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Councilmember Okamoto: What's the SCORE?

Foster City Councilmember Steve Okamoto, in his own words, discusses the recent work of the SCORE committee in trying to solve the problem of Foster City's aging, overcrowded K-8 schools.

 

Several months ago on how well our four Foster City schools were doing when it came to API test scores.

All four of our schools scored at or near the top of all San Mateo County schools. and, again, our four schools did very well.

The good news is that our children are doing well in school. The not-so-good news is that our success is creating a large demand for families to move into Foster City, which means that our schools are being impacted by an influx of new students. Of course, our properties maintain their strong values as well.

The San Mateo-Foster City School District recognized that problem of overcrowding and has been doing its best to overcome this issue.

One way the district decided to solve this dilemma was to create a citizens' committee of Foster City residents, parents and business owners. It was created to explore different ideas on how to solve this overcrowding problem.

The committee was to bring their recommendation to the school district board for their consideration and approval. The school board then would decide if this recommendation could alleviate the overcrowding problem.

The committee that Superintendent Cynthia Simms put together is called the Superintendent’s Committee on Overcrowding RElief, or SCORE.

This committee of 13 interested and concerned citizens has met almost every week for the past 10 weeks discussing and exploring as many options as could be uncovered, to try and solve this overcrowding issue.

The ideas - a full 30 of them - ranged from the outrageous to the sublime. But the members of the committee showed respect and restraint when discussing each idea.

The committee members come from different points of view, but they all realized that they needed to come together to solve this community problem. I applaud them for their effort, concern and congeniality.

After discussing all options, they condensed them down to about 10.

Some of the options were simply to build a new school to accommodate the ever-growing school-age population. The stumbling block to that idea was to find a suitable location. Was it parks, shopping centers, or wetlands?

No one seemed to be able to answer the location question. They looked at adding buildings or floors to existing facilities. They even talked about making all schools in town into year-round programs. No option was ignored, but each was looked at from a "pro" and "con" perspective. The committee members were all aware of potential problems with each idea, and looked at them from a practical perspective.

The committee was led by a most experienced moderator named Geoff Ball, who kept this group of highly motivated members on the singular path to find the solution. Also assisting was Steve Newsome, a land use expert, who has worked with many school districts advising them about the legal requirements for building or redesigning schools.

After 10 grueling weeks and close to 30 hours of discussion, a consensus was finally reached. Actually, .

By moving the fifth-graders from each of the three Foster City elementary schools, classrooms would be freed up for the influx of kindergartners in the next two to three years. The fifth-graders, as suggested by the SCORE group, would move to the Campus.

However, this suggestion would be a costly option. The plan would cost roughly $65 million, . It would also require Bowditch to be demolished, and a new school built.

The recommendation created by the committee proposed that the new school be designed to house fifth and sixth graders on one side of the new school, and seventh and eighth graders on the other side. They would share a common gym, but each side would have its own library, classrooms, labs and [multi-purpose rooms] so that there would be considerable separation between the younger and older groups.

Proposing to build on the Bowditch campus has many advantages. Of course, it would serve the primary purpose of the SCORE committee, which was to find space for the new kindergarteners.

Second, it would provide all Foster City kids with a state-of-the-art school. The third reason would be the fact that new land would not need to be purchased, since the school district already owns the Bowditch campus. This means no parks will be affected, as well as the initial thought of trying to use the Charter Square property as the location for the new school. The plan to rebuild Bowditch also will provide more outdoor space for lunches and recess times.

Finally, the property values in Foster City will increase significantly because a new school is in town.

This option was presented to the school board on Aug. 2 for consideration, and then to the City Council on Monday, Aug. 6 as an information item.

According to Superintendent Simms, this document will be presented to the public for additional input sometime in the near future.

Please email Councilmember Steve Okamoto at sokamoto@fostercity.org or call him at 650-286-3501 with any questions or concerns about this article.

 

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Srini Venkat August 16, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Hi Steve - I am glad that the contentious process to arrive at a solution to the overcrowding issue seems to be coming to a satisfactory conclusion. Looks like this will be a win-win deal for the city, school district and the community. I remember reading that only about 74% of the recommended open play area will be available for the reconstructed Bowditch school including the 5th grade. To mitigate this issue, I am wondering if it would make sense to move the tennis courts on Swordfish to the open area along Beach Park blvd @ Halibut and allow the school district to purchase the tennis court area to include in the sports facilities for the school. Middle schoolers jog on the bay trail anyway so they can also use the tennis court facilities for themselves. That open area on Beach Park does not seem to be fit for any building construction due to seismic issues so a tennis court may be a good use for that location as well.

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