Schools - October 26, 2011

Woodside School: Budgets, communication topics at forum

by Barbara Wood

A crowd of nearly 50 people stopped by Woodside Elementary School on Oct. 19 to hear from the three candidates for two open spots on the one-school district's board of directors, but by the end of the two-hour forum, only 20 remained.

On the ballot will be incumbent Ginger Bamford, a community volunteer and former Wall Street attorney, and two other school parents, Rudy Driscoll, an investor and business consultant and former Menlo Park police officer, and Kevin Johnson, a practicing business attorney with an electrical engineering degree.

While the candidates' views seemed very similar on almost all issues, the questions from the audience pointed out some of the concerns that parents at the school have. Budget issues were the topic of several questions, including how the school will pay for repairs needed for the roofs of several existing buildings.

Ms. Bamford said she hopes the district will not have to extend the parcel tax that district voters approved in 2009 and that expires in 2017. "I would hope that we do not need to do extensions in the future and we do not need to ask for more money," she said.

Donations from community members could help with the financial problems, Mr. Driscoll said. "There are opportunities to get more people to step up with donations," he said, as well as to get more people involved and to "see the needs of the school."

Mr. Johnson pointed out that the parcel tax provides only 6 percent of the district's budget, but that "if the parcel tax disappears, then that 6 percent has to come from somewhere else."

All three candidates brought up the upcoming strategic plan update for the school as an opportunity to set priorities for the school and plan for its future.

One of the hot topics in the election has been communication between board members and the community, especially the board's practice of having only the board president respond to emails sent to any board member.

"We can only respond collectively," Ms. Bamford said. Any written communication that comes in to board members is shared and the board president responds by acknowledging the communication, she said.

However, she said, in-person discussions are another matter. "I find all of us are extremely receptive to being approached and discussing any school-related topic at any time," she said.

Mr. Johnson said he'd try to make changes. "I'd like to see the board be a little more open," he said. "One of the most important things the board can do is listening." However, he said, mentioning the state's open meetings law, the Brown Act, "it may not be as timely as everyone wants. ... We're working within constraints here."

Mr. Driscoll said he, too, believes that as a board member he might not be able to respond to all email contacts. "I would love to have (email) ... but I may not be able to respond," he said. "I think first and foremost that people need to be heard," he said. "But the board member contacted may not be the most appropriate person to answer a question." He suggested, "If you want an answer right away, go to a board meeting."


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