District, charter school votes to OK agreement

Monday vote on $150 million bond measure to find new campus, facilities in Los Altos district

After a marathon mediation meeting that ended at 4 a.m., both the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School boards voted unanimously at a July 28 special meeting to approve the five-year agreement between the school district and the charter school -- ending years of litigation during which millions of dollars were spent on legal fees.

Los Altos School District board members said they were able to hammer out the final details of the agreement in the early morning hours prior to the meeting. Board president Tamara Logan said there were some tweaks to the language of the agreement, including a change to some enrollment numbers, but nothing major.

Logan said the Bullis Charter School board voted 7-0 to approve the agreement at around 11:32 p.m. Monday night after a lengthy closed session meeting.

"I'm relieved and excited," said district board member Doug Smith. "I think the agreement gives us a great tailwind going into discussions about the bond."

During public comments prior to the decision, LASD parent Sangeeth Peruri said he was grateful that the board spent so much time and effort to get the agreement done in time for the meeting.

"I want to thank the board for all their hard work," Peruri said. "I'm hopeful that both boards will approve the agreement."

Bullis Charter School board member Francis La Poll, who was involved in the mediation meetings leading up to Monday's board meeting, said the approval of the five-year agreement has been a great success.

"This is groundbreaking for the community, and (the agreement) is in the best interest for all parties," La Poll said.

The five-year agreement, announced on July 2, will end all litigation between the district and the charter school, end disputes over enrollment numbers and open up new space at Blach for the charter school. The agreement will also replace the piecemeal facility-use agreements that invariably caused strife between the two parties every year.

Both the charter school and the district have spent millions in legal fees over the decade-long disputes over school facilities.

Less than a week from bond measure approval

The district's focus is now squarely on passing a bond measure in the November election that would help the district fund additional school facilities -- including a new school campus. District board members cite growing enrollment as driving the need for a new school, particularly in the region north of El Camino.

The district is on a tight deadline for drafting the bond measure, which must be completed and voted on at the regular Aug. 4 board meeting.

At the special meeting, Smith said that trying to find a specific site for the new school prior to the Aug. 4 meeting felt "rushed," and the district would be better off if it collected more information and delayed any decision on a location until after the bond measure passes. Gardner Bullis parent Vladimir Ivanovic told the board he also feels the whole process needs to slow down.

So to keep options open, the school district may leave some of the bond measure language vague, so that big decisions -- like the location of a new school -- can be made at a later date.

There are also legal perks to having broad, non-specific language in the bond measure. Janet Mueller, a representative from an education law firm, told the board that while bond measure language needs to be specific enough to be palatable for voters, overly specific language has come back to haunt some districts. In a 2013 case, taxpayers sued the San Diego Unified School District for not following its own strict bond language carefully enough.

Still, some people at the board meeting expressed concerns that the language was not specific enough. Following Mueller's presentation, two people said they wanted a more comprehensive list of facility improvements, with an estimated price tag on each item.

Ivanovic also said he felt that $150 million is not enough, and that the district would need more money to open a new school site and add facilities to existing schools.

But raising more than $150 million doesn't look like much of an option. The bond is a Proposition 39 school facilities bond, which means the maximum tax rate the district can levy is $30 per $100,000 of assessed value per parcel. To go any higher, the mearsure would need two-thirds voter approval rather than 55 percent of the vote, which Smith said was not likely.

Logan said she, along with board member Steve Taglio, met with three Bullis Charter School board members prior to the July 30 meeting for input on the bond measure. Other than a few changes, Logan said the Bullis representatives were okay with the language.

Los Altos offers parks, community responds

Dozens of community members showed up to the board meeting sporting green buttons and stickers that said SLAP -- an acronym for Save Los Altos Parks -- and spoke out against the possibility that Rosita Park or McKenzie Park would be sacrificed for a school site.

The district received two separate petitions with signatures not to build a school at either park.

Peruri told the board he did not want the community to lose a park for a school, and that forcing people to choose between the two will hurt the chances that the bond measure will pass in November. He also said the locations of the two parks wouldn't make sense based on the enrollment of neighboring schools

The city of Los Altos offered up the two parks to the Los Altos School District as possible sites for a new school about a month ago. According to Smith, the parks were the only places the city was willing to consider at the time.

