Bullis Charter School can add seventh and eighth grades to its campus, the County Board of Education ruled this week, despite pleas from Los Altos School District parents and trustees, who called the expansion "unnecessary" and "divisive," and said there was not enough space at the school's current location.
Twenty-five seventh graders will start at Bullis in fall 2009, and school trustees said they plan to offer an additional seventh grade class and two eighth grade classes within two or three years. The school, which is located at Egan Middle School, currently has 326 students, and the expansion would bring the count to 470. Bullis board president Ken Moore said the new enrollment numbers are still rough.
"It could be 50 seventh graders starting if we had strong demand," he said. "This is offering a choice to the community. Some people will find it attractive, and others won't."
The battle over Bullis dates back to 2004 when the County Office of Education helped open the charter school after LASD closed down Bullis-Purissima Elementary School in Los Altos Hills. The Bullis and LASD communities have been debating school policies and jurisdiction ever since. The school's board of directors most recently asked for more space to expand its academic programs.
The county board of education held three public meetings leading up to their approval of the expansion.
During these meetings, members of the Los Altos School District community argued there was no space on the 15-acre Egan campus for the new students -- once Bullis adds both grades, the campus will have around 1,000 students, according to district board president Mark Goines.
Board members said they did not understand why the Bullis trustees were pushing to expand when the district already offers solid academic programs.
"I thought charter law was about helping poor performing students," Goines said. "I didn't think charter law was about giving wealthy families more choices."
The county board cannot make its decision based on finances or facilities. Trustees must only evaluate the educational programs offered by the charter school, and the proposal for expansion. Staff members from the Office of Education analyzed the proposal and recommended that the board approve it.
"It seemed likely to be successfully implemented. We found no basis for denying the petition," said Don Bolce, assistant director of educational planning, who worked on the analysis.
The Los Altos district must provide facilities for the charter school. Goines said the board will either have to split the Bullis charter school between Egan and Blach Middle School or find another campus for the school.
"The facility is not large enough for the total number of students when combining with Egan's seventh and eighth graders," he said.
The board's third option, he added, is "to just let it happen and deal with it, which will probably be a negative impact on current LASD students."
Meanwhile, Bullis trustees are beginning to finalize their expansion plans.
Moore said administrators at the Charter school and board members have been discussing the expansion since 2005 and "have been running a strategic planning process," consulting with Stanford professors and other educational experts. He added that no one from the district attended the charter school's board meetings to contest the expansion."
"We have put a lot of effort into this," Moore said. "Everyone who has shown up to our meetings said we like this."