News


Bullis' charter renewed amid criticism

Popular school draws heat for perceived inequalities in recruitment

Bullis Charter School boasts higher test scores than any other charter school in California, its waiting list is lengthy and its K-8 programming is expanding at a rapid clip. Yet, according to some community members, the school's successes only serve to mask the fact that it is run like a private school in a public school uniform.

A recent public meeting of the Santa Clara County Board of Education -- held Oct. 5 to determine whether Bullis' charter ought to be renewed for another 5 years -- served as a venue for a heated debate between supporters of the school and others who say that the school is discriminatory in its recruiting process and overly aggressive in its fundraising practices.

The county board renewed the school's charter in a split vote, 5-2. The decision was celebrated by members of the Bullis board of directors and lamented by the charter school's more vocal opponents.

"We're very pleased at the renewal," Bullis board member Anne Marie Gallagher said. "We are looking forward to five more great years."

Critics, including Los Altos School District board member Tammy Logan and Santa Clara County Board of Education member Anna Song (who voted against the charter renewal), have accused the school of pulling the majority of its students from the wealthy neighborhoods of Los Altos Hills, while neglecting poorer neighborhoods in Los Altos and Mountain View.

"I had hoped that they would do something a little more forceful to ensure that Bullis Charter School fairly takes every child from the district," Logan said.

The Los Altos School District encompasses part or all of the three cities, and Bullis -- which is built on school district land and draws its student population from within the district's boundaries -- should reflect the community it serves, Logan and Song have said.

John Phelps, who serves along with Gallagher on the Bullis board, said that his school is representative of the community it serves. Pointing to 2010 Census data and comparing that to the makeup of Bullis' student body, Phelps said the school enrolled a greater percentage of black, Asian and mixed-race children than live in within the district. He admitted that the school enrolled Hispanic students at a lower rate than what was recorded within the district by the 2010 Census, but he noted Bullis only missed that mark by less than half a percent.

Phelps said that the school does not keep data on the poor students it enrolls in the same way regular public schools do, but he said that up to 2 percent of the children at Bullis receive free lunches from the school.

SOURCE OF CONTROVERSY

"It's sort of mystifying -- all the energy surrounding this renewal," Gallagher said of the recent criticism of the school.

Phelps agreed: "There have been some unfair assumptions made," he said -- namely that Bullis is only for the privileged and wealthy.

Gallagher and Phelps both postulate that the amount of fervor surrounding the school's charter renewal process may be related to the demand for the school. About one-third of parents of kindergarteners in the district enter the school's enrollment lottery, but only one out of every six Bullis applicants get in.

Demand is high because their school offers a kind of education that children won't get at other schools in the district, Phelps and Gallagher said. Art, performance, music and robotics classes are offered at Bullis and incorporate curriculum from other areas of study, like science, math, history and language.

One example of interweaving lesson plans Gallagher pointed to was the collaboration between art and physical education: as the children learn about all the major muscle groups from their gym teacher, they are simultaneously building a model of their musculature in their art class, using modeling clay that they lay over an armature of a human skeleton.

Speaking with Phelps and Gallagher, one thing is abundantly clear: these two are extremely passionate about Bullis, a school they have worked hard to mold into a model for other schools, locally and around the country.

"This is the future," Phelps said out in front of Bullis, looking with pride at the campus.

"What we're trying to do is to provide a 21st century education for the kids," Gallagher said. "We want the children to figure out why education is meaningful to them."

Gallagher said she is upset by the accusations that Bullis is a school for children born with silver spoons. "In this day and age aren't we beyond stereotypes?" she asks. "Can't we just deal with the person in front of us, instead of calling them a certain type of person?"

Logan's critiques of the school remain. She said that Bullis does not do enough to draw the Hispanic community and students from Mountain View -- who make up 25 percent of the Los Altos School District -- into the school. Gallagher estimates that only about one-fifth of Bullis students live in Mountain View.

At the same time she said, the school's high "recommended" donations -- $5,000 for the current school year -- serve as a deterrent for poorer families.

"There have been numerous parents that have told me that it is very well understood that you should not think about going there unless you are prepared to donate the full amount per child," Logan said.

It is a charge that Phelps denies. "It's a public school," he said. "There is no tuition. Anyone that wants to come and has their name pulled in the lottery may come."

In the end, Phelps and Gallagher said that while they disagree with many of the criticisms, they are trying to take them in stride. "The charter renewal process does give us the opportunity to hear feedback," Gallagher said. "We are held up to the highest level of public scrutiny. We welcome the criticism. It gives us the opportunity to improve."

