Due in part to the overwhelming opposition expressed by residents Thursday night, the San Mateo-Foster City School District Board of Trustees elected to halt progress on moving forward with a that would be used to build a fourth elementary school in Foster City.
A flood of community members sporting "Save The Square" stickers spoke out against the district's proposal to build the school located at the Charter Square strip mall, citing the potential harm inflicted on local businesses that would be displaced by the school's construction.
The board postponed floating a $130 million bond to voters in the June election, and elected instead to spend the following weeks gathering public input on how to best move forward with a plan to accommodate projected enrollment growth.
City Councilman Charlie Bronitsky said he agreed with the board's decision to halt progress on the bond until members of the local community are able to provide further perspective on the best way to handle the issue.
"I think it is wonderful the board decided to put off the issue of the bond," he said.
Bronitsky invited members of the school district, as well as local residents and merchants, to work together to find creative solutions to the issue of elementary school overcrowding.
In the past, Bronitsky said the city government and school district administration had suffered a breakdown in communication.
"There wasn't a lot of trust and cooperation," he said.
But he also said he believed that there is hope for the future to rebuilding the relationship.
Superintendent Cynthia Simms said she too believed that there was an opportunity to strengthen the bond between local residents, members of the business community, city council and school board.
She suggested the school district establish a committee comprised of representatives from each segment of the community that can work together to further hash out details on how to best proceed.
"We need the leaders of our community to be on that group. We need different points of view from people that are interested in looking into the issue," she said.
She also thanked the board for deciding to halt progress on the bond measure at the moment.
"That was a difficult, but very good, decision," she said.
Many of the residents who spoke at the meeting supported a decision by Westlake Asset Realty Group, which owns Charter Square, to refuse selling the site to the school district.
Sunny Tong, representing the company, said that Westlake supported local education and only opposed the bond because it included targeting the strip mall as the potential site for the fourth school.
"We do not oppose the bond measure. We do oppose that the money can be use to condemn an existing shopping center," said Tong.
The district maintained the ability to seize the site through use of eminent domain, but Superintendent Simms said she doubted that would necessary.
Simms said that the district may consider redeveloping existing school campuses in order to accommodate increased enrollment over the course of coming years, and some members of the community suggested that building a second story onto current elementary schools may be a means to achieve that.
But she said that any decision about what the district's next steps are will be determined after further deliberation with stake holders in the community.
"We need to have a thoughtful, broad, transparent conversation about all the options," said Simms.
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