School board race fraught with tension

Although a strike was averted and a teachers’ contract has been agreed on, the aftermath of more than a year of animosity still hangs over the San Mateo-Foster City School District, and repairing that rift may be the biggest task faced by candidates in coming years.

“Distrust did not develop overnight,” said newcomer Gina Kuo, mother of an Audubon Elementary student. “It will not disappear with a signature on a contract. Trustees must lead in reaching out to the teachers and serve as a model for administrators in changing the adversarial atmosphere into a collaborative one. We are in this together — not against each other.”

With the pending retirement of Trustee Melodie Lew, two seats —including incumbent Mark Hudak’s — are up for grabs this year.

Hudak said the change in relations between teachers and the district needs to start with a move away from adversarial negotiations during bargaining attempts, toward “interest-based bargaining.”

“It would be better if we could figure out where our interests are and how we can get there,” Hudak said.

He said he believes the problems in the district are “90 percent economic,” but both his challengers say they feel the district must actively work, by visiting teachers and making time to speak with them, to repair the rift.

That rift has also contributed to the loss of more than 175 teachers in the past two years, aided by the gap between teacher salary and the cost of living in the area.

Hudak said the housing issue could be dealt with by building affordable housing specifically geared toward teachers on school properties, to give young teachers a chance to save money before buying a home, but candidate Colleen Sullivan questions whether teachers would want to leave district-owned property during the day to go home to district-owned housing.

“I don’t want to spend district funds if the teachers are not genuinely enthusiastic about it,” Hudak said.

Kuo said that while the housing plan — based on College of San Mateo’s successful program — is “innovative,” she questioned whether the district has the available funding or skills to operate a housing complex.

Colleen Sullivan

» Age: 44

» Occupation: Community volunteer

» Time in district: 16 years

» Board experience: None

» Children: Two

Mark Hudak

» Age: 54

» Occupation: Lawyer

» Time in district: 15 years

» Board experience: 4 years (incumbent)

» Children: One

Gina Kuo

» Age: 44

» Occupation: Performing arts manager

» Time in district: 15 years

» Board experience: None

» Children: One

jgoldman@examiner.com

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