With facilities dwindling and the student population exploding, the San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District is regrouping to figure out solutions after the failure of a bond measure aimed at alleviating these woes.
The newly formed the Next Steps Advisory Committee just began meeting and wants to solve the enrollment problem that, occurring to demographers, has grown each year. This year, enrollment hit about 11,706 students, up 511 from the 2011-12 school year. The committee will most likely be looking at having a recommendation by August 2015 so a potential measure could make it on the November 2015 ballot, Superintendent Cynthia Simms said. Still, there is deliberately no timeline for the committee because the district wants to make sure to engage the community, she said.
“I have also seen the school sizes grow,” said Audrey Ng, board vice president and committee member. “Something needs to be done; I except a viable solution out of this committee.”
Measure P, the November 2013 $130 million bond measure, would have allowed Knolls in San Mateo, which has been used as a temporary overflow school, to reopen for the 2016-17 school year. This would have happened following a design process and construction of about three years, taking about $18 million. About $60-$80 million would have gone to Bowditch Middle School in Foster City expanding from 1,000 to 1,500 students, adding a floor and expanding on the ground level to address growing enrollment. In total, the additions would have added 1,050 seats. This all came from the recommendations of Superintendent’s Committee on Overcrowding Relief, or SCORE, made up of community members and leaders from Foster City, who worked on solving capacity issues in Foster City schools.
Meanwhile, the new committee is made up of two community leaders active in the Measure P campaign, one in favor and one against; two community leaders from the North Central neighborhood of San Mateo; two community leaders, one from San Mateo and one from Foster City whose children have graduated from the district; and two board liaisons, one from San Mateo and one from Foster City. This time around, the district didn’t want San Mateo to feel left out in the conversation, Simms said.
“I’m very optimistic about this opportunity to get to work with people with different points of view, that all care about this community,” Simms said.
For now, the district is looking at short-term solutions to address overcrowding, including filling up all existing classrooms for grades four and up, creating teacher offices at the middle schools so more classrooms can be used when teachers have their prep periods and a.m./p.m. kindergarten in the 2015-16 school year.
Committee member Daniela Relaford was on the Yes on P committee and said she thought the measure would help relieve some of these overcrowding issues and aid technology needs.
“Equity is dear to my heart and I’m happy now this is going to be a fresh start with public involvement,” she said. “Hopefully we will get to a successful, happy ending.”
On the other hand, Isabelle Bushman co-chaired the successful Measure A parcel tax campaign, but was against Measure P. She is now on the committee and has previously fought for another school in Foster City. Bushman said she’d like to see issues resolved, including equity and school size.
“(Isabelle) she’s given a lot, so it meant a lot when she took a “no” position on Measure P,” Simms said. “She’s bringing that perspective and can help us with next steps.”
SCORE committee member Larry Lowenthal said SCORE put together a plan that it thought worked and it didn’t, so he’s on this new committee to help make a plan that succeeds this time.
Lowenthal brings the perspective of a businessman and understanding Foster City leaders, Simms said.
North Central’s Evelia Chairez said she hopes to give a Latino community perspective to the group, while longtime North Central resident Gloria Brown said she’s very entrenched in the community as a whole.
“I’m very committed to seeing a better life in general for those who live in North Central,” she said.
Another perspective brought to the committee is that of former board trustee Mark Hudak. Hudak recounted how he was on the board when the overcrowding struggle first emerged.
“I know all the challenges because I studied it when I was on the board,” he said. “It’s going to take compromise and creativity. I’m confident we’ll get there.”
Hudak will serve as a “big thinker” for the committee, Simms said.
“Mark was one of first people I talked to when Measure P failed,” she said. “He is very helpful in thinking about this process. He has an investment in our community and school district, he’s given many years in that capacity.”
Another board member on the committee is Ed Coady, who said he wants the committee to be proud of its final recommendation.
The committee’s next meeting is 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 17 at the district office, 1170 Chess Drive in Foster City. The group will meet around every two weeks for hour-and-a-half time periods. AddieRose Mayer of the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center is mediating the meetings.
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