Future of our schools: San Mateo County school board races

San Mateo-Foster City School District: A push for representation

San Mateo-Foster City School District spans two cities, but its five-member governing board currently has only one person from Foster City.

Two candidates from the smaller city that are running for the board this election hope to even out the balance of representation.
Christine Semenza, the district’s PTA Council president, said such a change is needed.

“We have to find a balance between Foster City and San Mateo representation,” she said, adding, “That can be a big challenge

There are three seats opening on the board and only one person seeking re-election.

San Mateo-Foster City School District has 10,300 students at 16 elementary and four middle schools. Since fiscal year 2007-08, the state has cut nearly $19 million from the district’s general fund budget, according to the district.

In recent years, the district has been working to establish a fourth elementary school site in Foster City based on projected student enrollment growth.

In June, the district approached Foster City officials and inquired about four potential city-owned sites for a new school and came under fire for suggesting that a part of a popular park was its preferred site.

In September, the City Council rejected the idea of giving up one of its parks to put a school in 11-acre Boothbay Park, and said it was only willing to consider one of the four sites on the list.

School board candidate John Miller, a Foster City resident, said the matter should have been handled better.

“I think the district did not dot its ‘I’s’ and cross its ‘T’s’ before going to Foster City for potential sites,” he said. “The issue played out on a public level when a lot of the discussions could’ve taken place at the staff level.”

Another candidate, parent Ellen Mallory Ulrich, who lives in San Mateo, downplayed the expected growth and said the district still had a number of empty portables at school sites that were not yet filled.

“The increase [in enrollment] didn’t materialize,” said Ulrich, who co-chaired the district’s Measure L Facilities Bond Campaign. “Some of that was offset by the increase in class size, but we have other classrooms to use.”

Incumbent Lory Lorimer Lawson, who lives in San Mateo, said enrollment growth happens in different parts of the city and schools are needed in neighborhoods with increasing numbers of kids.

“Kids don’t come in neat little packages right where you want them,” she said. “You don’t want overcrowded schools.”

The district also needs to give ongoing attention to the budget problems created by the decreases in state funding, Lawson said.

Foster City resident Julie Chan, a parent of two elementary-age children, said that in addition to addressing enrollment growth, the district needs to focus on such classroom concerns as strengthening school curriculum and finding ways to provide more arts, music, physical education and technology.

The district “faces unprecedented challenges in keeping our children’s educational experiences the best they can be,” Chan wrote in an e-mail.

San Mateo Union High School District: Experience vs. new ideas in board race

Five people are vying for three open spots on the San Mateo Union High School District board of trustees to help guide the district through construction projects and state budget challenges.

Three of the candidates are currently on the school board and are looking to continue for another four-year term.

San Mateo Union High School District serves roughly 8,500 students at six high schools. The five-­member board oversees a $98 million budget and a $300 million school construction bond.

Based on student scores in California’s standardized tests, the district has an Academic Performance ranking that is higher than the state’s, but behind county students overall.

Incumbent Robert Griffin, who has served on the board for the last 14 years, said the district needs to keep working to close the achievement gap — the gap in scores between black and Latino students and their white and Asian peers — by using test results to create better strategies and interventional programming for students.

“All students learn at different paces and in different ways,” he said.

Challenger Mike Loy, a parent and general contractor who works in property management, said it’s time for the contributions and perspectives of new board members.

“The people in there right now, in past and now, have shown a lot of fiscal irresponsibility,” he said.

A 2006-07 civil grand jury report criticized San Mateo Union High School District’s leadership for poor fiscal management, including borrowing money to complete construction projects and approving deficit budgets. The district has since brought on a new superintendent, and its credit rating was recently boosted.

Still, Superintendent Scott Laurence said whoever is elected to the board has immense challenges awaiting them.

“The next board will have limited resources to put toward the goals of the district,” he said. Incumbent Linda Lees Dwyer said the board needs to continue focusing on managing the district’s $298 million facilities bond, reviewing each project and bringing them in on time and on budget.

Adding to the fiscal challenges the district faces are ongoing state budget cuts, said Peter Hanley, the board’s current president.

“It’s hard to predict,” he said. “As soon as one thing happens, something else pops up.”

Guadalupe Ortiz, 23, a former student in the district who now works as an educator, also said it is time for new board members.  Ortiz said what she lacks in experience, she makes up for in understanding of the challenges students face. — Andrea Koskey

Redwood City School District: Incumbents focus on challenges, test scores

For Hilary Paulson, the most important class program that needs to be saved in the Redwood City School District is an outdoor education program that takes fifth-graders to the Sierra Nevada.

That’s why the appointed incumbent said she is seeking to stay on the school board — to work to keep the hands-on science program, along with many others that have been on the chopping block as reductions to state funding continue.

