshake, all three agreed, but the way the moment took place has caused the mayor and deputy mayor to question the superintendent’s professionalism.
Lim even sent Simms an email yesterday asking for an apology, not a personal one but one directed more toward the City Council and its process.
“While we did not vote the way you obviously had hoped, we felt it was extremely rude to refuse to shake our hands when we thanked you for your input at the conclusion of our meeting,” Lim wrote Simms in the email. “On behalf of the residents of San Mateo, some of who witnessed your disrespect, we would ask for a formal apology. Not so much for Councilmember Ross and I, who are grown-up enough to forgive your sleight, but for the disrespect you showed to the office of the City Council of San Mateo and the disrespect you showed toward the democratic process of disagreeing without being disagreeable.”
But “in the end, they shook hands,” Barton told the Daily Journal.
“It was awkward, we want the bond to pass,” Barton said.
If Measure P is approved, Knolls Elementary School in San Mateo, which has been used as a temporary overflow school, could reopen for the 2016-17 school year, following a design process and construction of about three years, taking about $18 million. About $60-$80 million would go Bowditch in Foster City expanding from 1,000 to 1,500 students, adding a floor and expanding on the ground level to address growing enrollment. There is also money for technology, energy efficiencies and other improvements. It would cost property owners $19 per $100,000 assessed property value. Voters previously approved Measure L, a $175 million bond measure in 2008. There is still $70 million in funds left from Measure L.
Ross opposes the bond because it will not allow underprivileged, mostly Hispanic San Mateo children into Foster City schools and has an unequal distribution of funds.
“The current policy has exclusionary practices,” he said.
District officials have said that having San Mateo children attend Foster City schools has not been an option because of overcrowding there, and that this bond measure will help address that.
It is important for the city and district to get along or the students will suffer,” Ross said.
A handshake to Lim is not a meaningless gesture.
“Even if she thinks I’m a jerk, she should respect the process and the position,” Lim told the Daily Journal. “It’s not OK. She should be held to a high professional standard.”
Lim also told the Daily Journal he may have suffered a moment where he lacked a bit of maturity but still feels disrespected by Simms’ actions Wednesday.
Ross, too, feels disrespected.
“I went to shake her hand and she pulled her hand back and said ‘I’m not going to shake your hand,’” Ross told the Daily Journal. “It is important for the city and district to get along or the students will suffer.”
The district is seeking the council’s endorsement of the bond measure. The council may still endorse it despite the subcommittee’s recommendation since it would require three of five votes.
Measure P requires 55 percent of voters’ approval to pass.
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