San Mateo school board blasted by senator, community

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ByVic Lee KGO logo
Tuesday, January 20, 2015
San Mateo school board blasted by senator, community
A state senator's call for a grand jury investigation of the San Mateo Union High School Board of Trustees comes after community members and parents charged them with making controversial decisions and ignoring public input.

BURLINGAME, Calif. (KGO) -- State Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, is calling for a grand jury investigation of the San Mateo Union High School Board of Trustees. He and some in the community say the board is blatantly blowing them off.

There has been a lot of acrimony at school board meetings lately. The board is accused of acting with a lack of transparency and perhaps even illegally. Now Hill says enough is enough.

"It's shameful the way that they treat the community and the way they conduct business," Hill said. "And I've never seen that in any elected body."

Hill blasted school board members last week; the latest in a fight that's generated a Facebook page and a petition with 1,500 signatures. Board meetings have been packed with hundreds of people concerned about two controversial issues.

One is the presence of a charter school at Mills High School, which many parents say the board approved without their input.

"We feel there's been a lack of any interest in hearing what parents have to say and a disdain for the public," said parent Steve Fong.

Another point of contention is an Olympic-sized swimming pool at Burlingame High School, which has been open to the community since it was built in 2000. Those who use the pool are fighting the school district's proposal to restrict public usage and its request to the city to pay more for its upkeep. An anonymous donor gave more than $1 million to build the pool. Attorney Kim Schoknecht says his client wants to keep it open to everyone.

"Unfortunately, although the donor and the city have tried their very best to convey this information to the current district, it's falling on deaf ears," he said.

Those concerned about both issues charge board members with trying to stifle public debate. Hill is calling for a civil grand jury investigation.

"Let the civil grand jury look at this issue," Hill said. "Let them look at what's been going on -- the transparency, the legal activities or illegal activities the board's been conducting."

"Regrettably, some of his comments were factually incorrect and somewhat inflammatory," said SMUHI Board of Trustees President Marc Friedman.

Friedman wants to reassure the public that the board is listening to them.

"We want community input," he said. "We respect the community. We feel we're all working together as a community collaboratively."

Regarding a grand jury investigation? Friedman welcomes one.

"We'd be very happy to work with them," he said. "And we have nothing to hide."

In the meantime, the board has scheduled meetings to resolve both the swimming pool and charter school issues.