ELECTION 2014: School board candidates sound off

ELECTION 2014: School board candidates sound off

Dave Boitano
school board candidate forum

Alameda has good neighborhood elementary schools, a pair of candidates for the local school board say. And they said they intend to keep it that way.

Longtime school board trustee Mike McMahon and teacher Solana Henneberry made their positions clear during a candidate forum Saturday at Maya Lin School. The event was sponsored by The Alamedan and the Alameda Sun newspaper.

McMahon is running for re-election. Henneberry and Gary Lym, who didn't attend Saturday's forum, are seeking one of two board seats up for a vote as well. Trustee Margie Sherratt, whose term ends in December, decided not to run for another term.

The size of schools, possible consolidation of the city’s two high schools and charter schools were up for discussion.

McMahon said the school board as chosen to keep 10 neighborhood elementary schools open in keeping with the community’s wishes rather than create six larger of 600 students each. Henneberry agreed existing schools should be maintained.

“Neighborhood schools are important to create a sense of community,” she said.

While charter schools siphon off students from the school districts in which they are located, both candidates felt Alameda could serve the different populations of students those schools are typically created to serve.

McMahon observed the charter school phenomenon for one year while working for the Oakland Unified School District. Charter schools are needed for students who are not being served by the public schools, he said. But like Henneberry, he said the Alameda schools can keep families within the system by offering kids a good education - and that they're providing what Alameda students from a variety of backgrounds and with different learning styles need.

“When students are not being served, you need charter schools,” he said. “But I have to believe that Alameda can provide parents with options that can get the education that meets the needs of your child.”

Henneberry echoed those sentiments.

“Alameda serves the population that it has,’’ she said, adding that charter schools must be kept accountable to maintain educational standards comparable to the public schools.

The idea of reopening Historic Alameda High School buildings which are closed because they don't meet earthquake standards, appealed to both school board hopefuls.

“I would love to have it reopen,” Henneberry said. “It’s one of our greatest facilities.”

Remodeling the building would cost approximately $45 million, McMahon said. But renovating the historic buildings would allow the district to relocate its district offices onto the current Alameda High site instead of renting a private building which has proved unpopular with residents.

“I can’t see not redoing Alameda High,” he said.

Some prominent Alamedans have asked the school board to consider creating a single high school for all of Alameda. But consolidating both high schools into one large student campus that could serve 3,000 students isn’t a good plan, the candidates said.

Alameda is an Island and does not have the vacant land needed to build a new large campus, McMahon said. The only possible location would be at Alameda Point, which would be too far for families who live on the East End and Bay Farm Island to travel.

“Alameda likes our two high schools,” Henneberry said, “Each offers different things.”

The candidates split on the issue of open enrollment at Alameda and Encinal high schools. Henneberry supported the idea because she feels each school supports different student needs.

But opening up enrollment would essentially eliminate school boundaries which provides some order amid the chaos of enrollment, McMahon said, in defending the current system.

Among the other areas of agreement both candidates support Measure I, a facilities bond to repair district schools that's on the fall ballot, and both opposed term limits for trustees because voters are always free to vote trustees out if they are displeased with their performance.

And both promised that no more cell phone towers will be built atop Alameda’s schools, a question posed by a reader who noted that Maya Lin has a cell antenna array on its roof. McMahon called the decision a “no brainer” given that local residents oppose cell tower expansion on school campuses. The school board is set on Tuesday to consider directing staff to cancel contracts permitting cell towers at Maya Lin and Will C. Wood Middle School, a concept the board has already signaled it will approve.

“Further expansion of cell towers will not happen while I’m on the school board,” McMahon said. “How about that?”

Comments

Submitted by Richard Hausman (not verified) on Mon, Sep 22, 2014

McMahon's comment about cell phone towers is indeed a "no brainer" but it is so because the School Board didn't use it's brains when deciding to remove them. There are no scientific studies to show harm to children, adults, or pets from these towers. The School Board not using their brains in lieu of local residents' opposition should be a case study in the Science classes!