The Mountain View Whisman School District took the rare step last week of electing its board president for a second term, a break with tradition while the board is amid complex deals to handle student growth, contracts to construct teacher housing and other major endeavors that will carry into the new year.
Trustees voted to appoint Tamara Wilson to be board president next year on a 5-0 vote at the Dec. 12 board meeting. Board member Devon Conley was elected to serve as vice president, and board member Jose Gutierrez was elected as the clerk. Though the leadership role typically lasts a year and rotates between board members, they agreed that continuity was more important than holding to tradition.
The idea was first floated last month, with board member Ellen Wheeler arguing that it would be helpful to have "familiar faces" during negotiations with other agencies. The school district has been working with the city of Mountain View and private developers to prepare for a huge increase in students caused by residential development, negotiations that have proved challenging in recent months. If development were to cease today, district officials say they would still have to find ways to house an estimated 1,000 additional students in the coming years -- a roughly 20% increase in enrollment.
In planning for enrollment growth caused by major residential zoning changes in the North Bayshore and East Whisman areas of the city, Mountain View City Council members adopted a so-called Local School District Strategy, requiring developers of large projects to provide funding, land or other resources to Mountain View Whisman to offset the impact on schools. But implementing those plans requires the school district to broker agreements with private developers, which has been a challenging task outside of the typical purview of a school district.
The school district launched a three-way agreement earlier this year with the city and developer Fortbay to build a 716-unit apartment complex on Middlefield Road, which will include a building with 144 units that would all be leased to the school district for use as subsidized teacher and staff housing.
Wheeler said the best way to avoid disrupting the multifaceted cross-agency collaboration would be to "freeze" the board officer roles for another year, even if it is a little unusual.
"I don't want to become a board that normally has two-year terms for the president, but I'm also somebody who believes in exceptions," she said at the Nov. 21 board meeting.
Wilson told the Voice in an email that she was surprised by the decision to re-nominate her as president, and had no idea it was coming. It does entail a lot of extra work and doesn't have quite the allure that others might think, but she accepted the nomination last week.
"I am humbled and honored that the trustees chose to support a second year with me in this leadership role," she said.
In addition to speaking on behalf of the school board and working with staff on board agendas, Wilson has been a frequent face as a representative of the school district at City Council meetings, advocating on behalf of the district's interests as council members approve large-scale zoning changes promoting new residential construction. Most recently, she raised concerns that zoning for 5,000 residential units in the primarily commercial East Whisman area of the city would be a mistake without a clear plan for financing schools for the children who will live in the area.
Wilson pointed out that the district has done its part for planning -- urban school visits, hiring architects and planning for dense schools on minimal acreage -- and that what the district needs now is a joint-session meeting with City Council members and a sense of surety that schools won't be left out as the city expands.
Wheeler said the board has not had a president serve two terms in at least 17 years, though it's not unheard of. Other school districts in the county have two-year presidential terms, and the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors had two of its members, Dave Cortese and Joe Simitian, serve two-year terms as president. The justification for county supervisors was largely the same -- greater continuity in tackling complex problems and minimizing the "start-stop, about-face changes" that come with a major leadership change.
Unlike the county, however, the change of pace is not intended to be permanent for Mountain View Whisman.