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Fussin’ and feudin’ in Foster City

By Aaron Kinney
Friday, September 21st, 2007 at 1:52 pm in Uncategorized.

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We wrote two articles in the wake of Monday’s decision by the City Council of Foster City not to place a measure on the February ballot that would have allowed residents to vote on taxing themselves to fund the construction of a public charter high school building. One story reported on the vote itself and the other touched on the fallout.

But we weren’t able to delve into the emotions that played out inside Council Chambers during a long (three-plus hours) and contentious public hearing Monday night. Let’s do that now.

For the Foster City High School Foundation and Envision Schools, the team pushing to include the school on a prized 15-acre parcel of land next to City Hall, things got rocky right from the start.

Daniel McLaughlin, CEO of Envision Schools, which operates four charter schools in the Bay Area, appeared to be caught off guard when council members asked him whether the organization’s policy of giving preference in admissions to children who would be the first generation in their family to go to college meshed with Foster City’s relatively affluent population.

More generally, council members were concerned that taxpayers could wind up paying $8-15 million or more for a school where Foster City children numbered in the minority. In fact, according to the charter the group submitted to the San Mateo Union High School District, residents of Foster City wouldn’t get any preference at all.

So who would get preferred admission to the school, which would be open to all California students? Children of school staff and Envision board members both inside and outside the school district, among others.

But McLaughlin’s presentation really went off the rails when council members asked him why the name of the school, as it appeared on the charter petition, had been changed from the Arts and Technology High School of Foster City to the Arts and Technology High School of San Mateo.

Though a city staff report indicated the name change was provisional and subject to change, McLaughlin’s flat-footed response — that since Foster City would be paying for the school, he was sure a name switch could be arranged — left council members cold. McLaughlin seemed sincere, but his shaky delivery drew a round of bemused laughter from the crowd.

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Councilwoman Linda Koelling (pictured in the photo at the top of the page) told McLaughlin his answer “didn’t go over very well” with her. Councilwoman Pam Frisella (pictured to the left) was equally unimpressed.

“I have to be honest,” Frisella said later in the week. “The guy from Envision Schools was not professional.”

As for Koelling, she had a prickly exhange foundation president Phyllis Moore too. While Koelling speaking to Moore and two other foundation representatives at the podium — telling them she didn’t appreciate the suggestion that the council was not supportive of the foundation’s efforts — she noticed Moore conferring with the colleague on her left.

“I’m sorry,” Koelling said sharply. “Am I interrupting a conversation here?”

“I don’t think the presentation played very well with the council,” said Stanley Roberts, a candidate in the City Council race this fall and a supporter of the school, during a break in the hearing.

No question there. It certainly wasn’t enough to prevent Frisella and Koelling from joining Councilman Rick Wykoff early Tuesday morning in rejecting the proposal to put a debt-financing measure on the February ballot.

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