After months of debate, the board of the San Mateo-Foster City School District (SMFCSD) will vote Thursday night on whether to adopt a proposed plan to relieve overcrowding in Foster City elementary schools, and whether or not to ask voters to approve a $130-million bond measure on the November ballot to help cover the costs.
In addition to helping cover the costs of the plan to relieve crowding in Foster City, the $130-million bond would also help cover costs of improvements to San Mateo schools.
SMFCSD Superintendent Dr. Cynthia Simms, who leads the Superintendent's Committee on Overcrowding Relief, or SCORE, presented a proposed solution to the ongoing problem of overcrowding in Foster City elementary schools to the City Council of Foster City Monday night.
The plan is two-tiered, with an immediate but temporary plan to stagger kindergarten class times to reduce class sizes, while construction work would begin on a permanent solution.
Tier 1 - Morning and Afternoon Kindergarten Class Times
The first tier of the plan would be to stagger class times for kindergarteners - in other words, have morning kindergarten classes and afternoon kindergarten classes, in order to reduce class sizes.
This plan would go into effect immediately, through 2015, while work on a permanent solution (tier two) begins.
Tier 2 - Move Fifth Grade to Bowditch Middle School
The second tier of the plan would be to tear down and rebuild to turn it into a school for fifth through eighth grades. Committee members say moving fifth graders out of Foster City's three elementary schools would create more room for the crowded younger classes, allowing the district to add additional classes.
After considering many other scenarios - such as purchasing land within one of Foster City's parks to build a new school, purchasing land in Charter Square shopping center to build a new school, and adding a second floor onto some existing schools, among many other ideas - SMFCSD Assistant Superintendent Molly Barton said, everyone involved felt the Bowditch proposal was the best idea to move forward with.
"I can tell you that the committee worked really hard and discussed many alternatives. They had in-depth, lively, respectful conversation and were really given a tremendous amount of information to process," Barton said. "In the end, this was the one solution all could ageee on that would solve the overcrowding problem in our elementary schools."
Barton said, the fact that the Bowditch proposal did not involve the district having to purchase new land to build on was a big factor.
"The committee really struggled for a long time with trying to find new land," she said. "And, the overcrowding issue had been going on for a long time. If we're beating our heads against a brick wall for that long, we should stop."
"Plus, Bowditch is a great piece of land, and one that the district already owns," she added.
The proposed design for a newly-built Bowditch Middle School is almost like two separate schools located on the same site, Barton explained. It features the fifth and sixth grades on one side of the site, and the seventh and eighth grades on the other side.
"It really gives all the grades a lot of flexibility," she said.
Barton said, another perk of the proposal is that Bowditch students would not have to be displaced during the construction period.
"Bowditch is a large enough site that they can stay during construction, with possibly only a short time in which they would have limited field space," she said, explaining that, in that situation, the district would would work with the City on using City fields or park space, and possibly also stagger field time so not as many students are outside at once.
"If and when the board accepts the recommendation and makes a decision, it's then the staff's responsibility to make it work, and I'm sure [a lot of information] will be out there [and shared with the public] as we start negotiating," she said.
Another School Bond Measure?
The construction involved in tier two of the plan is estimated to cost $65 million.
The school district had already been in talks to ask voters to approve a school bond measure to pay for school facility improvements throughout the district that is falling short of paying for, including many schools in San Mateo. Therefore, the district plans to add the needed funds to cover the Bowditch plan, should it be approved by the school board, onto the bond measure they plan to vote on at this Thursday night's school board meeting.
Barton said there is already around $12 million that had been set aside from Measure L funds for improvements to Bowditch.
Therefore, that means San Mateo and Foster City families could be looking at a $130-million school bond measure, come election time in November.
All of these things will be discussed at the SMFCSD school board meeting Thursday night at 7 p.m.
City Council Praises SCORE's Recommendations
The San Jose Mercury reports that Foster City council members praised SCORE's recommended two-tier overcrowding plan during its Monday night meeting.
"It's a wonderfully thought-out way to deal with two problems with one solution," said council member Charles Bronitsky, calling the committee's work a "grand slam."
Public Welcome at SMFCSD Board Meeting This Thursday
The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the board room of the at 1170 Chess Dr. in Foster City. The public is welcome to attend, and certain portions of the meeting will be set aside to allow for public comment.
For more information, visit www.smfc.k12.ca.us.
What Do You Think of the Plan?
Parents of current and incoming kindergarteners - how do you feel about the proposed staggered class times? Would afternoon class times mess up your schedule and create difficulties and inconveniences for your families?
How would you vote on the proposed $130-million school bond measure if it appears on the November ballot?
Vote in our poll below, and share your feelings in the comments section.
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