Joe Seither, board member of the Huttlinger Alliance for Education, said some members of the public may have mistaken the intent of the board. He said people seem to think district board members zeroed in on Rosita and McKenzie parks as locations for the new school, when it was the city of Los Altos that limited the discussion to just those two sites.

School site options in Mountain View

Logan said that with district enrollment growing fastest in the area north of El Camino Real, a school site in the San Antonio area of Mountain View would make the most sense. Since last year, Logan and fellow board members Doug Smith and Mark Goines have approached Mountain View city officials to try to work out a deal that could allow for a school site in the area -- and so far it's been fruitless, they said.

The problem is that Mountain View doesn't have a lot of options for a school in the San Antonio area, according to Mountain View Mayor Chris Clark. Clark said normally the city would have the option to use public land, like a city park, to dedicate to a new school. That's not the case with the San Antonio area.

"There's this expectation that the city has public land ready to dedicate to a public school," Clark said.

He also said the city cannot zone for a school in the San Antonio area because that would be considered down-zoning, which decreases the allowable density and development in an area. He said the city would run into legal trouble if it tried to down-zone for a school.

"If it isn't outright illegal, we'd be sued into oblivion," Clark said.

The only other option would be for the school district to acquire private land in the area, which Clark said would be prohibitively expensive based on the school district's current school model -- like low enrollment numbers per school site and one-story buildings.

He said if the district wants land in the San Antonio area, it might need to reconsider what the school would look like.

Clark said it's up to the school district to identify where it wants a school in Mountain View and if private property owners would be interested. Once that happens, he said, the city would be happy to work with them.

"Right now the ball is in their court to identify a site," Clark said.

District board member Goines said he's attended a Mountain View's Youth Services Committee meeting to reach out to the city of Mountain View, and said the response is always the same: Find private land the school district is willing to purchase and then come back.

Goines said the Youth Services Committee is not an appropriate place to discuss a possible school site, and that the city of Mountain View needs to set up an ad hoc committee to work with the school district and find a suitable location.

Lenny Siegel, leader of the Campaign for a Balanced Mountain View, said both the city and the school district need to come together with a common goal to open a school north of El Camino Real. He said there may be other options beyond what Clark and the school district trustees have considered, and both bodies need to collaborate and open a school in the San Antonio area if they want to create a family-friendly, sustainable community.

"I don't see how someone could complete the San Antonio Precise Plan without putting a school there," Siegel said. "Otherwise it's a bad plan."


Like this comment
Posted by Lee
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jul 31, 2014 at 11:39 am

Lee is a registered user.

So happy that both boards could come to agreement. Congratulations. A real win for our community.

I was very pleased to see that several of the BCS Board members retired when their terms completed. I hope that Mr. Goines, Mr. Smith and Ms. Logan will do the same and not run for re-election next fall. It would be best to move forward without their egos in the way.

What this community really needs is a new school in the north end. Not gogas for each and every campus. We also need to find a permanent site to house the charter. Both of those can be accomplished - as well as a few gogas if the board is willing to make some tough decisions. Mr. Goines, Ms. Logan and Mr. Smith haven't done that. It's time for a new group.

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Posted by Lee
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jul 31, 2014 at 11:45 am

Lee is a registered user.

Correction - the election is this fall. They already voted themselves an extra year - 5 years is long enough. The filing deadline is August 4th. So I guess we will soon know. I hope Ms. Logan will change her mind.

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Posted by Move Along
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 31, 2014 at 12:43 pm

I would like to thank the Los Altos School Board for working so hard and spending millions of dollars in tax payer trying to get rid of Bullis Charter School. You might be kind of sad right now, thinking your efforts were all for not, but do not despair. You have in fact accomplished something, although maybe it wasn't what you had in mind.

Due to your efforts in trying to get rid of BCS by making the facilities as unpleasant and minimal as possible you really have accomplished something. Charter School Students throughout the state will now have access to the facilities that they are legally entitled to. LASD v BCS is a landmark case. So thanks LASD BOTS.

