Mountain View Voice

News - December 28, 2012

Charter school battles, building plans

by Nick Veronin

It's been a big year in local education. While a years-long battle between Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District showed no signs of cooling, a new majority was elected to the Mountain View Whisman School District's board of trustees, a $198 million school bond was passed and the high school district implemented a new grading policy that has drawn the ire of some parents and teachers.

Bullis Charter School

This year has proven to be one of the most contentious in the intractable battle between a public school district and a charter school — and it's all unfolded in our backyard. With 2013 about to begin, the legal dispute between Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District continues to boil.

The two educational institutions have been at odds since BCS was first founded in 2003, but the most recent spate of litigation has done more to divide the Los Altos School District community into two camps than perhaps any other previous battle. The most recent chapter in the Bullis vs. LASD saga began in 2009, when the charter school claimed the district's annual facilities offering was insufficient and took legal action against the district.

After a lower court judge sided with the district, and a higher court took the charter school's side, LASD and Bullis have been locked in a seemingly perpetual stream of failed negotiations, lawsuits and counter-suits.

As the year drew to a close, lawyers for Bullis have filed what is known as an "Anti-SLAPP" suit against the district. This suit is meant to counter the recent legal action taken by the district which sought to force the charter to disclose information about how much it collects in donations annually and other information about the composition of its student population. Because Bullis officials considered this request a "strategic lawsuit against public participation," or SLAPP, they filed the Anti-SLAPP motion.

Meanwhile, officials from both sides have indicated that they would be open to talk about how to move forward in the 2013-14 school year by holding public sessions and other negotiations outside of the courtroom.

MVWSD board

November ushered in a big transition on the board of trustees for the Mountain View Whisman School District, with three out of the board's five members stepping down and being replaced by newcomers.

In a surprising turn of events, Jim Pollart, the man who led the Share Shoreline group to secure extra tax dollars for both of Mountain View's public school districts, lost his bid for the board. Steve Nelson — who would regularly address the board with quirky presentations and frequently challenged the suggestions of Superintendent Craig Goldman, was a surprise winner.

The other two men replacing outgoing members Ed Bailey, Steve Olson and Fiona Walter, are Christopher Chiang and Bill Lambert.

Measure G

Mountain View Whisman district voters were asked in June to approve a $198 million school bond. Measure G passed handily, despite strong opposition from incoming school board trustee Steven Nelson.

The money will be used to complete projects from a vast list, known as the Student Facilities Improvement Plan, or SFIP. None of the money will be spent on salaries for district employees.

In a conversation with the Voice in the run up to the election, former trustee Fiona Walter explained why the district needed the Measure G money.

MVWSD's student population is projected to swell to as many as 5,500 children over the next five years, according to Walter. In order to accommodate that growth, she said, the district will have to build more classrooms, purchase new equipment and, in all likelihood, reopen the Whisman campus. All of that will take money, Walter said, and that is why the district asked voters to approve Measure G.

Grading policy questioned

A new policy that was intended to improve grading practices at the local high school may have had some unintended side effects. One parent is leading a charge calling for the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District to reconsider its student assessment practices.

Steve Uhlir has spoken multiple times before the district's board of trustees, arguing that while there is nothing wrong with the language of the policy — which, among other things, seeks to assure that all instructors within a department grade the same way — in practice, the new policy has resulted in students being tested on material they have yet to be taught. In certain subjects, the grading is done in such a way that it is impossible to get 100 percent on a test, even if every answer is correct.

While Uhlir believes his campaign is gaining traction, drawing more and more dissatisfied parents, teachers and students to speak out, MVLA Superintendent Barry Groves said that there is little to be fixed with the policy, and that it's more a matter of ironing out all the kinks.

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