Schools and the City Council

Item 6 in the list of “issues” posted on NextDoor deals with the elementary and middle schools and, in part, the City’s role in that. The issue and questions are set out as follows:

Issue 6. Our schools are overcrowded. People who move here no longer have assurances that their children will be able to attend schools in Foster City?

Question 6-a: Do you believe the City has a responsibility to deal with school overcrowding? If so, what are those responsibilities and what would you do to make sure the City meets them?

Question 6-b: Do you support Measure X, the school bond issue?

Question 6-c: Do you believe Measure X will solve our school crowding? If not, what specific additional steps would you initiate to address the problem?

My response:

Let’s start with some basic facts and history. School overcrowding at Foster City schools predates any of the current development. In fact, school overcrowding has been an issue for some time, but personally I can speak of starting to work on it back in 2009 when I was first running for City Council. During that year, the San Mateo Foster City School District asked Foster City to give it all or a portion of Booth Bay Park for a fourth elementary school. The Council at the time help a public hearing and unanimously rejected the request in part due to some legal restraints on giving away a park and in part due to public opposition. The local schools at the time were becoming overcrowded and Foster City School had been shut down with the students in portables waiting for new permanent buildings to be built. The relationship between the City and the School District was problematic and there was a lot of finger pointing. Residents were categorizing people as to whether they were for or against schools.

At the time I was running for Council and I met with some of the school board members and proposed some solutions that I thought would help the situation, including a second story on the yet-to-be-rebuilt Foster City School. Ultimately none of my suggestions were accepted and the Foster City School as we now see it was built and over the years additional portables were added to the various campuses as a temporary way to deal with increased enrollment.

The District then retained a new Superintendent and she began an outreach program to get the community more involved in the problem and in finding a solution. That committee met and made recommendations that were put together in the School Bond effort in November of 2013. As we now know, that effort failed. Why it failed is no longer relevant, but because it failed the problem continued.

The Superintendent then put together the Next Steps committee with people from Foster City and San Mateo and they studied the situation, conducted public outreach and at the end of many months, gave recommendations to the District. Those recommendations, to the extent possible, are now before the voters in the form of Measure X.

So that is a brief history of how we got here, now to address the questions:

  1. The City does not have any legal responsibility to provide additional classroom space. So the question really should not be does the City have any responsibility because legally it does not, so the question really is should the City assist the District in the school overcrowding issue – why or why not, and if so how. My answer to that question is yes, we should assist by helping to get the word out on how important it is to pass Measure X. I have said time and again that educating our children is one of the most important things we can do as a civilized society. We have some of the best schools in the State in Foster City and those should be available to all residents. I know that there are potential pitfalls and problems with Measure X and what it will truly mean to Foster City, but I think that we need to ensure that we have the funds necessary to provide the infrastructure, whatever that turns out to be, to provide adequate classroom space. If and when the bond passes, then I think that the City should assist the District in finding the best solution as to where that classroom space should be built. I continue to believe that if there is a commitment on the part of the City Council and on the part of the School Board to work together collaboratively to finding a solution, then a solution that will be in the best interest of our community as a whole will be found. If, however, the bond does not pass, then it does not really matter what the City or the District wants to do as there is simply not enough money to deal with the problem and it will continue into the future.
  2. Measure X is flawed but it is the best alternative, much better than doing nothing. Measure X was developed from a year of study by community members from Foster City and San Mateo who looked at the varying interests of the two cities and found ways to address their similar and differing needs. I will be the first to say that the solutions are far from perfect, but after being involved in this issue for more than six years and having attended a lot of the community and committee meetings, the solution they have will at least give us a framework and the funds necessary to do what needs to be done to meet the needs of our children. I too would much prefer a definitive plan, but sometime despite best efforts a tentative plan must be put in place until certain unknowns can be worked out for the definitive plan. That alternative is better than not planning at all or not having the needed funds to remedy the problem which will then continue to drag on for at least two more years.
  3. Measure X can solve the overcrowding problem if the City and the District work together. Just like the District did outreach to the community through the Next Steps committee, the District will need to outreach to the City through the City Council to work on solutions that will provide additional class space at a reasonable cost and with the least impact possible. The District understands schools and eduction, the City Council understands the City and its needs and limitations. If these two bodies commit to working together to find a solution, then I am convinced that a solution will be found.

I do believe that the school bond and overcrowding are key issues. The quality of our schools contributes in no small part to our property values and our quality of life. Like many, I no longer have school age children but I do have a continued commitment to the families in our community that do and that want and need the quality eduction that our schools provide. I hope you feel the same and I hope you will elect candidates to the City Council that feel the same as well.

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