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School Board Takes 'Leap of Faith,' Eliminates Boundaries

The board voted shortly after 11 p.m. Thursday.

The Board of Trustees took what they called a "leap of faith" on Thursday night and unanimously voted to eliminate boundaries for all six elementary schools in the district.

The decision caps a months-long process in which the board grappled with numerous options of how to deal with a capacity problem at Cipriani and Central schools.

Eliminating boundaries came as a surprise to Board President Andy Stulbarg, who at the favored a lottery system. The other three voting board members had seemed to prefer boundary changes. The board decided to postpone its vote at that meeting after board member Cathy Wright introduced the idea of having no boundaries.

"I am surprised, and I am extremely happy," Stulbarg told Belmont Patch minutes after the board voted. "I was strongly opposed to the boundary change. This gives the district the flexibility that it needs."

When the board opened its discussion on the matter, the idea of eliminating boundaries appeared to be less-than-ideal. The Alternatives Committee, which met Tuesday night to weigh the possibility of no boundaries, wasn't confident it would work with the Belmont-Redwood Shores School District.

The Alternatives Committee had looked at three other school districts that don't have boundaries: Saratoga, Mill Valley and Pacifica.

The problem with comparing Belmont to those school districts, though, was that the other school districts aren't faced with capacity problems, Wright said.

"The Alternatives Committee did not like it," Wright said of eliminating boundaries, particularly due to the uncertainty attached to having no boundaries.

Stulbarg echoed the worry of constant uncertainty.

"Unless you live across the street from the school, there’s a large percentage of the population who will never know what school they go to," Stulbarg said. "We are still creating a sense of disparity, we’re still going to have a lot of uncertainty."

Board member Robert Tashjian said eliminating boundaries would be a risk for the district.

"It is a leap of faith," he said. "I don’t envision a system where staff is picking the schools kids go to. I think there’s a way to balance out enrollment across the district. I’m willing to take that leap of faith."

Board member Brian Matthews brought up Nesbit, and how eliminating boundaries could help the school increase its sense of community.

"The reason that I’m feeling comfortable with eliminating boundaries is that it allows the district to grow that campus to an appropriate size relevant to our other schools," Matthews said.

The board members agreed that eliminating boundaries could create a sense of community for the whole district, as well.

"If a family moves into Belmont-Redwood Shores, they know they’re moving into a community, investing in a school district, not a particular school," Wright said.

"You no longer are buying into a school, you’re buying into a district," Stulbarg echoed.

It remains to be seen exactly how eliminating boundaries will work for the district. Superintendent Emerita Orta-Camilleri said she was confident the district could handle it, but the details will need to be worked out.

She said, though, that there was no way to eliminate boundaries for the upcoming school year.

The process, she added, will be time consuming. "We’re going to need the support to make it happen. We can’t do it next year, it has to be the following year," she said.

Stulbarg said a committee will be created, possibly over the summer or in the fall, to help with the process.

Central parent Lillian Svec, who lives in one of the areas where the boundary would have been shifted to Nesbit should the board have adopted boundary changes, said after the meeting Thursday night that she was pleased with the board's decision.

"I'm delighted our kids are in and that they didn't change the boundary," she said. "There's still a lot of work to figure out the details but it means the district will be in it together."

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