Decision looms over new LASD school

Task force weighs what to do with a future San Antonio campus

Los Altos School District officials are inching toward a conclusion on whether a new campus planned for the San Antonio Shopping Center area in Mountain View will be a neighborhood elementary school or the new home of Bullis Charter School.

Earlier this month, the district's 10th Site Advisory Task Force held the first of multiple marathon meetings to decide what to recommend be done with 8.6 acres of land just north of the shopping center. School board members agreed last year to pursue purchasing the site -- acquiring it by means of eminent domain if necessary -- calling it the best shot at dealing with future enrollment growth in the northernmost part of the district.

Although task force members concede they aren't close to forming their recommendations to the school board quite yet, some of the members say the district's data and analysis favors moving the charter school to Mountain View as the least-disruptive option. Among other things, relocating Bullis would not require drawing new school boundaries, would be the quickest to implement and would preserve the income diversity that Mountain View students bring to several Los Altos School District schools.

"My sense is that the consensus is moving towards the charter school going there," said Mountain View Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga, one of nine task force members.

Data presented at the meetings shows that a big portion of Los Altos School District student body's diversity, particularly lower-income families and English learners, comes from the San Antonio region of Mountain View. Of the 161 elementary school students in the district whose family incomes qualify them for free- and reduced-price lunch, 134 are from the San Antonio area. The remaining 27 come from the rest of the sprawling district's boundaries.

Creating a school for neighborhood students north of El Camino would put most of the lower-income students and English-learners in the district on one campus, rather than spread out between Santa Rita, Almond and Covington elementary schools.

District staff presented the demographic information in tandem with a 2016 report on school diversity that concluded students, on average, perform better in "socioeconomically and racially diverse schools" and that students from all backgrounds tend to do better on tests when school districts don't have concentrated pockets of poverty.

"Providing more students with integrated school environments is a cost-effective strategy for boosting student achievement and preparing students for work in a diverse global economy," according to the study.

Los Altos parent and task force member Joe Seither told the Voice that "educational equity" and pursuing a 10th site plan that benefits all the children in the district has been a top priority for task force members, and that the research on school diversity was "critical information" in that discussion.

"The demographic makeup of a campus of students can have a real material effect on the education environment," he said. "If you have some biases in the composition of your student body -- that can favor or undermine certain educational goals."

But the argument rang hollow to district resident David Roode, who said he questioned why diversity was being used as an argument against a neighborhood school in Mountain View. The number of low-income families in the area isn't particularly large in the first place -- he estimates that a neighborhood school might have close to 30 percent of lower-income students -- and is bound to change in a fast-evolving region of the city by the time a school finally opens.

"What's odd is planning four years in advance of opening a site to say that the population in that area doesn't need its own school," he said.

A permanent solution for Bullis?

District administrators dictated several built-in assumptions meant to guide the task force's discussion, including that the district would acquire land and put a new school there, and that the question was simply whether Bullis, a neighborhood school or some third, unnamed alternative would be best suited for the Mountain View location. Other assumptions include that the neighborhood school would serve kindergarten through sixth grade and support 600 students, while a Bullis campus would support up to 900 students.

Abe-Koga said that, based on the first two meetings, relocating Bullis seemed like the quickest to implement and would spare the community from redrawing school attendance boundaries. And while construction costs would be an estimated $15 million higher for Bullis than for a neighborhood school, a district-run school would cost close to $800,000 to operate each year.

She said representatives from The Crossings neighborhood, which is part of the Los Altos School District, also seemed interested in amenities like a track and field and a gym that a K-8 charter school would offer.

Crossings representative James Reilly declined to comment for this story, while Crossing representative Anthony Shortland did not respond to the Voice's requests for comment.

But the assumptions going into the task force don't make sense from the point of view of the charter school community, said Bullis parent and task force member Jill Jene. Charter school officials have made clear they are seeking to increase enrollment at the school by more than 30 percent in the coming years, bringing the total number of students well above the 900-student benchmark cited in the task force meetings. In other words, Bullis wouldn't even fit on the campus being proposed.

Bullis Charter School (BCS) is currently housed in portables located at both Blach Intermediate School and Egan Junior High School, and Jene worries that moving Bullis to the new site would only partially address the facilities needs of Bullis and leave the charter school split between multiple sites.

"A 10th site north of El Camino for BCS won't solve this facilities issue," she said. "It may be part of the solution for BCS, but it won't solve it."

Jene said she believes taxpayers don't want to spend the entirety of the district's $150 million Measure N bond just to support further fragmenting Bullis into three school sites, and that the district ought to reconsider buying land in Mountain View for a school.

"Taxpayers deserve to see a plan optimally using existing land to accommodate a 10th site," she said.

Earlier this year, the Mountain View City Council agreed to allow the Los Altos School District to "sell" the unused density allowed on the 8.6-acre property -- a process known as the transfer of development rights (TDRs) -- to developers throughout the city. The complex deal-making between the district and several Mountain View developers is expected to defray a large portion of the costs of buying the land, and would give the San Antonio neighborhood both a local school and open space.

