UPDATE: Lily Mei wins one of the three seats on the Fremont School Board. Congratulations, Lily Mei!
I met Lily Mei outside Forest Park Elementary School in Fremont as she handed out fliers proclaiming “Do the right thing!” She was supporting the teachers as they protested the proposed cuts in education in the upcoming California State budget and urged parents to call their representatives.
Lily Mei is standing for one of the 3 open seats on the FUSD School Board. This mother of two young kids in Fremont schools has served in many parent organizations in Fremont in roles ranging from room parent, math and music parent volunteer, vice-president of fund raising and membership as well as serving two years as the PTA President of her school. Today she serves as the Fremont Council PTA School Board Liaison, coordinating communication between the unit PTAs in Fremont and the Fremont School Board.
I spoke with her as we sat on a bench outside the school, with the background noises of children at play.
What makes you qualified for a post on the school board?
LM: What I think I bring to the table is that I am a good process person and I help develop best practices. In my experience as a PTA president and also right now as the Fremont council PTA/school board liaison, I have the opportunities to get exposure to the issues that are important to the school district and hopefully bring solutions to it. For example, people have complained about “tagging”(graffiti) in schools, especially over the weekends. So over the summer I attended a community gang task force meeting to understand just what the things to look for are, what are the concerns to be involved with.
With constant budget cuts I want to be aware of what the parents are experiencing. So in the summer, I visited the school sites, toured summer school classrooms to see where the problems are.
I think it is important that in your school board member, you have someone who has passion and is involved, and understands that it’s not just any one little area but how schools relate to their communities. I have also been participating in city council and city planning.
What are the big challenges in Fremont schools?
LM: Apart from budget cuts, one of the big problems we have here is overcrowding. Some schools that we have here are landlocked. There is not much room for expansion. So one of the proposals I put forward is to build up. In case of the Warm Springs Elementary, they were in the process of building a permanent structure as part of their expansion. So I suggested that they build it with 2 stories. They have done that.
A related problem is overloading. When my daughter was in 1st grade there was an overload task committee. There was no concept of cluster schools. There was no choice to home-school or private school. I went to the school district office, got the average daily attendance rate, their budget, and came back two weeks later with a presentation.
I advocated for the right to get back to home school or private school while you waited for a spot in the local school. It passed that committee and went up to the superintendent’s staff where it was rejected unanimously. I didn’t think it was fair for a child to go to her home school for two weeks and then be told “Honey, you’re going somewhere, but we don’t know where.” One thing that has changed is that they have the concept of cluster schools. At least they do try to assign the kids to a school nearby.
What would you do about this issue of you were a member of the school board?
LM: On the overcrowding issue we need to understand what is occurring and how the housing distribution is changing over time. As I said, we could look at building up in some schools. Maybe we could get some courses offered at Ohlone to take care of nearby overloads. One thing we’ve talked about which is very difficult to get passed is the concept of banding to favor parents who have been in the area longer. Banding roughly means we’ll take percentage of kids where the parents have been around for 1-3 years , another percentage that have lived 3-5 years in the area and so on. Unfortunately, the verification process for that is challenging.
What about funding for schools?
LM:As part of the ad hoc Budget Task Force Committee, I looked at the developer funding. Pleasanton and some other areas get 8 dollars square foot for the schools as developer fees whereas Fremont used to gets $2.65 a square foot, which is the minimum required by law. We added 5 dollars to that fee.
What would be your focus as a member of the school board?
LM: I want to be a voice for the parents – whether it means to be out there protesting budget issues or explaining the parents’ views to legislatures that these are not just numbers – when we make cuts it means changing class sizes, counselor reductions. I want to help them understand how personal this is for parents.
If I were to be on the school board, I would work to ensure that the city and the school board work closer when it comes to new development and its impact on schools. I am not against development, but I am for responsible development.
What are the other responsibilities of the school board?
LM: Curriculum is one- we have to ensure it meets all the requirements of the state board. We have to make sure that we have someone who understands the issues from the teachers’ and the parents’ point of view. One thing I’ve always been interested in is service learning. I’ve been taking courses about it during the summer. For example, if the kids are learning about animals, maybe they could take a trip to the Ohlone wildlife refuge center. The idea is to make the curriculum more exciting and more relevant to the world around them. One of my children’s teachers had business days in school to teach the students the elements of production, distribution and marketing. I thought that was an excellent idea to implement.
Any final thoughts?
LM: I want to say that I am running a good clean campaign and win or lose, my goal is to make a difference in Fremont and give back to the community. My funding is coming mostly from parents. As an independent candidate it is a little harder to do this without the backing of a major party, but hopefully, the work I’ve done in the community will speak for me. I would encourage everyone to go vote, whether for me or anyone else, because you can’t complain later if you don’t step up. I would also like to encourage parents to join the PTA at their child’s school. You’ll find other parents and also teachers who are interested in impacting the community. And the way things are going with the budget, your small contribution to the PTA makes a big difference.
To volunteer, donate or learn more about Lily Mei and her campaign, check out her website at http://lilymei.org.