Correction:

A previous version of this story, and the print version, stated that the county board voted 3-2 in favor of renewing Bullis' charter. The vote was, in fact, 5-2.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 12:57 pm

it will certainly be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next five years. while i applaud the accomplishments achieved by bullis students and parents, it doesn't feel right to use public funds to run a school that operates like a private one.

there is a lengthy article about this in yesterday's sj mercury: Web Link. check out in particular related emails between buffy poon (bullis parent) and anna song (santa clara county board of education member), as well as supporting documents from other members of the community. the link for those documents are at Web Link.


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Posted by anon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm

by the way, nick, you already identified anne marie gallagher as a "bullis board member" in the second paragraph. seems redundant to describe her as someone "who holds a seat on the bullis board" again five paragraphs later.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Freedom to Choose
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2011 at 4:24 pm

I support BCS, because competition improves all public schools. Before BCS residents of Los Altos School District had zero choices. You went to your neighborhood school. If you live in certain parts of Mountain View your neighborhood school might have been changed several times.

Now there is a choice, lots of people enter the lottery ( about 40% of incoming LASD students) but sadly there are not enough spots. It would be great if there were more charters in the district.


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Posted by BCS like PCS
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm

PCS in Santa Cruz has spent 10 years promising to address its diversity issue with the full co-dependency of the County Board of Education that renews its charter even as it fails to meet its own goals on enrollment. Wealthy families who use charter schools as tuition-free public schools do public education and the charter movement great harm. Their self-interest prevails, the community suffers. Anna Song and Grace Mah are to be commended for their efforts to uphold the public good that our schools should serve.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MV native
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2011 at 5:11 pm

I hope that BCS and LASD can work together so that all kids in our area can have the best possible education. I am distressed that a few members of the anti charter school crowd are coming up with some incorrect talking points that have been posted all over the place. So here is my two cents.

1. Charter Schools are public schools. The students at them are public school students. Bullis Charter School is a public school. The students at BCS are public school students.

2. Bullis costs the taxpayers less. BCS receives a little less than $7000/student. That's $7000 from the taxpayers. LASD receives almost $12,000/students from the tax payers. BCS parents make up the difference. not all parents can afford to give $5000 dollars. Some do not give any. No one shuns them.

3. BCS should not be a private school. That is a really silly argument. Under this reasoning any upper income school should be a private school. That includes every school in LASD.

4. Bullis is not governed by the same rules as other public schools. It's a Charter School. Charter School are not required to have the same rules as regular public schools. That's part of the charter law, it's on purpose. Released from Union Contracts and Politically motivated School Boards ( who often answer to unions) real innovation occurs.

5. LASD is, for the most part, a well run district, but has made some really poor choices, including doing everything it can to get rid of BCS.

6. BCS is no more affluent and is more diverse than Loyola, Covington, Gardner Bullis or Oak. Almond and Santa Rita have most of the LASD students who qualify for free or reduced lunch. Both of these schools have more very wealthy students than poor students. Some people might use Springer as an example of a middle class school, but it's just relative. Most students at springer live in an owner occupied house that is worth at least one million dollars. BCS has poor students, ELD students, and special ed students.

7. The Teacher's Unions are doing everything they can to get rid of charter schools. Charter School teachers are not CTA members. Here is an example LASD staffs at about 2o students/ teacher ( this includes special ed etc) There are 450 students at BCS that are not being taught by union teachers. Union dues vary but in most schools they are around 2,500/year. ( includes local, CTA and NEA) 22 x 2500 = $55,000 ( I think I am being a bit generous here, its most likely more) That would pay for quite a bit of release time for a union boss. Also teacher's at Charter School work longer hours. The teacher's union exists to get the most pay and benefits for the most senior teachers, so charter school's are a real thorn in their side.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Elaine
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 6, 2011 at 6:07 pm

"Union dues vary but in most schools they are around 2,500/year."

Actually, dues are less then half of that, around $1,000 a year. So try again or cite some sources.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MV Native
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Elaine,
You are correct LASD dues seem to be somewhere around $1,000, using LASD data, the student to teacher ratio is 23, so using these numbers if BCS students attended LASD schools an additional 19 teachers would be required -- that is $ 19,000 to the union ( Los Altos and CTA -- I could not find any info on NEA dues) So less money -- but still a large amount.

The more important point is that for every charter school the forms -- the union is deprived of members. For the CTA that means less revenue, and thus less political power. Locally this means less money to fund various campaigns.

The teachers union and the board of trustees have created most of the financial problems that LASD now faces. Not BCS.

BCS creates an additional $1,000,000 in revenue for the district -- Here is a link to the report:

Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by LASD parent
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2011 at 11:55 pm

MV Native,

You are a bit off on some of your points above.