Like this comment
Posted by Moving along...
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Oh yeah, great precedent for Charter schools @Move Along. All that ruling did, was clarify that calculations of "reasonable equivalency" must also include useless space. Major victory that one. I was pleasantly surprised that BCS agreed to drop the litigation. Maybe some new blood on their Board is having an effect. I was convinced that the old guard was committed to spending whatever they had to to try to establish much stronger precedent than equal sharing of shrubbery...

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Posted by Move Along
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:22 pm

@moving along aka JJS

Let's see what can post under now that you have retired? Moving Along is kind of confusing.

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Posted by Moving along is not JJS
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Nice try though buddy. There are more than a few people remaining to call BS on the bogus claims people like you continue to make. Time to give it up. The war is over. Try taking your own advice and just "Move On"...

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Posted by Lee
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:30 pm

Lee is a registered user.

Hmmm not sure that we still need all of this arguing back and forth. Can we all agree that it would be a nice change to have both boards with new members? Please encourage the current LASD BOT's not to run for re-election. I think that there are some great potential candidates that are interested in running but don't want to step on the current boards toes. It would be nice if we could get some new people on the board.

By the way it looks like at least one candidate is busy this summer. I just finished reading this article here in the Voice Hats off to Martha.

Web Link

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Posted by Los Altos Parent
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:36 pm

@Lee - I agree, but where would such a school go? No property owner in the San Antonio area has expressed any interest, and the ones who have been asked directly have threatened litigation. Even those willing to sell can get a higher price from private developers. The owners of residential real estate in Los Altos Hills and the Los Altos City Council are similarly hostile. Do you see an option I don't?

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:38 pm

It's easy to find a place for another school - its on LASD property.

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:43 pm

redraw the boundary lines. This line instead of creating a new school for kids in Los altos - exactly where you didn't need one try using existing property at the North End and put one there. Whoops you just placed BCS there for the next five years. Still I think you could get around that.

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Posted by Dan
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jul 31, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Corrections, corrections.

What I should have made is clear is redraw the attendance lines. MV kids living in the LASD are being used to populate Covington. That's got to stop. You don't really a neighborhood school at Covington. How many schools are right around 3? All those Covington kids could walk to Almond, Springer or Loyola without a problem. I suppose they could make their way to Gardner as well. Time for Los Altos to move around a bit.

Build a school at Egan for NEC. Be done with it.

BTW BCS is perfect for Covington- right in the middle, that will help balance things out nicely.

Like this comment
Posted by let's be fair
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Glad to hear both sides work it out. Not sure why we really need a BCS though. Do the rich people of Los Altos really need an elite school who carefully selects only the wealthiest people to create a quasi-private school using public funds? Whatever....

As for Mountain View, why approve all this new housing if you can't supply the schools? It's hard to believe the mayor would say that they won't do anything for schools for the additional kids. They get the revenue from all this new housing and stick the school problem on Los Altos? I'm not in favor of crowding the existing schools to accommodate them. We pay a lot of property taxes and we should get what we pay for. Build a school in Mountain View for all the students north of El Camino. Then they don't have to cross that busy street. That should have been in the plans when all the new housing was approved.

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Posted by Lee
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Jul 31, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Lee is a registered user.

Actually I don't think lLet's be fair is being very productive. I think parents in Los Altos, Mountain View and Los Altos Hills should have a choice on where to educate their children. Indeed it is more likely that parents that can't afford private school are the ones that are sending their kids to our local public schools, both charter and traditional. I think it is great that BCS has been able to offer such an interesting program in a public school. LASD seems to be upping their efforts to create a more interesting offering lately and it is welcome change.

It is time to stop the name calling. I am glad that we have excellent public and private schools in our area. The more choices there are the better it is for everyone. If people are not interested in those programs they won't go there. No reason to disparage them.

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Posted by let's be fair
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2014 at 5:27 pm

I agree that BCS is offering great programs. That's can't be disputed. My concern is if that's the best way for Los Altos to spend their limited funds. Should we have one unified school district or have several public schools and one quasi-private school with all these great programs? My kids are now beyond the 8th grade but this issue still affects the schools and ultimately, my property value. Values have gone up but did not keep up with Palo Alto which doesn't have the LASD/BCS issue. They spend all their school dollars on schools.

