Mountain View Voice

News - March 30, 2012

No end to schools' battle over space

by Nick Veronin

Another court ruling has been handed down in the years-long battle over classroom space between Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District. Yet, despite the latest judicial order, and even with professional mediation between the two parties continuing, neither the charter school nor the school district appear to be anywhere near a compromise.

Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas ruled in favor of Bullis on March 23, issuing an order declaring that LASD "violated Proposition 39 and its regulations..." by (among other things) housing Bullis students on a temporary campus with significantly less student space than at comparison group schools, according to a press release put out by the charter school.

In other words, the judge found that the district did not give Bullis adequate space, compared with other district schools of a similar size.

However, in the wake of the ruling, it remains clear that the charter and the Los Altos School District are no closer to reaching a facilities sharing agreement, and that the two organizations hold divergent interpretations of the term "contiguous" as it is defined by California law.

The school district continues to propose space-sharing arrangements with Bullis that would have the charter split between two LASD campuses, and officials from Bullis continue to reject those proposals as illegal — noting in the press release, "According to Proposition 39 (California's charter school law) facilities must be contiguous," meaning that the school must be located on one campus or an adjacent site.

In the most recent facilities-sharing plan, passed unanimously by the LASD board on March 26, the school district proposes splitting the charter between Egan Junior High School and Blach Intermediate School. The district board voted 5-0 in favor of the plan, which proposes putting the charter's kindergarten through sixth-graders at Egan and the remaining seventh- and eighth-grade kids at Blach. The district would also give the charter more space at Egan (its current location) — to the tune of more acreage and two additional portable units.

The two schools are about four miles apart.

Ken More, chairman of the Bullis board of directors, said the proposal was simply "one more illegal facilities offer from LASD. We will respond accordingly."

"'Contiguous' is very clearly defined in Prop 39," said Mark Goines, president of the LASD board of trustees — "and it doesn't mean 'one piece of property.'"

According to the state's education code, "facilities are 'contiguous' if they are contained on the school site or immediately adjacent to the school site." This first sentence under the definition of "contiguous" fits neatly within Bullis' line of argument. However, the definition continues:

"If the in-district average daily classroom attendance of the charter school cannot be accommodated on any single school district site, contiguous facilities also includes facilities located at more than one site, provided that the school district shall minimize the number of sites assigned and shall consider student safety."

"That's the rule set we're following," Goines said.

Moore said that his school's forecasted in-district student body for the coming school does not justify a two-site solution.

"Our forecast was 493 in-district students," he said. "Every site in the district can hold 600 plus. Some of them can hold way more. There is not a single site in the district that could not hold our forecasted enrollment for the upcoming year."

"We're happy to accommodate their expansion," Goines said, "but (this two-site solution is) the best way we think we can do it, without significantly compromising our high-performing schools and programs."

Goines bristled at the suggestion that the charter school would likely find this most recent offer unacceptable.

"I'm not sure they've ever liked anything we've offered them," he said. "We have nine school sites and 10 programs (in our district). People have to share. That's just the way it is."

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