2. LASD does not receive $12,000 per student from taxpayers. For 4,300 students that would imply a budget of over $51,000. LASD spends $10K per student and some of that is paid by parent and community donations (LAEF, PTA, etc.) not taxpayers (unless you were saying all people are taxpayers but then you would need to include the BCS foundation parent contributions to be comparing apples to apples, but I don't guess that was your intent.

3. I think people think BCS should be a private school because they fought so hard to achieve an admissions preference for the wealthiest part of LASD (essentially north LAH). Also, BCS is simply not following some of the latest charter guidelines since it has admitted zero socially disadvantaged students, and very few special needs, Latino, etc. Some of these arguments may be emotional, but nonetheless that is the way people feel.

4. Charter schools do not follow the same rules as public schools, but they actually have additional responsibilities as well, and there is concern (by the community, and the SCCOE board members as well) that BCS is not meeting them.
And...come on, LASD has innovation as well, let's not pretend that BCS has innovation and LASD does not - Garden Science, Khan Academy, and let's face it, LASD is the number one rated school district in the state out of almost 1,000 districts.

5. I think many would say that BCS has made some poor choices, like sueing LASD before five different judges and losing five times, costing the community a ton of money that should have been spent on teaching children during difficult budgetary times. And BCS mounting a campaign against the much needed Measure E parcel tax that fortunately passed despite BCS opposition. BCS is a menace.

6. "BCS is no more affluent and is more diverse than Loyola, Covington, Gardner Bullis or Oak. Almond and Santa Rita have most of the LASD students who qualify for free or reduced lunch." - WRONG.
"BCS has poor students" - WRONG.

--BCS is the only school that has zero socially disadvantaged students and the lowest of special needs and Latinos. It also draws preferentially from the wealthiest part of LASD. BCS simply does NOT have the same demographics as the other LASD schools and everyone knows it. The SCCOE board members would not be highlighting this issue if it were not true.

7. Your Teacher's Union dues estimate is off by more than a factor of 2.





 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 7, 2011 at 8:16 am

It's like the pot calling the kettle black. Both LASD and Bullis should be criticized. Both schools hard press parents for "contributions", both schools have low numbers of disadvantaged students and affluent parents. Both have thrown caution to the win. Bullis takes LASD to court, while LASD can't keep costs down. If anything, LASD is over administered with administrators drawing exorbitant salaries and with a union that won't budge on benefits. Neither side can continue to ignore reality from their places of privilege.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Mac
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2011 at 11:00 am

Actually LASD has a much lower admin cost as a percent of total expenses that the state average. And that was before these latest rounds of cuts. LASD administrators are paid less than neighboring districts. And the LASD board members work for almost free, a small fraction of what Moutain View or Palo Alto district board members are paid.

It is a valid point that the LASD unions refuse to budget on benefits. But since they have had virtually zero raises during the past 8 years, and they have had unpaid furlough days, they are trying hard to hold on to breaking even. It's a matter for discussion whether we think teachers are overpaid. Not many are buying the mansions I don't think.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MV Native
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2011 at 12:40 am


Here are some answers --

2. LASD does not receive $12,000 per student from taxpayers. For 4,300 students that would imply a budget of over $51,000. LASD spends $10K per student and some of that is paid by parent and community donations (LAEF, PTA, etc.) not taxpayers (unless you were saying all people are taxpayers but then you would need to include the BCS foundation parent contributions to be comparing apples to apples, but I don't guess that was your intent.

You are incorrect, please check your figures.

Both Schools have expenses/student that fall close to the $ 12,000 mark.

LASD public per capita is currently: $ 10, 497 - this amount includes the additional parcel tax funds passed in April.

BCS public per capita is currently: $ 6, 202 - BCS does not receive Incremental basic aide or parcel tax funds. BCS families who are property owners pay into these funds. This is why there is a big "ask" at BCS -- there is $4,300 short fall

In contrast residents Los Altos HIlls who live in PAUSD portion of the town are able to send their children to Gardner Bullis and Egan. Their property taxes go to Palo Alto Unified, which pays the LASD less than $6000 / per student. LASD tax payers make up the $ 5,000 funding gap.


HEre is the source for this data:
Web Link

3. I think people think BCS should be a private school because they fought so hard to achieve an admissions preference for the wealthiest part of LASD (essentially north LAH). Also, BCS is simply not following some of the latest charter guidelines since it has admitted zero socially disadvantaged students, and very few special needs, Latino, etc. Some of these arguments may be emotional, but nonetheless that is the way people feel.

