County K-8 district fears proxy distrust

Although San Mateo’s high school district has begun to clear up its past financial problems, the shadow of its mismanagement could fall across its K-8 counterpart in the coming year.

Although the San Mateo-Foster City School District Board of Trustees unanimously approved the issuance of a $175 million bond — pending voter approval next year — to pay for campus and classroom improvements, trustees worry that voter distrust of the San Mateo Union High School District will hurt their chances for the necessary

55 percent support.

“You could see people being concerned about whether school districts in general have the in-house and board expertise to be trusted with that amount of public money, so it doesn’t take much for districts in general to lose public confidence when one of them screws up,” current board President Mark Hudak said.

The high school district has recently finished a lengthy process to respond to three separate grand jury reports that criticized its business practices, ethics and ability to effectively control contractors and avoid cost overruns.

But even with the problems in the high school district, a poll by EMC Research Inc., a local polling firm, suggested that a majority of the residents in the district’s area support the bond.

District Chief Business Official Micaela Ochoa said the bond would merely continue the current tax assessment rate of approximately $33 for each $100,000 of assessed property value.

The district is just winding down a 1997 bond that “modernized” 17 campuses and gave the district its new Foster City offices. The final three schools not serviced with that money — Foster City and College Park elementary schools and Fiesta Gardens International School — are on the top of the list should the bond pass.

“There’s something for every school, including ones who need more space for classrooms,” Ochoa said. “We have to get our schools up into the 21st century and that means having the right facilities, the right technology and even the mundane things like the right electrical and data lines into the schools.”

Although the poll suggests support, Hudak said the real indicator will be the public decision on Burlingame’s $48.3 million facilities improvement bond.

“I suspect that they will do pretty well, and we should then be able to get out and convince residents that they know how to do the job,” he said.

jgoldman@examiner.com  

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