The seven candidates for the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District Board (BRSSD) of Trustees came together Monday night for a forum hosted by the Redwood Shores Community Association and the Belmont/Redwood Shores PTA Council. There are three open seats on the school board, each is a four-year term.
Communication, transparency, financial stability and enrollment were the key issues discussed by candidates Monday night at Nesbit Elementary School.
PTA council president Michelle Stulbarg welcomed the audience and the candidates and introduced moderator Jim Hartnett. Hartnett, a former Redwood City councilmember explained the event was not a debate, but rather a forum during which the candidates would be given preset questions, which they would all answer in random order.
Each candidate gave an opening and closing statement, and answered two pre-set questions and three questions from the audience during the 90-minute forum.
The seven candidates are (click on candidate's name to be taken to their election website, where applicable):
- Rakesh N. Hegde--Software engineer, entrepreneur; two children in the district, became involved through School-Force fundraising where he was Fundraising Chair, and transitioned fundraising database to a new platform
- Chuck Velschow—Incumbent; three children in the district; is teacher at Woodside High School; chaired Measure U campaign in 2008, School-Force volunteer
- Naomi Nishimoto—Landscape architect; two children in the district; has attended every school board meeting for two years
- Suvarna Bhopale—Attorney; two children in the district; PTA Site Council Member, PTA Advocacy Chair
- Herbert R. Neuman—physician, business executive, entrepreneur; one child in the district; fundraiser for United Way
- Kelly Redmon—Teacher at Carlmont High School; one child in district, one preschooler, is the director of staff development for Common Core Standards in the Sequoia Union High School District
- Amy Koo—Businesswoman; one child in district, one preschooler; been involved with district for 10 years in language immersion program
The following are excerpts from the candidates' response to the first question.
What is the single greatest challenge meeting our school district and what in your expertise makes you qualified to meet those challenges?
“The largest single challenge facing the district is money. How do we pay for the services we need to deliver and optimize the revenue we have.”
Neuman said he believes things are looking up fiscally for the district, but emphasized that for the students of BRSSD to compete on a global platform, the jobs of 21 century they need a much firmer foundation, in science, technology science and math.
“There needs to be a better way to integrate those subjects, and now we have perfect opportunity with common core curriculum coming out. We have to retrain how teachers deliver and also how we’re testing.”
"Our highest role is keeping the quality of education---everything else like funding and common core curriculum are all staples of trying to keep the quality of education high.
Hegde cautioned that the district’s current financial situation could lead to insolvency.
In my mind, funding is a big issue and I don’t think we are doing as well as we thing we are---we are deficit spending and if we continue this, we will no longer be solvent, which is why we see Measure R and School-Force’s efforts."
“Our number one goal is to be sure the education for each child is as good as it can be and customized to each child. But right now I think the most critical thing the district is facing really a question of enrollment versus the capacity in our schools.”
Koo said enrollment is not just an issue at the elementary school level “Eventually we’re going to see 1400 to 1500 students go through Ralston.
“And that’s just a scary number.”
Koo says her professional life as a supply chain manager helps qualify her for a seat on the board.
“…I have the professional expertise to balance supply and demand so basically if supply is the number of seats available and demand is the number of students. My whole career as a supply chain manager and focused around balancing supply and demand, and I approved business processes and try to do more with less.
Part of the business improvement process is gathering the voices of the customers. Understanding all the stakeholders that are impacted by a certain decision and go into the solution brainstorming, knowing what people want and don’t want and discuss alternatives."
"There isn’t one single issue that’s our biggest challenge there are three main issues: The first one is rebuilding trust in our community. The second one is successfully implementing our common core standards. And the third would be addressing our enrollment growth and capacity issues.
Bhopale reiterated the divisiveness of the school assignment process.
“I think there has to be a rebuilding of trust with our school board. That can only be achieved by actively listening to all the interested parties, considering all alternatives then arriving at a decision that’s best for the decision as a whole.”
Regarding core curriculum, Bhopale says it will be a very positive change and more real world understanding and learning. Project based and collaborative.
“Kids won’t be learning subjects that are a mile wide and an inch deep. In fact, they will be study fewer subjects but in a very deep level. Rather than taking mc tests, they’ll be taking tests on computer, so they’ll need to know 21st century technology. Our kids need to be prepared for college, career and beyond.”
As an attorney, communication and problem solving is my forte,” Bhopale added.
“I believe our district’s greatest challenge is retaining and training qualified teachers in 21st century learning and the new core curriculum. We have excellent teachers in this district and it’s important to keep them here.
There are certain factors in the district that we have no control over, such as enrollment. But we do have control over maintaining qualified educators.”
Nishimoto says she’s qualified for the role of school board trustee based on her role as a manager in a landscape architectural firm.
“I am a landscape architect, and the manager of my department. The staff is the backbone of the company. To me, the most important thing is to bring retain and bring in qualified employees.”
“I think the biggest challenge our board is going to face in the next few years is trying to see beyond the challenges of the funding. Funding will always be an issue until our country values teachers and education.
What’s going to be difficult is to try to not focus so much on funding but on what our children need and what our community needs."
Redmon acknowledged that it’s not just educators and parents in the community who are stakeholders in the district.
“Other people in the community who are pay property taxes that support our schools should have a voice. So it’s important to be sure that everyone is involved in our children’s education."
She added that she is looking forward to the new common core curriculum.
“I think it’s going to be fantastic. As a teacher we are finally going to be able to teach as deep as we want to. And I’m in charge of professional development for common core in our district and it’s very exciting at the high school level with what we will be able to do with common core."
"I agree with the others that funding and enrollment are our biggest issues. But the greatest challenge we have is that we’re not going to solve any of our problems if we don’t stick together as a community.
We can do anything in BRSS if we stick together."
Velschow said his first involvement as a volunteer with the district came in 2008 when he co-chaired the parcel tax campaign.
“I was introduced to a group of people who were tremendously dedicated--they believed in public education for everyone, not just for their kids. And I believe that if we have that mentality--there aren’t conditions under which we will support the school district, we can conquer all of this."
The BRSSD consists of six elementary schools and one middle school. There are 3,800 students in the district.
Election Day is November 5. For more information on the candidates, click on their links above, or go to smartvoter.org.