Mountain View Voice

News - January 18, 2013

Judge: Bullis must reveal info on donors, enrollment

by Nick Veronin

A judge has ruled that Bullis Charter School must provide records on its enrollment and fundraising practices, despite arguments from the charter school's legal team that there is no legitimate reason for revealing the information.

In her Jan. 7 tentative ruling, Santa Clara County Judge Patricia Lucas rejected two Bullis motions that argued that the Los Altos School District has no right to ask for the information. The district has asked for detailed accounts of how much the charter school has raised through private donations and records on its recruitment and enrollment processes — including where students enrolled at Bullis live, their ethnicity and the number of special education students attending the charter school.

While LASD lawyer Ray Cardozo maintains that the district needs this information in order to determine how to allocate the legally mandated "reasonably equivalent" facilities to the charter, BCS lawyer Arturo Gonzalez claims that this is just the latest of many legal maneuvers the district has deployed to avoid handing over the facilities to which the charter is entitled.

Mark Goines, a trustee with the Los Altos School District, was pleased with the ruling and countered Gonzalez's assertion that his district had no legitimate need for the information.

Goines said the district wants to understand the charter's donation practices for a number of reasons. BCS has asked that the court require the district to reimburse them for the money they have spent litigating. But where does the money they use to litigate come from, Goines asked. And have they been significantly hurt by the fees they have paid their lawyers?

The trustee notes that many of his district's wealthiest residents have long been heavily involved in BCS. Bullis board chair Ken Moore, for example, is the son of Intel Corp. co-founder and billionaire, Gordon Earle Moore. Goines said calculating what is a reasonably equivalent allocation requires a better understanding of how much money the charter is able to raise on its own through private contributions.

"We believe where the money comes from in their litigation is an important fact," he said.

District officials need to know where Bullis' students live because the district is required by law validate that all students at the charter live within the LASD boundaries, Goines said. "We think this is all very relevant information to the decisions we need to make for providing us with facilities."

No charters for wealthy districts?

"We were disappointed by the court's rulings," Gonzalez said. In his estimation, "almost everything" that the district alleged in seeking the judgment is not true.

Gonzalez said the district is arguing that "you cannot have a charter school in areas that aren't poor."

There is nothing in his reading of California charter school law that dictates a charter school cannot be opened in a wealthy community, he said.

Gonzalez also takes issue with the judge allowing the district to litigate issues, which he said have already been settled in court. When he first got involved in this legal fight, LASD was arguing that the charter was giving an improper preference to students living in a certain area of the district and a ruling was issued in favor of Bullis on that score. "In my practice, in law, normally when you argue something and win, it's over."

And when it comes to a criticism from the district that only well-to-do families send their kids to Bullis, Gonzalez has trouble keeping a straight face. "What's comical about that is that the whole district is well-educated and well-to-do."

Ultimately, Gonzalez said, the district is "trying to make a law in court." What they really ought to do, if they think the law needs to be changed to say that charter schools don't belong in wealthy communities, is to go to Sacramento and try to pass legislation there.

"These charter school laws and the facilities laws were all enacted with the goal of improving public schools," Cardozo said, disagreeing with Gonzalez. "The idea wasn't privatization" — but that is exactly the direction Bullis and other charter schools in wealthy communities want to take the charter school movement, he said.

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