As enrollment grows, San Mateo-Foster City schools plan expansion 

click to enlarge Former Knolls Elementary, home of Alpha Beacon Christian School
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • If passed, an upcoming bond measure would reopen Knolls Elementary at the site of Alpha Beacon Christian School, which is leasing the San Mateo site.

In response to a steady, long-term increase in enrollment, the San Mateo-Foster City School District board of trustees recently placed a $130 million bond measure on the November ballot. If voters pass the measure, the funds would go toward rebuilding and expanding Foster City's Bowditch Middle School and permanently reopening Knolls Elementary in San Mateo.

In addition to reducing classroom overcrowding, the district says the $130 million would help upgrade existing classrooms, libraries and middle school science labs. The aforementioned schools would be opened by the 2016-17 school year, officials said.

Currently, 20 district elementary, middle and K-8 schools educate more than 11,000 students. Enrollment numbers have been on the rise, particularly in the past five years, with enrollment increasing from 10,079 students to 11,782. Demographers hired by the district predict the numbers will continue to rise.

"It's been a long time coming," said board of trustees member Audrey Ng, who voted in favor of putting the measure on the ballot. "The district has experienced growth since 2007; this year enrollment has crept close to 12,000. We need to do something. We've been monitoring growth over years and put in temporary measures like portable classrooms, but now those are not enough."

Ng has two children who attend school in the district: one is a fourth-grader at Audubon Elementary, the other a seventh-grader at Bowditch Middle. There, she said, "Kids are packed into classrooms and hallways. Just trying to get through the hallways to class, there are injuries, bruises because of lockers," she said.

Bowditch, which currently enrolls sixth- through eighth-graders, would be rebuilt and expanded to also include fifth-graders under the proposed measure. Knolls in San Mateo is currently leased by the Alpha Beacon Christian School, which would move in the event that the bond measure passes. Under the proposed measure, Knolls would permanently reopen. Officials haven't yet determined whether it would reopen as a magnet school or as a regular public school; in the latter case, the area would need to undergo redistricting.

Overcrowding is definitely the No. 1 issue facing the district right now, Ng said. Trustee Ellen Mallory Ulrich, whose daughters both attended schools in the district for kindergarten through eighth grade, agrees that overcrowding is a growing problem with as-yet unsustainable solutions. But Ulrich voted against the measure, she said, because she wants the district to be more cautious with how it proceeds and to have a plan in place that addresses the issue more specifically.

"The problems facing our district go far beyond overcrowding at the Foster City schools, and these issues are intertwined and require a plan that addresses all the pieces of the puzzle," Ulrich said. She said the bond measure is being put to the voters too quickly, and she wants a more solid plan in place.

The bond measure will be on the ballot this November for voters living in the school district boundary. It needs 55 percent of the vote to pass.

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Emilie Mutert

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