School board decides not to decide

Why wait till Wednesday?

Posted by on Fri, October 14, 2005

Cheri Parr
As the evening wore on and it became clear that no decision would be made, the crowd became restless, noisy, and incredulous.
Cheri Parr
Student body representative on the board Sarah Sampson repeatedly made the most sense of any on the board, asking if the resolution was a commitment of dollars, and urging the board to consider the good will of the community.

Faced with a decision that everyone seemed to think was a no-brainer, the Cabrillo Unified School District made no decision on whether to put its new middle school at Cunha.

Thursday night, the board faced a vote on a resolution to "direct the Superintendent to proceed with planning for new construction and reconstruction of existing buildings to create a new middle school campus on the Cunha site."

This resolution was a result of a presentation by the superintendent’s committee of experts that demonstrated that Cunha could be built twice as fast at half the cost as any other solution. This wasn’t good enough for three members of the board.  Shock and dismay were leavened with sleepy resignation as the meeting dragged on past its legal end time of 10pm.

The one member of the audience who had reason to be pleased was CCWD board member and Wavecrest stalwart Jim Larimer, who at the beginning of the meeting had urged the board to delay making a decision. This suggestion was greeted with laughter by the audience, who were no longer laughing by the end of the evening.

John Moseley and Dwight Wilson had clearly made up their mind that Cunha was the right decision and Thursday was the right time to make it. Wilson declared, "Time is our worst enemy" and said it was time to deliver a school to the community.

But three members of the board found the experts’ testimony lacking.

Jolanda Schreurs read a rambling statement that focused on the fact that the even the Cunha site would cost $5 million more than the district has in its building fund. She then pulled out a plan that no one had heard of before, which proposed turning Farallone View in Montara into a K-8 school to lower the enrollment at Cunha. This might have been an interesting plan to submit to the committee of experts.

Roy Salume struck a theme he would hammer repeatedly that evening: The District needed to buy the four parcels next to Cunha, and until they had made a decision about this, he couldn’t vote for the resolution. Salume was concerned that if a commitment to buy the lots weren’t part of the initial decision that they would not get bought.

Charles Gardner started by saying that "Cunha is a no-brainer". But he then continued that there’s a word in the construction business for a project with insufficient funding: "Not a project". Gardner would stick to this theme for the discussion that followed: He couldn’t commit money to a project if they didn’t have enough money to actually do it.

While each had his own reasons for not wanting to make a decision, collectively they were unmoved.

The greatest insight of the meeting came from Half Moon Bay High School student body representative on the board Sarah Sampson, who asked whether the resolution actually committed the district to building the school Cunha. It didn’t. But no one addressed this crucial question.

Half Moon Bay Mayor Jim Grady had spoken at the beginning of the meeting about the City Council’s desire to expedite construction, citing the rebuilding of Cunha’s Market as an example of what can be done. As the impasse emerged, he seat-hopped from the back to the front of the room, trying to get the board’s attention. Eventually, he was able to get the floor again and pleaded with the board to pass the resolution so that he could take it to the City Council meeting on Tuesday and the city could expedite the construction.

This was followed by numerous pleas from the increasingly incredulous members of the public who implored the board not to waste this opportunity to mend fences with the community. Marina Stariha, former CUSD board member who supported Wavecrest as recently as last week in a letter and article in the Review, urged the board to vote for the resolution, saying, "We need to get the community to pull together for the children".  Sarah Sampson, once again the voice of reason on the board, told the board that they risked the good will that could be gained by a vote to move forward with Cunha.

Before the board tabled the resolution, John Moseley tried gamely to get them to at least vote on it, but it was not to be. The board will take up the resolution at its next regular meeting, on Thursday, Nov 3.

Gardner gets the last word. Toward the end of the meeting, he patiently explained to Sarah, and the public, "Sometimes you have to make a hard decision."  But Thursday night was apparently not that time.

Comment 1
Fri, October 14, 2005 1:43pm
All my comments

Roy Salume’s reluctance to vote for the resolution to direct “the Superintendent to proceed with planning” a middle school at Cunha is especially perplexing.

While there’s no doubt that expanding the Cunha site would be desirable (I’ve advocated it myself in the past, albeit with no support at the time from Roy), it’s hard to justify in the current context.

According to the expert advisory committee, the Cunha site has two overwhelming advantages over the alternatives, Wavecrest and (Roy’s choice) Podesta: time and cost.

Making the addition of the adjoining parcels a precondition of proceeding with even the planning of the Cunha project has the inevitable effect of adding months, if not years, and millions of dollars to the Cunha option, already at $32M and four years.

The expert advisors included 14 months of planning and design in the Cunha site timeline. That’s plenty of time to explore the feasibility of site expansion without further delaying the project.

The school board flushed a great deal of community good will down the toilet on Thursday night. It’s hard to see how that good will can be recovered.