Mountain View Voice
Opinion - February 10, 2012
Los Altos district needs to compromise
Short of the sheriff showing up to escort school children to their rightful classrooms, it does not appear that the Los Altos School District will abide by the law and provide reasonably equal facilities to the Bullis Charter School as ordered by a state appeals court — a decision recently affirmed by the state Supreme Court.
District trustees rejected any move toward a compromise that acknowledges all the students are part of the Los Altos district and deserve equal treatment when it comes to assigning school facilities. Instead, after losing their last chance to overturn the appeals court order, the LASD simply ignored it and said it would assign Bullis K-6 students to the same crowded line-up of portable classrooms it occupies now in an Egan Middle School parking lot and send its grades 7-8 students to Blach Middle School, some four miles away.
Not surprisingly, Bullis cried foul, finding the preliminary offer not only unacceptable but "unlawful," in the words of Bullis board member Anne Marie Gallagher. The charter school will no doubt will look to yet another court action to enforce the earlier rulings affirming the right of their 465 students, nearly all of whom live in the district, to equal accommodations.
Unless a compromise is forged, the current LASD trustees, who voted to spend $60,000 on their losing state Supreme Court appeal, will likely waste even more precious school dollars trying to defend their cause.
As we said last December, as a basic aid district, Los Altos receives the bulk of its financial support from local property taxes, an amount that is not dependent on the number of students attending LASD schools. The district receives the same amount whether or not the Bullis school exists.
But now, 465 students attend Bullis, which is totally supported by state funds, taking the obligation away from LASD. Given that LASD, through taxes and parental support, spends about $11,000 per student, the district saves $5 million a year by not having to educate the Bullis students.
So in our view, rather than force Bullis into a parking lot of portable classrooms, about the only rational solution is to hand over an entire school to Bullis and be done with it. At last count, less than 300 students attend the Gardner Bullis School in Los Altos Hills, by far the lowest enrollment of any school in the district. These students could be transferred to other district schools to make way for Bullis Charter School. This would place 465 students on a proper school campus, which is their right as residents of the Los Altos school district. Their presence would not detract from the district, which would save millions of dollars in basic aid funds, perhaps enough to build a new school elsewhere in the district.
This dispute has gone on long enough. We do not believe any piecemeal solution will be acceptable to Bullis or the courts. The Los Altos district may not believe it is fair play for Bullis to demand a school site. But the decision is not up to the district. Proposition 39 dictates that charter schools must be given "reasonably equivalent" space and facilities. Portable classrooms on a parking lot are hardly "equivalent." Charter schools are here to stay. And it is time for the Los Altos district to recognize that fact and move on.
Posted by LASD Community Dad,
a resident of another community
on Feb 10, 2012 at 11:12 pm
I think that reasonable people can differ on the value of charter schools, or perhaps even on whether this innovation approach should be limited to areas lacking high-API-score alternatives. Personally, I very much appreciate the new ideas and approaches schools like BCS bring to education, and especially, the added choice BCS brings to our community. But in any case, I suggest that those with differing opinions take them with their State representatives.
It appears to me that most other attempts to criticize the charter school's 8-year slog toward fair treatment are either somewhat (and understandably) misinformed, or in a few cases, seemingly delusional (and no ContextMan, I'm no vengeful, Republican, Mandarin, killer, marine, though admittedly, I did shoot a rifle once ;). For example, I wouldn't push too hard on the loony idea that BCS is costing the district money. The more that's discussed, the more light gets shed on the BCS share of parcel taxes that LASD receives, but to date, has withheld and spent itself. (Incidentally, this is also the main reason why the BCS Foundation has thus far been forced to ask its parents for more money than LASD's Foundation asks.) If BCS suddenly closed, LASD would be hit by the roughly $10k per student costs to educate hundreds more students, but receive substantially less than that in added revenue.
Also, a new talking point that suggests the unfairness of "forcing the district to close one of its high performing community schools" also seems misleading and revealing. It either fails to recognize, or attempts to cover over, the facts that:
- BCS kids are district kids too. Again, if BCS suddenly closed, LASD would need to make room for these students anyway. (This is why the law makes sense as district students who choose the charter school are simply switching from one district campus to another. Of course, this could require some degree of redistricting, but in the eyes of the law, this cost is worth the benefit of school choice and innovation.) Naturally, if complying with the law and housing all of the district students fairly results in more kids per campus than desired, its LASD's job to then work toward adding a new campus.
- LASD has had 8 years to provide equivalent facilities to the charter school, an entire generation of BCS students in trailers, even with a perfectly adequate and unoccupied campus available for about half of that period. To BCS parents, it's as if LASD has chosen to keep the real BCS campus "closed" for 8 years. Each year, very similar, ultimately empty promises on finding a long-term solution have been announced. Unfortunately, any LASD movement toward such a solution seems to have been largely anchored, and thus precluded by a handful of loud, vindictive-sounding voices (such as ContextMan's). The LASD facilities offers were so far from equivalent that the Appeals Court, in judging that LASD had been acting unlawfully, made a point to mention that there was also evidence to support a finding that LASD had even been acting in "bad faith." So, being "forced" may well be LASD's only politically feasible path to compliance.
- Lastly, the suggestion that a high-performing community school would be lost seems misleading at best. Not only would the campus be used to continue to support a very high performing community public school, but it would allow a truly innovative public school choice a chance to blossom.
Cheers, and have a great weekend!
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