BCS is very popular -- There is a very long waiting list of IN DISTRICT STUDENTS., there is a lottery to get in. THere is no selection -- numbers are pulled from a bin and anyone can come and watch. Details about the lottery can be found at the BCS website.

BCS does have disadvantaged students -- at about the same rate as LASD. LASD has concentrated these students at two schools --- most schools in the district have very few students who are living in poverty.

4. Charter schools do not follow the same rules as public schools, but they actually have additional responsibilities as well, and there is concern (by the community, and the SCCOE board members as well) that BCS is not meeting them.

I think that BCS accepts this challenge -- and is working on it.

And...come on, LASD has innovation as well, let's not pretend that BCS has innovation and LASD does not - Garden Science, Khan Academy, and let's face it, LASD is the number one rated school district in the state out of almost 1,000 districts.

I agree -- these are two fantastic programs-- but I don't think either one of them was created by LASD. I think there are some great teacher's in the LASD schools - but it's difficult to innovate when union polices and work rules put the breaks on. It's also makes it difficult for parents to volunteer-- State law mandates that once a position has been filled by a salaried employee it can be taken over by a volunteer. At BCS parent vblunteers run the library- and do an excellent job -- at LASD schools kids has access to the library a few hours/week when the Librarian is there.

Sure -- based on over API LASD is number ! -- so congrats. That doesn't mean that LASD families shouldn't have a public school choice -- one that LASD, in it's quest to maximize test scores has failed to provide.



5. I think many would say that BCS has made some poor choices, like sueing LASD before five different judges and losing five times, costing the community a ton of money that should have been spent on teaching children during difficult budgetary times. And BCS mounting a campaign against the much needed Measure E parcel tax that fortunately passed despite BCS opposition. BCS is a menace. -

Rehashing this old stuff will get us nowhere. I hope that BCS and LASD can work together to find a solution that will work for everyone.


6. "BCS is no more affluent and is more diverse than Loyola, Covington, Gardner Bullis or Oak. Almond and Santa Rita have most of the LASD students who qualify for free or reduced lunch." - WRONG.

Where is your evidence? BCS has zero students who are enrolled in free/reduced lunch program because it doesn't participate. Instead. like many charter schools in california -- it purchases the lunches for students who would qualify for this program. e

"BCS has poor students" - WRONG.

Again --- where is your evidence?

BCS has poor students --- about the same % as the district.

--BCS is the only school that has zero socially disadvantaged students and the lowest of special needs and Latinos. It also draws preferentially from the wealthiest part of LASD. BCS simply does NOT have the same demographics as the other LASD schools and everyone knows it. The SCCOE board members would not be highlighting this issue if it were not true.

"EVeryone knows it true "-- Is this your evidence? You need data to support this. Please explain how students at BCS are more wealthy than those at:
Loyola? average home price 2 +
Gardner Bullis? --average home price 2+
Covington? -- average home price 2 -
How about Oak? Again please explain --- Average home price $ 1.5_ it has the same SES as BCS
The majority of students at Santa Rita, Springer and Almond also reside in high SES homes.
Unlike most LASD schools BCS has kids from all over the district -- from both sides of El Camino.

If you would like to know more about school demographics here is a great website:
Web Link




 +   Like this comment
Posted by anon
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Oct 9, 2011 at 11:44 am

MV Native wrote: "Unlike most LASD schools BCS has kids from all over the district -- from both sides of El Camino."

The reason Loyola, Covington, Oak, and Gardner-Bullis don't have more poor students is because of the properties within their boundaries are more expensive, and they can only legally accept students who live within those boundary lines (overflow issues not withstanding). I don't doubt that BCS has students from both sides of El Camino; it's SUPPOSED to accept students from the entire district, after all. But having just ONE student from north of El Camino would allow BCS to make that claim.

From today's SJ Mercury, page B3: "Bullis brags it has more Latinos than do two Los Altos schools. (Actually, in 2010-11, Los Altos schools were 7.5 percent Latino, Bullis 3.7 percent)."

If BCS is so diverse, why is their Latino ratio only 50% of the overall Los Altos schools?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by bikes2work
a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 9, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I know of 12 students from the Crossings neighborhood (North of El Camino) that attend BCS. I know of at least 3 more from the Palo Alto portion of LASD (North of El Camino).

I also know of a latino family on Del Medio that transfers into Mountain View schools. They are in the Santa Rita attendance area, but they don't want to go there.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by MV Native
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Here is the main difference --
BCS is a school of choice it is only school of choice within the LASD boundaries. This choice is created by BCS despite numerous attempts by LASD to kill it. The District offers zero choices. You are assigned to a school you must attend that school.

