Legal battle ends between Bullis, LASD
The California Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the Los Altos School District on Jan. 18, effectively ending the years-long battle between the district and Bullis Charter School over equitable sharing of the district's facilities and funds.
The court's decision was celebrated by officials at Bullis Charter School who said the ruling was a precedent-setting victory for charter schools across the state.
"This case was not only of great importance for the families and children at our school," said Ken Moore, chair of the board of directors at Bullis. "It's also an important message throughout the state that public school students that choose to attend a charter school program do not give up their rights to be treated equally to their peers who attend district-run programs."
Jeff Baier, superintendent of the Los Altos School District, said he was "disappointed" with the high court's decision, as well as with the ultimate ruling of the court of appeals.
"We thought it warranted (the state Supreme Court's) attention, because the appeal court hearing has implications for school districts throughout the state," Baier said.
He said that the district sought to have the official opinion of the appeals court "unpublished," because of concerns over some of the methodologies the court outlined for determining how to calculate equitable apportionment.
"I hope it's not a precedent," said Diane Ravitch, an author of numerous books on education in America. Ravitch, once in favor of the charter school movement, has changed her mind on the matter. "The original purpose of the charter school was to help the neediest kids in a community. This is not the profile of Bullis. What you have is a group of wealthy parents who have created a private school with public school money."
If the state Supreme Court's decision in this case were to set a precedent, Ravitch said, it would be a "dangerous" one.
"Increasingly the charter sector has become entrepreneurial and aggressive," she said. "It is part of a privatization movement. This is very bad for our society."
"This notion that the money somehow belongs to the school district is a very warped perspective," said Eric Premack, executive director of the Charter Schools Development Center, which supports charter schools around the country, and especially in California.
People become upset when they believe that charter schools are "stealing" money from public school districts, Premack said.
"It's not the school district's money," he said. "It's the public's money."
In his view, that money should be able to follow the students.
Bullis is open to any student in the state, said Moore. Bullis is prohibited by law from charging tuition or creating selective criteria that might favor one group of students over another, it must participate in standardized state testing just like any other public school, and, unlike public schools, charters face a review process every five years where they can be denied renewal.
"There is no perfect school and there is no perfect school system," Moore said. In addition to the charter school's review process, "If you don't provide something the public wants you will go out of business. That is unlike a school district, which runs in perpetuity."
Charter schools, in Moore's opinion, are meant to provide an alternative to the generations-old public school system — challenging the status quo in order to encourage change for the better.
The high court's decision was the last in a series of judicial rulings stretching back to November 2009, when the Santa Clara County Superior Court initially rejected Bullis' claim that the LASD had violated a state law, which mandates that school districts share land, facilities and other resources with charter schools established within their boundaries. Bullis believed that the district had incorrectly calculated the correct proportion of resources that it was required to provide — in money, facilities and space — to the charter school.
Bullis appealed, and in October 2011 the California Court of Appeal for the Sixth District reversed the decision of a Santa Clara County trial court. The appeals court found that the school district had failed to tally more than 1 million square feet of space that should have been counted when calculating the "reasonably equivalent" share of public school facilities it is required to provide Bullis under the provisions outlined in Proposition 39.
Even though the appeals court's decision was unanimous and written forcefully in favor of Bullis, LASD fought back, asking the state's Supreme Court to review the case, which it declined to do.
While Baier remained upset with the ultimate outcome, he said he has accepted the court's decision as final.
"With this dispute coming to a close," he said in a district press release, "we look forward to continuing our commitment to providing the opportunity for an outstanding education for all the students residing within the LASD boundaries."