Mountain View Voice

News - May 23, 2014

Bullis signs deal, avoids lockout

Charter school accepts facilities use agreement 'under protest and duress'

by Kevin Forestieri

Teachers from Bullis Charter School won't be locked out of their classrooms this year, thanks to BCS officials who signed a facilities use agreement early this month. But tension between Bullis and Los Altos School District remains high, and the looming threat of litigation may still be on the horizon.

In a strongly worded letter, Bullis Superintendent Wanny Hersey criticized the Los Altos School District for unlawfully tripling use fees and charging Bullis for space students aren't allowed to use. She also wrote that the facilities use agreement forces Bullis to sign a document that acts as a "condition" for students to enjoy the facilities to which they are entitled.

The issues in the facilities use agreement revolve around space shared between the charter school and LASD's Blach Intermediate School. Hersey said Bullis is being charged 100 percent of the use fees for space they have limited or no access to during the school year.

"I'm continually dismayed that they refuse to provide equitable use of the facilities," Hersey said.

Hersey said the school received the final facilities use agreement on April 25 and were asked to sign it within three days — not enough time to go over the 400-page document — and were forced to sign it without an opportunity to negotiate any of the terms. Hersey said she intended to address some of the problems they had with the language in her letter to the school district.

What's more, Hersey said the school should not be forced to sign a facilities use agreement every year. She said charter schools in other districts do not have to sign a similar agreement, and Bullis itself has not been subject to a facilities use agreement in the past.

Because of the circumstances, Hersey stated in the letter that the school signed the agreement under protest and duress.

But LASD board member Doug Smith disagreed with the accusations in the letter and said the facilities use agreement is consistent with the school district's "final offer" for use of shared facilities. And while the use fees did increase quite a bit this year, he said the price is fair and only jumped because the school was paying so little in the first place.

"We used to grossly undercharge (Bullis) for use fees, and we've increased it for the 2014-15 school year," Smith said.

Smith said he's glad the school signed the facilities use agreement this year, which means fewer problems down the road. But he never really saw it as an option for the school.

"It's a no-brainer, you have to sign it," Smith said.

Smith said in the past, Bullis Charter School refused to sign the facilities use agreement and litigated over whether or not LASD could enforce the rules laid out in the agreement. The tension peaked last year when the school district changed the locks on charter school classrooms at the Blach for 10 days, causing parent and teacher protests.

Bullis later signed facilities use agreement in August, and teachers received keys to their classrooms a week before the first day of class.

While there's no threat of a lockout this year, either party could bring their facility use grievances to court in the future. In her letter, Hersey said the school reserves the right to challenge the final offer and the facilities use agreement. Smith said that, given the relationship the school district has with Bullis, that "challenge" means they may take the issue back to court.

But threats of litigation go both ways. In a letter from Smith to Bullis Charter School late last year, Smith said the district is considering monetary and injunctive lawsuits over violations of the final offer and facilities use agreement.

Smith said some letters the district receives from Bullis Charter School are constructive and helpful, but pages of accusatory language don't really help. He said both parties should focus their energy on passing a bond measure to open more campuses to accommodate the school as well as growing enrollment.

Email Kevin Forestieri at mv-voice.com

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