The only people who are offered a choice in LASD schools are the residents of Los Altos Hills who live within in the boundaries of the Palo Alto Unified School district. In order to justify the opening of Gardner by filling more seats, the district invited these residents of PAUSD to attend Gardenr Bullis. These special Los Altos Hills families can choose between-
their assigned PA school, apply to a school of choice program such as Hoover, Ohlone, or Mandarin Emersion offered by PAUSD. In addition they can attend Gardner. This is direct contrast to residents of the Crossings who must drive all the way to Covington to attend school.

LASD taxpayers pick up the the cost of Los Altos Hills out of district students. PAUSD pays LASD less than $6000 for these students. LASD spends over $11,000. The additional cost comes from our taxes.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Sean
a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 10, 2011 at 6:45 am

That's right. LASD has no problem with having the lower income residents of the Crossings drive their children clear across town to Covington. The Crossings is nothing more than a tax farm for LASD. But what is more telling is that these same Crossing residents made Covington the highest performing school in LASD in spite of it all. They basically turned the school around from one of the lowest to one of the highest. I'm all for BCS given the games and finger pointing I've seen LASD play. LASD is much more about neighborhood school advocates clamoring for their way and their neighborhood schools over any one else.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by parent
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 18, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Why not force BCS to run the lottery so that the incoming students accurately reflect their representation in the district overall? That would be easy enough to do. It's like Escondido Spanish immersion picking their incoming kinder class so 30% are Spanish-speakers and the rest are English-speakers. It is not rocket science to end up with school demographics that reflect the district demographics overall.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by ann
a resident of another community
on Oct 19, 2011 at 6:22 am

heartfelt congratulations to bullis charter school....bravo for a job well done...you achieved the highest scores of any charter school in the whole state....i am impressed and grateful...that you created such a great school in spite of all the petty nonsense that has been thrown at you...i have been rooting for you thru all your struggles even though my children are grown...nonsense that any school board member would vote against renewing your charter....innovation and change ...a good thing..thank you to all who have worked so hard for bullis charter school and to the students...excellent job...be proud....be very proud....


 +   Like this comment
Posted by bob
a resident of Castro City
on Oct 19, 2011 at 7:14 am

and the lack of diversity...and the high fees charged...and the cost to the taxpayer for running an exclusive school...and all those little kids from los altos...you should be proud...very proud


 +   Like this comment
Posted by cccorrigan
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2011 at 9:46 pm

The Mountian View Voice's editorial today hit the nail on the head! Why is it that the paper in Los Altos gets the story so wrong? Great job Voice! And thanks for the support...


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fact Check...
a resident of The Crossings
on Oct 23, 2011 at 3:31 pm

A few Fact Checks:

To Sean: I checked into it, and the reason that Covington test scores increased so much starting a few years ago is that Covington, which used to house most of the district's special needs children, moved many of them to Springer and Loyola. It was not due to crossings children replacing those "would you really say dumber?" children who were moved back to the Gardner Bullis boundary area.

To: Ann: The BCS test scores are not exceptional. They are not any different than one would expect to find if you skimmed the wealthiest families out of the number one school district in the State.

BCS is a school with an unelected board, that constantly causes problems for the community.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by FinalWord
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2012 at 9:55 pm

For more information about this issue and a comprehensive refutation of the piles and piles of BCS FUD, please see:

Web Link

Thank you.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by LASD Parent
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2012 at 6:35 pm

The well is poisoned. There is so much legacy animosity between LASD, LAH parents, and BCS Board members that the situation is utterly hopeless. LASD shutting down Gardner pissed off some wealthy LAH parents, who took the opportunity to petition (repeatedly to LASD, finally successfully to SCCBOE which has effectively played a Pontious Pilot to the whole ordeal ever since) for BCS. LAH sues LASD. LASD reopened Gardner to appease LAH. There is so much more....it saddens me. Last night The LASD Trustees publicly agreed to work with the BCS Board, but I hear they've done that a few times already and it always fails because neither trusts the other. No one wants to give an inch. The idea of "independent" community appointments to work in place of the Boards offers only a glimmer of hope, but I bet the vitriolics from both BCS and LASD parent pools will be the ones to line up and bicker and accuse instead of collaborate. There appears to be little hope for fair compromise without lawyers. The courts will almost certainly have to end up deciding, unfortunately, because of the history and a LACK OF WILL.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by LASD Parent again
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2012 at 6:44 pm

That "BCS SCAM" site posted above is just shameful and cowardly. It only HURTS the whole situation by citing few FACTS and simply spreads sensationalizations and FUD. Shame on you!!! I visited it hoping to "learn", and got only more hopeless.


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