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Editorial: Lawyers are only winners in Bullis, LASD spat

Will the day ever come when the persistent battles between Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District are only a distant memory? Will a solution pop up that no one considered before that suddenly seems right for both sides?

Unfortunately, at the present time there are no answers in sight, so it is hardly worth people getting their hopes up about finding a resolution to this long-running dispute. But it is important to realize that while neither the Los Altos district nor Bullis are in any way insolvent, millions of taxpayer dollars are being wasted, flowing like water out the door of each campus to pay ongoing legal expenses.

The crux of the dispute revolves around how the school district meets its Proposition 39 obligation, which requires that its land, buildings and other assets must be "shared fairly" with any charter school within its boundaries. Bullis officials interpret that to mean that the district has as an obligation to hand over an entire school campus to the charter school which LASD officials say they've been trying to make happen, though it's been disputed as to how hard they are actually trying.

Despite a ruling more than a year ago by the state Appellate Court supporting Bullis' assertion that the district must provide essentially the same assets as those at its own school, legal maneuverings have kept the battle going strong without a resolution.

Instead, nearly 500 Bullis students are split between two campuses Blach Intermediate School and Egan Junior High School where the children attend classes in portables. The split campus solution has infuriated Bullis, and has resulted in a seemingly endless stream of spats over rules that Bullis students must follow on the respective campuses.

Earlier this week, the Voice asked both sides to estimate their cost of litigation in this dispute so far. Doug Smith, chairman of the LASD board, estimates that the district has spent "a couple of million dollars" on the litigation. He said it is "...nothing short of tragic that this takes money away from the classroom." The sad thing is that LASD is budgeting more than $1.2 million a year on litigation going forward. "The BCS litigation machine shows no signs of letting up," he said.

Bullis was not quite as forthcoming about its legal expenditures. Spokesman Jay Reed said that $1.7 million had been spent, although it is likely that the charter school has laid out about the same amount as LASD, and possibly more.

There are no easy answers, but if the two sides are to get beyond relying on the courts to solve their problem, they will have to agree:

- Bullis is a legal charter school serving students who are primarily residents of the Los Altos School District

- While a state Appellate Court said LASD must provide Bullis essentially the same assets as its own schools, in practice this does not mean that Bullis has the right to occupy an entire district school

- Both schools are committed to excellence, exhibited by students at both schools achieving some of the highest test scores in the state

Over the course of this feud an arbitrated settlement was signed and then collapsed, as have efforts to mount a bond issue to build a school for Bullis. But regardless of what happened before, the sides must keep trying. At this stage, leaders have to ask themselves: What is worse, millions of dollars more spent on litigation, or biting the bullet and accepting a negotiated settlement, where each side will have to give some ground but be able to proceed in peace. Both sides have an opportunity to make 2014 the year that this dispute is put behind them, so there no longer is a need to spend this kind of money on wasteful litigation.

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