School board candidates focus on growth

Estimating future enrollment will be a major issue going forward for the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District, but potential candidates for its board of trustees disagree on how accurately enrollment can be pinpointed.

As the three candidates gear up for next month’s deciding vote, two familiar faces say experience is on their side, while another candidate promises more transparency and community interaction in districtwide issues.

Redwood Shores resident and parent Jim Roskind, current board President Cathy Wright and former school board member Catherine Bonnar — who took a four-year break from the board after a five-year tenure — are going up for two available seats on a board charged with overseeingthe construction of a new school and managing growth in a quickly expanding district.

Predicting enrollment is “an art, not a science,” Bonnar said, referencing the 164 extra students the district must accommodate this school year. The skewed estimate, which cost the district $132,000, was due to the fact that, unlike most years, everyone who said they would sign up did, Bonnar said.

Projections made in 2002 showed Redwood Shores would have an influx of elementary-school-age children in the years to come, prompting the 2005 approval of a $25 million bond to pay for a new school. Those estimates, revised in 2006, found Redwood Shores would soon see as many as 800 such children.

All candidates emphasized the need to move the school project along to account for the projected number of students expected not only in Redwood Shores, but the district overall, said Wright, who is co-campaigning with Bonnar.

Enrollment was among the main reasons Roskind decided to run in this year’s election, he said. District administration has not been good at projecting enrollment, citing what he said was an erroneous 2006 study that mapped an incorrect ZIP code to projected birth rates in the district.

All the candidates agreed that accurately predicting figures would give the district a better handle on funding. While decreasing enrollment across San Mateo County has districts concerned their per-student state funding will drop, Roskind and Wright both noted more students works out to less money to spend per student. The district needs to protect itself, fiscally, from the blows it could receive from such trends in enrollment, Roskind said.

“It is an art, but it should also be a science,” Roskind said.

Belmont-Redwood Shores School District board of trustees candidates:

Catherine Bonnar

» Age: 56

» Occupation: Lawyer

» Endorsements: U.S. Rep Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; San Mateo County Board of Education trustee Ted Lempert

Cathy Wright

» Age: 36

» Occupation: President, Belmont-Redwood Shores School Board of Trustees

» Endorsements: Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D- Redwood City; former Belmont City Councilmember George Metropulos

Jim Roskind

» Age: 50

» Occupation: Computer scientist

» Endorsements: Former Redwood City Mayor Jeff Ira; Safewater Coalition founder Christina Lai

tramroop@examiner.com

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