Paulson is one of four candidates, including another incumbent, competing for one of two spots on the elementary district’s school board.

Redwood City School District has an enrollment of 8,800 students at 16 elementary and middle schools. In June, shortly after a school parcel-tax measure narrowly failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to pass, the school board passed a budget for the current fiscal year that included $5.6 million in budget cuts.

Candidate Lea Cuniberti-Duran, also a parent of school-age children, said the district should be looking at ways to save money.

“If [a] program is not directly benefiting the children and it’s wasteful, it should be cut,” said Cuniberti-Duran, who has also said the district should be looking for more grant money.

Other issues Cuniberti-Duran has pledged to focus on if elected include looking at positive ways to decrease disciplinary actions, working on ways to encourage more parent participation, exploring the use of solar panels and reducing the achievement gap between minority students and their white peers.

Based on scores in California’s standardized tests, the Redwood City School District has an Academic Performance Index ranking higher than the state’s, but the district is behind county students overall.

Incumbent Maria Diaz-Slocum’s campaign highlights that test scores have increased during the four years she has been on the board.

From an API score of 739 in 2005 to 768 in 2009 — a 4 percent increase. The statewide target for schools and districts is an API of 800.

Candidate John “Jack” Hickey could not be reached for comment.

Sequoia Union High School District: Money matters, communication  among concerns

The race for two vacant seats on the Sequoia Union High School District board is crowded with eight competitors who each say they will bring new ideas to the district.

The terms of two board members, Gordon Lewin and Sarah Stewart, expire this year; neither are seeking to keep their seats.
Beth Injasoulian, a high school teacher at East Palo Alto Academy,  a charter school, said she would bring the school site perspective to the board.

“I am tireless,” she said. The Sequoia district serves 7,300 students in five high schools in Redwood City, Menlo Park, Woodside, Belmont and East Palo Alto.

Candidate Nohema Fernandez said her former position as a dean at UC Irvine would be beneficial to the district, since she has much-needed experience in balancing school budgets.

Jacqueline Wallace Green, a development associate, wrote to The Examiner that among her top priorities would be to “collaborate in dialog with staff and unions [to] work together to ensure that budget constraints are shared equally to preserve critical programs.”

Bob Ferrando, the chief financial officer for Western Roofing Service, has campaigned on a need for more financial responsibility in the district.

He said he would also like to see more career technical training in the district’s high schools.

“Everyone isn’t destined for college,” he said.

Chris Thomsen, a director of an institute at Stanford University has said the district budget — assuring its “prudent and effective use,” according to campaign statements — is a priority, as well as providing support to teachers and improving educational opportunities for students.

Virginia Chang Kiraly said she would also like to bring new focus to technical training as well as ensure efficient use of school funding.

She also said she would like the district to have better communication with its charter schools.

Parent Noria Zasslow and Alan Sarver, a retired software manager, could not be reached for comment.

School board members will join district efforts to boost scores

The state Academic Performance Index, based on yearly standardized test results, is a number between 200 and 1000 — with a statewide target of 800. Redwood City and San Mateo Union High school districts’ overall test scores ranked behind the county. San Mateo-Foster City is ahead of the county and state, and Sequoia Union High showed more improvement in its overall state test score rank than the county and the state.
                                        2009 API    2008 API    Change
Redwood City School District    768    764    +4
San Mateo Union High School District    787    781    +6
San Mateo-Foster City School District    841    826    +15
Sequoia Union High School District    769    753    +16
San Mateo County    796    785    +11
California    755    742    +13

Source: California Department of Education

In the running

Candidates for San Mateo County school board elections:

San Mateo-­Foster City School District

1 Julie S. Chan, business professional, parent
2 Lory Lorimer Lawson, incumbent
3 Ellen Mallory Ulrich, parent
4 John Miller, software developer*

San Mateo Union High School District

1 Linda Lees Dwyer, incumbent
2 Robert H. Griffin, incumbent
3 Peter H. Hanley, incumbent
4 Mike Loy, parent, businessman
5 Guadalupe Ortiz, educator, program specialist

Redwood City School District

1 Lea Cuniberti-Duran, parent, business owner
2 Maria Diaz-Slocum, incumbent
3 John J. “Jack” Hickey, member, Sequoia Healthcare District board of directors
4 Hilary S. Paulson, appointed incumbent

Sequoia Union High School District

1 Beth Injasoulian, high school teacher
2 Jacqueline Wallace Greene, development associate
3 Bob Ferrando, CFO, parent
4 Nohema Fernandez, educator, administrator
5 Virginia Chang Kiraly, economic development commissioner
6 Chris Thomsen, university institute director
7 Alan Sarver, retired software manager
8 Noria Zasslow, mother

Source: San Mateo County Department of Elections


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