FOSTER CITY — The members of the Foster City High School Foundation wanted bold leadership from the City Council and a commitment to help raise money to build a public charter high school next to City Hall.

What they got was a resolution wishing them well.

The foundation and its supporters, still fuming over the council's rejection early Tuesday morning of a debt-financing plan, claimed Wednesday that council members have denied residents the opportunity to vote on establishing a special tax to pay for a new school, which the organization has billed as a community education center.

At the conclusion of a sometimes contentious public hearing that began about 9 p.m. Monday, the council voted 3-2 not to form a community facilities district to come up with some or all of the roughly $15 million cost of building the school.

The council also decided not to hold an advisory vote to gauge the public's interest in creating such a school and ordered the foundation and its partner, Envision Schools, to have the money by June 2008.

The council's actions fell in linewith the wishes of the San Mateo Union High School District, which has indicated that it, too, does not support the foundation's efforts.

Charter schools are public educational institutions operated independently of the local school district, often with a curriculum and educational philosophy different from other schools in the system.

The council did, however, include a motion "(w)ishing the Foster City High School Foundation and Envision Schools success in their pursuit of a public charter high school."

Phyllis Moore, president of the foundation, said the council ignored evidence of strong community support for the school, including a survey the city conducted last year that found 81 percent of 1,109 respondents supported establishing a school on a 15-acre parcel of land just south of City Hall.

"Council members claim that they represent all the residents of Foster City and that they believe that the majority of their constituents would not be willing to pay to have an education center in our town," Moore said.

"If that is the case," Moore said, "then why did they refuse to cooperate with the foundation in a sincere effort to remove any conjecture about the level of support for this project?"

Councilman Rick Wykoff introduced the motion rejecting a community facilities district, an entity that allows residents to tax themselves to pay for building and improvement projects. Councilwomen Pam Frisella and Linda Koelling voted in favor of the motion.

Though the three council members each brought their own perspectives on the matter, they each said that paying for school facilities is the responsibility of school districts, not municipalities.

A charter high school in Foster City would belong to the San Mateo Union High School District, which has indicated it does not support the foundation's efforts.

Wykoff said he's listened closely to both supporters and opponents of the school. To suggest otherwise would be a "gross inaccuracy of what I've done over the last two years on this issue," he said.

"I was elected by the citizens of Foster City to make decisions in what I think are the best interests of Foster City and to ... make sure (its) assets are spent wisely and well towards municipal functions," Wykoff said.

Koelling said Foster City residents should not be asked to foot the bill for a charter school that would be open to students from throughout the school district. She declined to say why she opposed placing an advisory vote on the ballot, which would serve the function of a public opinion survey.

Councilman John Kiramis, who introduced a motion to hold an advisory vote but did not receive a second, said he does not believe that a community facilities district would have received the necessary two-thirds of the vote to pass.

But putting an advisory vote on the ballot "would have given the city a clear perspective of what the sentiment of the community is," Kiramis said. 

Foundation officials said the plan to meet within the next several days to discuss their fundraising options. They said they will focus on their goal to present the education center as more than a just a charter high school. The facility would serve the broader community in part by offering classroom space to the College of San Mateo and hosting continuing education classes for adults.

But that was not enough to convince a majority of the council that the school was the city's responsibility.

"I couldn't in good faith ask the residents of Foster City to do that," said Frisella, adding that voting to place a community facilities district on the ballot would amount to an endorsement of the measure.

Frisella said she did not support holding an advisory vote because residents have received a skewed picture of the city's responsibilities from the foundation.

"They don't understand that city government and school districts are two different things," she said.

The city will continue to hold four acres of the 15-acre lot between Foster City and Shell boulevards for the foundation until next June. If the group hasn't raised the money for construction by then, it will have to look for a new site.

Staff writer Aaron Kinney can be reached at 650-348-4302 or akinney@sanmateocountytimes.com.