Almanac

Viewpoint - October 9, 2013

Editorial: Thomsen, Sarver for Sequoia district board

Three candidates are running for two seats on the Sequoia Union High School District board: incumbents Alan Sarver and Chris Thomsen who are seeking second terms, and challenger Georgia Jack, a Redwood City mother who has long been active in elementary schools in her community.

This race unfolds as the Sequoia district is in the midst of several major challenges:

• Deploying the Common Core standards and tests.

• Preparing to cope with an enrollment increase that is expected to bring at least 1,700 additional students to the district by the year 2020.

• Ending the busing of East Palo Alto students to Woodside and Carlmont high schools and instead giving them priority access to Menlo-Atherton, if space is available.

All three candidates outlined thoughtful approaches to dealing with these vitally important issues. The first two challenges will be front and center on the board's agenda over the next several years.

But while we like Ms. Jack's energy and eagerness to serve, at this critical time we believe experience is a key requirement. Mr. Sarver and Mr. Thomsen have spent the last four years getting up to speed and are fully knowledgeable about the challenges that lie ahead for the district.

They were first elected four years ago after the retirement of Sally Stewart and Gordon Lewin. Mr. Sarver lives in Belmont and Menlo Park is the home of Mr. Thomsen.

In separate interviews, both candidates said they will look to Superintendent Jim Lianides' task force to guide the board through the process of finding space to accommodate what is expected to be at least 1,700 additional students. The estimated $200 million cost of a new comprehensive high school takes that option off the table, but both incumbents are open to the district funding one or two smaller, 400-student campuses — about $40 million per school. In any case, the district will have to ask voters to approve bond measures.

Common Core, a new teaching and testing standard, has launched nationwide and is being adopted in all Sequoia district schools to replace the current standardized tests and their supporting curriculum. Both candidates called it a major improvement and said that teachers love it, in large part because they no longer have to "teach to the test" as they did with the current curriculum.

Both Mr. Sarver and Mr. Thomsen believe the district will find ways to manage the space needs at Menlo-Atherton and still accommodate East Palo Alto eighth-graders who would normally be bused to Carlmont and Woodside. Open-enrollment choices and adjusting M-A's northern boundary should allow space for all Menlo Park and Atherton students who attend M-A now, they said. Both candidates also praised all other Sequoia district high schools, which they said deserve more attention and respect, particularly Woodside High.

In our view, this is not a time to install a new person on the Sequoia board. We recommend voters return Alan Sarver and Chris Thomsen to four-year terms on the Sequoia Union High School District board.

Voters face big school bond measures in Las Lomitas, Menlo Park City districts

Attracted by high-performing schools in the Las Lomitas and Menlo Park City districts, more and more young parents are flocking to Menlo Park and pushing elementary and middle school enrollment to record levels. Las Lomitas enrollment has jumped 40 percent in the last 10 years and topped 1,400 students this school year. It is expected to continue its upward trend for at least another few years.

In the Menlo Park City district, projected enrollment in 2022 is 3,000 to 3,350 students, compared to 2,904 today. These numbers worry school officials, who cite them when they talk about the bond measures going before voters in each district on Nov. 5.

Residents of the Las Lomitas district are being asked to approve the largest of the two — $60 million to build two-story buildings, eliminate 18 portable classrooms, and renovate existing facilities on the Las Lomitas and La Entrada campuses.

Menlo Park City district voters will be asked to approve $23 million to build a new school on the O'Connor site near Menalto Avenue, which will continue to be leased to the German American International School until the 2015 school year. The district expects to hold classes at O'Connor beginning in 2016 for third- through fifth-grade students coming from the nearby K-2 Laurel School.

For Las Lomitas parents, the bonds are expected to cost $30 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, or $300 for a $1 million assessment. The Menlo Park City bond would be less expensive — $8.70 per $100,000 of assessed valuation, or $87 for a $1 million assessment. Residents who have owned their homes for many years will likely have an assessed valuation of less than $1 million. Passage of both measures will require 55 percent of those voting.

Las Lomitas residents are continuing to pay off two earlier bond measures for $12 million each — one passed in 1999 and the other in 2001. And residents continue to pay a $311 annual parcel tax.

School board leaders in each district have worked hard to convince voters to approve the bonds, using yard signs, phone banks and networking to get supporters out and make sure the schools will be able to accommodate the enrollment jump they are experiencing now and will see in the coming years. To save space, the Las Lomitas district plans to build two-story classroom structures on each campus equipped with modern technology and better accessibility to meet ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requirements.

The Menlo Park City district is bulging at the seams, squeezing students into every available room at K-5 Encinal School, which was just recently remodeled. Being able to funnel K-2 students to O'Connor will ease pressure at Encinal and Oak Knoll.

A major factor in the effort to convince residents to approve these much-needed school improvements is the booming housing market. Menlo Park home prices have historically been strong due to the city's excellent schools, and that trend is continuing, pushed along by the tech boom in the Valley. And the presence of Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park has not hurt either.

We recommend that Menlo Park City school district and Las Lomitas school district residents approve Measure S and Measure W on Nov. 5.

Comments

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 22, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Wow, this is a disappointment. It's hard for me to believe that the Almanac editorial board actually talked with the candidates. If they had, they would have discovered that the incumbents are not listening to their constituency and are executing without a Strategic Plan - both for facilities and enrollment growth and for general academic purposes. The status quo on the Board is to be reactive to problems, as opposed to strategically avoiding them. Experience is not a precursor to success in this position, particularly when that experience has not been positive.

I do not know Ms. Jack personally, but I can say from her position statements that she has a better understanding of what's required to develop a plan for the growing SUHSD.


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