Abe-Koga, at the time, said she felt strongly that the school should be a neighborhood school and not the new home for Bullis Charter School, and that the city should condition the financial support on the new campus being for Mountain View residents. She said her position hasn't changed much -- she still would prefer a neighborhood school -- but that she might be amenable to having Bullis in Mountain View if there was some kind of neighborhood preference.

"I come into this with an open mind, and also an understanding that we probably have to come to a compromise or a middle ground," Abe-Koga said. "So to me, if that were to happen -- if it were to be the charter school -- I would definitely want to require the neighborhood preference."

The next task force meeting is scheduled for May 30 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at 201 Covington Road in Los Altos. Information on the meetings can be found at

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33 people like this
Posted by LASD Taxpayer
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on May 24, 2018 at 4:14 pm

OK, why is not a solution to having a mixed economic school to have LOS ALTOS kids attend a new NEC campus? Easy enough to send some kids currently attending Santa Rita and/or Almond to a new school in NEC.

Perhaps because LASD believes only NEC students should travel? There is no trustee representing MV interests and it's shocking that the assumption is that students from NEC should always be the ones who are inconvenienced.

Why not the Los ALtos students? That's discrimination....

11 people like this
Posted by LASD Homeowner
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 4:49 pm

Proximity to local schools is factored into housing prices by the free market. Homeowners in Los Altos have paid a premium to be within walking distance of LASD neighborhood schools. Conversely, homeowners and renters in the NEC are getting an inherent discount because they are not within walking distance. The residents in NEC knew this when they bought or rented. They are getting LASD schools at Mtn View prices. Sorry if that sounds snobby but it is the truth. Ironically, building a new school in NEC is going to drive up rents in that area and many of the current renters will be priced out.

19 people like this
Posted by LASD parent
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 4:59 pm

Would BCS be willing to compromise and cap their enrollment at 900?

I'll be honest, I've been called pro-BCS by some friends even though my kids go to a LASD school, but the wish to increase the enrollment cap to 1,300 is turning me off. I understand the desire to satisfy the demand. However, I am afraid BCS is only going to alienate more LASD residents and make them dig in their heels, then we head to the courts and everyone loses except the lawyers.

If that NEC site does go to the charter school, perhaps it can be for K-6/K-5 students, then the older grades in BCS can continue at Blach or Egan (but not both), creating a more equivalent experience with the other LASD schools which do not follow the K-8 model. Giving NEC students enrollment priority would also be a nice gesture.

I've been watching this fight since my now-elementary-school-age kids were in preschool, and understand the dilemma for all parties involved, but we all have to give at some point. There is no perfect solution out there that will make everybody happy.

22 people like this
Posted by Track and Field
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 5:00 pm

The district staff leading these meetings is determining the outcome. So much bad data and so much important stuff not being factored in. Permanent home for the charter? Really? So forever denying the nearby residents a local school? That's really planning ahead! Of course, they admit they may not get that land, and they say they have other locations in mind as well. However, this doesn't increase the amount of land. It's more likely 6 acres than it is 8.6 acres.

The new school won't open for 4 more years. There surely won't be any track on this site! It's just too small. The district has put out draft plans for a generic K-8 school, and it requires 11 acres for their stripped down school. There's no room for any track.

22 people like this
Posted by @LASD parent
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 6:18 pm

Here's a better compromise, and there are more that I can think of.

Don't dump a bigger school on Mountain View than any other place. Build a new
school for the typical 500 students with a capacity of 600 like LASD has standardized on. It's already less land than other sites.

Then let the charter school be split across two sites, the new school and where they are now at Egan. Don't force any arbitrary cap on them. Why would you do that? This just affects the people who can't get in. And don't tell them how
to split grades across the sites. They are responsible for their own program.

The issue is why does LASD have so many disaffected families that flock to the charter? What's the problem at LASD schools? BCS can't force people to apply! Maybe one issue is the way LASD just talks non stop charter. It really is like not having one is all they care about. Give it a rest.

12 people like this
Posted by @LASD parent
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 6:24 pm

Besides the last idea being a compromise between BCS and LASD, it is also fairer to Mountain View. They wanted to get a park there. A 900 student school or a 1200 size one are both too much. Yeah, cap that SITE at 600 but provide BCS more room nearby. You know, years ago, Doug Smith, the famous LASD BCS-hater, came up with this idea to force BCS to split off to Blach. First they tried it with 3 classrooms, which was ridiculous, so they didn't even bother using them. But then LASD kept on adding classrooms there and that's how BCS was able to grow so much by having a convenient site for Oak and Loyola families, at Blach. Thanks to Doug Smith.

13 people like this
Posted by LASD Parent
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 6:41 pm

I cite 900 because that's where they're currently at. Just like I wouldn't like my school being told to shrink our size, it would not be fair to tell BCS to shrink theirs.

