Mountain View Voice

News - March 8, 2013

Bullis passes on litigation 'pause'

Chair of charter's board says BCS will work with LASD, continue pursuing litigation

by Nick Veronin

An official with the Los Altos School District said he was disappointed to receive official notice that Bullis Charter School officials would not consider temporarily pausing litigation while the two organizations negotiate a facilities agreement for charter school's 2013-14 school year.

In response to the charter school's decision, LASD board member Mark Goines said he would move through the annual facilities offer process with the intention of doing only that which he is required by law to do and nothing more. Considering the fact that both educational organizations have very different views on what is required by the law, it would appear there is no end in sight to the legal battle between Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District.

Shortly after countering the district's preliminary 2013 facilities offer, Ken Moore, chair of charter school's board of directors, sent an open letter to Smith. In it, he turned down a request to hit the pause button on litigation so that the two organizations might work toward a long-term resolution without having to simultaneously fight multiple lawsuits.

The district and Bullis are embroiled in multiple lawsuits over the facilities the district is required to provide to the grades K-8 charter school.

"We understand the LASD board of trustees' ... position regarding our continued legal issue," the letter says. "Put simply, we view the ... request to stay litigation ... as an attempt to avoid spending additional time working through the difficult allocation issues and further delay working together to make a split campus a workable alternative for the next school year."

It is likely that the letter came as no surprise to the LASD board. Moore told the Voice in mid-February that he did not support the idea. Still, Goines said he was "deeply" disappointed with the charter school's decision. "Either you want to collaborate, or you don't," Goines said. "And clearly, they don't want to collaborate. They just want what they want."

Had the charter school obliged the 90-day pause in litigation as proposed by Doug Smith, president of the LASD board, Goines said the district would have happily worked with the charter school toward a multi-year facilities agreement. But given the refusal to stall litigation, Goines said the district will only do what is "legally required" under Proposition 39 — the law which governs how districts must allocate facilities to charter schools.

"Prop 39 is very specific," Goines said, noting that the law only requires districts to negotiate one year at a time. "I'd be highly flexible on a solution if we didn't have litigation. Without that tenet being met, it will be one year at a time."

Goines has said he believes the legal battle is making it hard for the two parties to work together in earnest, as both sides are preoccupied with and embittered by the dark cloud of litigation. Taking a break from the courtroom could help lift that cloud, Goines said.

"Suspending litigation over the district's previous actions has nothing to do (with) now in order to avoid potential future litigation," Moore wrote. "Parties talk during lawsuits all the time — that's how suits get settled. We would be more than willing to stop legal action when it is clear that BCS students are afforded reasonably equivalent facilities."

Moore wrote in an email to the Voice that he is weary of putting the brakes on litigation based upon his past experiences working with LASD.

"BCS paused litigation last year at this same time and spent months in mediation talks only to have LASD walk from the agreement within two weeks of jointly announcing the deal," Moore wrote. "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."

Goines said Moore's accusation that LASD "walked away" from mediation is not quite accurate. The way he tells it, the two parties had reached a framework they each liked, but before the board could approve it, they needed to get public input. The public, Goines said, made suggestions, which were added to the proposal. BCS would not accept the community's edits and that is why the talks disintegrated.

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