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Posted by BCS Parent
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2014 at 6:32 pm

Are you trying to make the point that the more taxes dollars a school receives the more worthy it is? Good luck with that one! Let's ask the taxpayers:

Taxpayers of LASD you pay about $12000 dollars a year to educate a student in an LASD school and $6000 to educate a student at BCS. The students at BCS have a great program including a longer school day. BCS is the top scoring school in the district and offers extensive STEM, arts and foreign language programs. Which program should we continue with?

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Posted by Quasi Public Unions
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 1, 2014 at 9:04 am

Public Schools are run for the benefit of the teacher unions. This war was lost long ago. Anyone who thinks public schools are run for the benefit of students is naively following teacher union propaganda. All teacher unions want is more money and less work. When is the last time you heard a union teacher say "I think the school has enough money".? I'll tell you when, NEVER!

And yet BCS, and btw all catholic schools too, offer a better education at 50 to 75% less that LASD.

A school voucher system is the only route forward that would force accountability on these slacker teachers.

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Posted by Quasi falsehoods
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 1, 2014 at 9:37 am

@Quasi Public Unions is naively following right wing, corporate education reform propaganda (and I'm a registered Republican). First, BCS is not cheaper than LASD. When comparing cost to educate a "typical" student (i.e. not special needs, or ELL, or low-SES, BCS is actually substantially MORE expensive than LASD. They are heavily subsidized by outside money which is not a scalable alternative to public schools. They also haven't magically figured out how to offer enhanced curriculum, lower class size, and longer days at lower cost. Anyone who believes they have was absent the day they taught basic economics at school.

Secondly, while I absolutely oppose unions in general, and believe many of the unionized teacher horror stories to be true, that hasn't been my family's experience in LASD at all. In fact it was just the opposite. Based on 18 child/years of direct personal experience with LASD I only saw a couple examples of "slacker" teachers. The vast majority were dedicated, professionals who often went above and beyond to serve the students in LASD.

Why don't you drop the hateful, mindless dogma and actually try to understand the real root cause of problem schools vs simply spewing canned, anti-union talking points?

Like this comment
Posted by Where the money goes
a resident of Gemello
on Aug 1, 2014 at 10:59 am

BCS spends money on educating it's current students. LASD spends money on retirees.

Much of the tax payer funds that LASD is spending goes to retirement and employee benefits, like promotion before an early retirement. The unions and school administrators work hand in hand with their buddies on the school board to make it happen. Think that our local boards are the exception? They aren't. Recently Los Altos School District hired a principal out of retirement for Almond School. She was a big spender and got the PTA to spend big bucks, actually more than half of the PTA budget on play that she had a leading role in.* After a year or two the LASD Board rewarded her for her short term of service and promoted her to Assistant Superintendent. She did that job for a year then she retired.

Now LASD is going to shell out extra retirement pay for this employee for the rest of her life, because retirement pay is based on at the last 2 or 3 years of service. Getting a promotion in the last year of work means getting a huge lifetime benefit. In this case it will be around $30,000 extra/ year. Think that is insignificant? It's enough to buy a laptop computer cart with enough computers for an entire classroom.

*weird huh? Shouldn't the roles go to kids? There are some great local theater groups that she could have participated in. Anyway Almond is currently picturing themselves as a theater school. They want to use your tax dollars and build a theater at Almond. Apparently their new MPR built in the last bond go around wasn't enough. We are still paying for that one. Meanwhile, they want to turn the current MPR into a 1990's style media center ( Gardner is getting one so they should too) with computers and books not sure why they want to do this, seems a bit antiquated to me. Maybe Almond should look to BCS for inspiration.

The LASD BOTs refused to provide BCS with an MPR, so BCS raised funds and built it's own MPR. Sure its made out of portable buildings, but it works, and it is used all day long for drama classes. In fact this year BCS was one of only 14 schools in the entire state of California to be named a Distinguished School for the Arts. They did that with out a fancy theater.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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