School bond for San Mateo-Foster City Elementary School District splits cities

The San Mateo-Foster City School District has a $130 million bond measure on the upcoming November ballot that would help alleviate school overcrowding if passed, though it is proving to be contentious.

Measure P would allow the district to rebuild and expand Bowditch Middle School — which officials say is too small and in disrepair — as well as fund a solar initiative and classroom computers and tablets, according to county documents. It would also repair the aging Knolls Elementary School.

The measure, though, has run into opposition based on geography.

Opponents in San Mateo, where the City Council voted not to support the measure, say there is an unequal distribution of funding — with Foster City receiving the lion’s share for the Bowditch improvements that are projected to receive about $80 million of the bond.

Exacerbating matters are the estimates for the project, said San Mateo-Foster City school board trustee Ellen Mallory Ulrich.

“The numbers are becoming a shell game,” Ulrich said. “The last set of numbers apparently include $17 million from money raised by an earlier bond issue.”

Officials from Foster City, which has a significant school overcrowding problem, acknowledged that there wasn’t enough discussion between city councils about the measure.

“I’m disappointed in myself for not paying closer attention to what the San Mateo council was thinking,” Foster City Mayor Pam Frisella said.

Further opposition to the bond comes from people who say the district can find other ways to acquire new technology. For instance, Ulrich said the solar initiative should be funded from state cash available from Proposition 39 — legislation voters approved in November that alters the way out-of-state corporations are taxed, providing about $1 billion in revenue to the state.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, says the money, of which only about $8.7 million will land in the hands of school districts in the region, likely never will be enough to fund solar projects.

Hill said he supports the bill because it will accommodate the district’s growing population and help students keep pace with the “innovative economy” in Silicon Valley.

The measure, which would levy a tax of $19 per $100,000 of assessed value on eligible properties, needs 55 percent of the vote to pass. That could be a hurdle that is tough to overcome since Foster City voters are outnumbered three to one by San Mateo voters, according to Frisella.

“I’ve been puzzled by the opposition,” said county Supervisor Carol Groom, who supports the measure. “When adults fight, children lose.”

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