Redwood City School District focuses on budget cuts, achievement gap

A tight field for three seats on the Redwood City School District board features three incumbents and one newcomer.

On Tuesday, voters will have a choice between incumbents Alisa MacAvoy, Shelly Masur and Dennis McBride and challenger Lea Cuniberti-Duran, a mother of three children who attend Redwood City public schools.

Click the picture for a gallery of the candidates.

All the candidates voiced interest in starting new programs, yet the incumbents have focused primarily on the funding crisis.

In the past four years, the 9,200-student district has added 1,200 new pupils while cutting its budget 20 percent, said MacAvoy, who is running for a second term.

MacAvoy wants to help the district identify new funding streams such as nonprofits, businesses, parent groups and federal grants, she said.

“Thirty years ago, we put the most money into education relative to other states and we had the highest-quality education,” MacAvoy said. “Now we’re in the lowest tier.”

In recent years, the district has had to reduce class sizes, library hours and janitorial services. Yet despite those difficulties, voters rejected two parcel taxes, one in 2005 and another in 2009, MacAvoy said.

“Trigger cuts” in the state budget could result in further funding reductions midyear, said incumbent Shelly Masur, who sits on Peninsula Assemblyman Rich Gordon’s 10-member Education Advisory Council.

Luckily, the district negotiated a deal with the teachers union in which it agreed to provide fewer days of instruction in case of further cuts, Masur said.

If funding is available, Masur’s priority is to offer a “well-rounded curriculum,” she said, with physical education, art and music.

Dennis McBride said he’s seeking a third term to further close the achievement gap, retain teachers and staff and maintain the 16-school district’s solvency.

McBride said he is well-respected around San Mateo County and has presided over a number of district achievements, including raising Academic Performance Index scores from 650 on average to about 750 today, forming new public-private partnerships, lifting three schools off the poor-performing list, improving relationships with teachers, and working to make district meetings and reports easier to understand for the general public.

Cuniberti-Duran did not show up to the candidate forum and could not be reached for comment, but her website says she’s running because without her, “there will be no election.”

Cuniberti-Duran’s goals for the district include increasing the percentage of counselors and teachers with state credentialing — currently at 93 percent — implementing “positive behavior intervention techniques” and improving on-campus safety for students, according to her website.

Until June, Cuniberti-Duran chaired a parent-teacher group on special education, which she co-founded in 2006. The motivated mother also wants to provide instructors with more training in how to teach a diverse range of student learning styles and abilities.

Redwood City School District board candidates

Lea Cuniberti-Duran

  • Occupation: Business owner
  • War chest: n/a
  • Endorsements: n/a

Alisa Greene Macavoy

  • Occupation: Community volunteer
  • War chest: $4,800
  • Endorsements: State Sen. Joe Simitian; Assemblyman Rich Gordon; Rep. Anna Eshoo; Redwood City Mayor Jeff Ira

Shelly Masur

  • Occupation: Nonprofit director
  • War chest: $6,000
  • Endorsements: Rep. Jackie Speier; Rep. Anna Eshoo; State Sen. Joe Simitian; Assemblyman Rich Gordon

Dennis McBride

  • Occupation: Certified public accountant
  • War chest: $9,300
  • Endorsements: Rep. Anna Eshoo; Rep. Jackie Speier; State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson; State Sen. Joe Simitian
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