After a marathon mediation meeting that ended at 4 a.m., both the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School boards voted unanimously at a July 28 special meeting to approve the five-year agreement between the school district and the charter school -- ending years of litigation during which millions of dollars were spent on legal fees.
Los Altos School District board members said they were able to hammer out the final details of the agreement in the early morning hours prior to the meeting. Board president Tamara Logan said there were some tweaks to the language of the agreement, including a change to some enrollment numbers, but nothing major.
Logan said the Bullis Charter School board voted 7-0 to approve the agreement at around 11:32 p.m. Monday night after a lengthy closed session meeting.
"I'm relieved and excited," said district board member Doug Smith. "I think the agreement gives us a great tailwind going into discussions about the bond."
During public comments prior to the decision, LASD parent Sangeeth Peruri said he was grateful that the board spent so much time and effort to get the agreement done in time for the meeting.
"I want to thank the board for all their hard work," Peruri said. "I'm hopeful that both boards will approve the agreement."
Bullis Charter School board member Francis La Poll, who was involved in the mediation meetings leading up to Monday's board meeting, said the approval of the five-year agreement has been a great success.
"This is groundbreaking for the community, and (the agreement) is in the best interest for all parties," La Poll said.
The five-year agreement, announced on July 2, will end all litigation between the district and the charter school, end disputes over enrollment numbers and open up new space at Blach for the charter school. The agreement will also replace the piecemeal facility-use agreements that invariably caused strife between the two parties every year.
Both the charter school and the district have spent millions in legal fees over the decade-long disputes over school facilities.
Less than a week from bond measure approval
The district's focus is now squarely on passing a bond measure in the November election that would help the district fund additional school facilities -- including a new school campus. District board members cite growing enrollment as driving the need for a new school, particularly in the region north of El Camino.
The district is on a tight deadline for drafting the bond measure, which must be completed and voted on at the regular Aug. 4 board meeting.
At the special meeting, Smith said that trying to find a specific site for the new school prior to the Aug. 4 meeting felt "rushed," and the district would be better off if it collected more information and delayed any decision on a location until after the bond measure passes. Gardner Bullis parent Vladimir Ivanovic told the board he also feels the whole process needs to slow down.
So to keep options open, the school district may leave some of the bond measure language vague, so that big decisions -- like the location of a new school -- can be made at a later date.
There are also legal perks to having broad, non-specific language in the bond measure. Janet Mueller, a representative from an education law firm, told the board that while bond measure language needs to be specific enough to be palatable for voters, overly specific language has come back to haunt some districts. In a 2013 case, taxpayers sued the San Diego Unified School District for not following its own strict bond language carefully enough.
Still, some people at the board meeting expressed concerns that the language was not specific enough. Following Mueller's presentation, two people said they wanted a more comprehensive list of facility improvements, with an estimated price tag on each item.
Ivanovic also said he felt that $150 million is not enough, and that the district would need more money to open a new school site and add facilities to existing schools.
But raising more than $150 million doesn't look like much of an option. The bond is a Proposition 39 school facilities bond, which means the maximum tax rate the district can levy is $30 per $100,000 of assessed value per parcel. To go any higher, the mearsure would need two-thirds voter approval rather than 55 percent of the vote, which Smith said was not likely.
Logan said she, along with board member Steve Taglio, met with three Bullis Charter School board members prior to the July 30 meeting for input on the bond measure. Other than a few changes, Logan said the Bullis representatives were okay with the language.
Los Altos offers parks, community responds
Dozens of community members showed up to the board meeting sporting green buttons and stickers that said SLAP -- an acronym for Save Los Altos Parks -- and spoke out against the possibility that Rosita Park or McKenzie Park would be sacrificed for a school site.
The district received two separate petitions with signatures not to build a school at either park.
Peruri told the board he did not want the community to lose a park for a school, and that forcing people to choose between the two will hurt the chances that the bond measure will pass in November. He also said the locations of the two parks wouldn't make sense based on the enrollment of neighboring schools
The city of Los Altos offered up the two parks to the Los Altos School District as possible sites for a new school about a month ago. According to Smith, the parks were the only places the city was willing to consider at the time.
Joe Seither, board member of the Huttlinger Alliance for Education, said some members of the public may have mistaken the intent of the board. He said people seem to think district board members zeroed in on Rosita and McKenzie parks as locations for the new school, when it was the city of Los Altos that limited the discussion to just those two sites.
School site options in Mountain View
Logan said that with district enrollment growing fastest in the area north of El Camino Real, a school site in the San Antonio area of Mountain View would make the most sense. Since last year, Logan and fellow board members Doug Smith and Mark Goines have approached Mountain View city officials to try to work out a deal that could allow for a school site in the area -- and so far it's been fruitless, they said.
The problem is that Mountain View doesn't have a lot of options for a school in the San Antonio area, according to Mountain View Mayor Chris Clark. Clark said normally the city would have the option to use public land, like a city park, to dedicate to a new school. That's not the case with the San Antonio area.
"There's this expectation that the city has public land ready to dedicate to a public school," Clark said.
He also said the city cannot zone for a school in the San Antonio area because that would be considered down-zoning, which decreases the allowable density and development in an area. He said the city would run into legal trouble if it tried to down-zone for a school.
"If it isn't outright illegal, we'd be sued into oblivion," Clark said.
The only other option would be for the school district to acquire private land in the area, which Clark said would be prohibitively expensive based on the school district's current school model -- like low enrollment numbers per school site and one-story buildings.
He said if the district wants land in the San Antonio area, it might need to reconsider what the school would look like.
Clark said it's up to the school district to identify where it wants a school in Mountain View and if private property owners would be interested. Once that happens, he said, the city would be happy to work with them.
"Right now the ball is in their court to identify a site," Clark said.
District board member Goines said he's attended a Mountain View's Youth Services Committee meeting to reach out to the city of Mountain View, and said the response is always the same: Find private land the school district is willing to purchase and then come back.
Goines said the Youth Services Committee is not an appropriate place to discuss a possible school site, and that the city of Mountain View needs to set up an ad hoc committee to work with the school district and find a suitable location.
Lenny Siegel, leader of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View, said both the city and the school district need to come together with a common goal to open a school north of El Camino Real. He said there may be other options beyond what Clark and the school district trustees have considered, and both bodies need to collaborate and open a school in the San Antonio area if they want to create a family-friendly, sustainable community.
"I don't see how someone could complete the San Antonio Precise Plan without putting a school there," Siegel said. "Otherwise it's a bad plan."