Bullis loses round in legal fight
Battle between charter school and Los Altos district continues with new ruling
The Los Altos School District appears to be the victor in the latest round of court decisions in its ongoing legal battle with Bullis Charter School. But if the history of this years-long disagreement over facilities allocation is any indication, this is merely another chapter in the dispute.
Before the pro-district parent organization, the Huttlinger Alliance, had even sent out a press release touting the decision, the charter school's legal team had already set appeals in motion to challenge two separate rulings recently handed down by Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas.
The first of Lucas' orders, filed on Nov. 13, compels the charter school to turn over information on donations it collected that might have been used to fund its legal team over the past four years and also levies a sanction of about $51,000 against Bullis.
The second order, filed on Nov. 21, denies Bullis' attempt to force the district to provide Bullis with the facilities and equipment to which officials from the charter school say they are legally entitled.
"The ruling yesterday was a major win for LASD and a major win for the families whose children depend on LASD schools," said Noah Mesel, a representative for the Huttlinger Alliance — an organization that says it represents the interests of community members in the ongoing district-charter school dispute.
Raymond Cardozo, the district's lawyer, shared Mesel's sentiment. "I'm very pleased with both rulings," he said.
But according to Arturo Gonzalez, lawyer for Bullis, Mesel and Cardozo might not have long to celebrate, as he is certain that both rulings will be overturned by an appellate court.
"There is no question that the trial court has erred," Gonzalez said. Trial courts are "over worked and under-funded," he said. "They don't have the resources they used to have, and from time to time, judges make mistakes."
The way Gonzalez explains it, the district is simply trying to "intimidate Bullis Charter School and bully the parents" by asking for information on donations collected by the charter school to fund its legal costs.
"In our view that information is completely irrelevant and is being sought only for harassment and publicity purposes," Gonzalez said. "The sanction is completely unjustified."
The real issue, according to Gonzalez, is that the district has not complied with an appeals court ruling from November 2011, which instructed the district to provide BCS with "reasonably equivalent" facilities.
That's not how LASD lawyer Raymond Cardozo sees things. He said that the district complied with that ruling and that only after the fact did Bullis use the court in an attempt to get more than they were legally entitled to have.
"Basically, when we don't do what the charter school wants, they sue," he said. "The district is just trying to solve this problem and take care of all the kids that it has an obligation to educate."
And so it goes — the two sides remain deeply entrenched, unwilling to give ground in a battle that has been ongoing since Bullis first applied for its charter.
Lawyers from each camp were able to agree on one score: that the pride of adults seems to have taken precedence over the education of children — they just can't agree on which side is more interested in winning and which is working hard for a win-win.
"We actually had a settlement agreement in this case," Gonzalez said, referring to the mediated negotiations between the district and BCS that fell apart at the last minute back in June. Back then, each side blamed the other for the breakdown, and Gonzalez remains firm that Bullis was in the right. "It's pretty hard to argue that our client's pride is holding up the deal when our client agreed to the deal. We were willing to honor it, the district was not."
Mesel of the Huttlinger Alliance, on the other hand, maintains that it is the hubris of the Bullis board of directors that has led to this impasse.
"All along, BCS has been very aggressive in seeking facilities regardless of the impact that their demands would have on other students of the district," Mesel said. "There is a school of thought at BCS that they do it better than anybody else."
Mesel said this attitude has resulted in a belief that the school must continue to grow like a business. Treating Bullis like a business, expanding year after year, is inevitably going to lead to conflict, he reasoned, as there is limited space in the school district to sustain that growth.
"Growth for growth's sake is not what public education is about," he said.
Mesel said he thinks the community isn't likely to see an end to the BCS-LASD battle until city governments get involved to finally settle the fight for facilities once and for all. If representatives from Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills all got together with a handful of representatives from the district and the charter school, and had a mature conversation, they just might be able to come up with a solution that is suitable for everyone, he said.