People flock to BCS because it's available and an alternative to pricey private schools. Some people like it for its Mandarin program and other offerings not available at the typical LASD school. Based on what I hear from my friends there though, it is no longer the small, tightly-knit community like it was just a few years ago. Is it really better? That's quite subjective and there's really no one answer.

Families leave LASD schools, private schools, as well as BCS. They just play musical chairs, that's all. It's all about choice.

10 people like this
Posted by @LASD Parent
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 9:29 pm

A compromise means both parties get something good but not quite as much as they want.

LASD is threatening BCS with this expensive new site because they don't care how much the district spends or who is hurt beyond BCS. The facilities are worse than what BCS has now for the current 840 in district students. The ways the new spot is worse are numerous. It's only the same amount of indoor space, when you consider there are no outdoor connections between classrooms and so that hallway space counts by LASD's twisted measurements. The site is bogged down in traffic at drop off times and at pick up times too, much worse than the current locations. But the biggest reduction comes to the outdoor space. This new site would be much smaller outdoors than what BCS has now.

So this "compromise" is telling BCS that they can have a reduced quality of facilities compared to what they have now if they agree to freeze enrollment and engender ill will by not keeping up with demand. The fact that the space is so much more expensive than the current facilities is not a plus for BCS at all. It's another way the district is trying to cause ill will toward BCS. Not much chance of it flying.

9 people like this
Posted by Welfare for the wealthy
a resident of Whisman Station
on May 24, 2018 at 9:55 pm

Public schools and publicly-funded charter schools are WELFARE FOR (mostly) THE WEALTHY. School should be free to poor families - not rich families.

16 people like this
Posted by Brullis
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2018 at 10:13 pm

If it wasn't for Bullis, the pressure to keep quality high at LASD schools wouldn't exist. As a BCS parent I doubt its significantly much better, but I think it secretly does LASD a service by making them work a bit harder by garnering the various awards, offering music, arts, Maker Lab, etc. Competition is good.

Getting a new campus might actually be a change and a pain for most BCS parents despite all the claims of wanting better facilities. I secretly hope it stays as is till my kids get out!

14 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 24, 2018 at 10:20 pm

Bill is a registered user.

I don’t care how much you paid for home. Your children will still need to attend public schools with other children who have a different skin color.

9 people like this
Posted by Savior complex
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 24, 2018 at 10:37 pm

@Brullis - I find your commentary fascinating. You're suggesting that BCS is saving LASD from mediocrity. How noble. What did LASD ever do before BCS existed? Oh yeah, it topped statewide achievement rankings for years. But by all means, if that's the narrative that makes you feel good, keep drinking that koolaid. LASD parents have expected, supported and LASD students have received top-shelf elem education for decades, and after BCS is gone they still will.

14 people like this
Posted by LASD Quality
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2018 at 1:14 am

What awards did LASD win? I'm curious. I doubt any parent is at Bullis with a feeling that it is no different and no better than LASD. Why bother? And considering that it will be maybe 5 more years before any new school is built on Greystar land,
it's not much to wish that things don't change for the currently enrolled students.
They'll be done by then for the most part. It's the same way for the current residents of the San Antonio area sending their kids so far away to school. Nothing's going to change before 4 or 5 years.

LASD is always griping about their bad facilities too. You know, they shouldn't worry about it so much. Bullis is the proof of that. Bullis has the worst of the worst of the LASD facilities and they do pretty good. All the LASD parents seem to do is to spend time worrying about traffic and buying sofas for their kids to sit on at recess. No room for outdoor sofas at the charter school. Who suffers from lack of a sofa at elementary school?

16 people like this
Posted by Cost of land?
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2018 at 8:24 am

Cost of land? is a registered user.

From what I understand, the owner of this property does not want to sell, I can only imagine how much 6 acres of land in Mountain View is worth!

24 people like this
Posted by BCS parents were duped
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2018 at 9:34 am

I cannot believe how BCS parents were duped into supporting Measure N. This new school is going to be a nightmare for them. The facility itself will probably be very nice but morning drop-offs and afternoon pick-ups will be miserable. That area is already on the verge of total gridlock and it is only going to get worse with all the new housing and Facebook moving in across the street.

23 people like this
Posted by 2 Parents
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on May 25, 2018 at 10:32 am

You can count on Los Altos to conjure up a politically correct reason, one that sounds socially conscious, while actually exploiting the Mountain View residents.

They are not aiming to be inclusive. Believe me, they are deceitful, and they have an expensive, well paid top law firm to help them. They use it often, to fight parent groups and parents. No, LASD is not particularly supportive of their students. Better your child is at the top of her/hisclass. Is Mountain View aware that LASD's slick public relations is actually...fake news? They will not save money, they won't get a fair shake for students living in the San Antonio area.

13 people like this
Posted by Discount Resident
a resident of The Crossings
on May 25, 2018 at 10:34 am

A discount? Seriously? A tiny little townhome with no yard is going for $1.3M in the north end these days. Where's the no school discount? Darn, I missed the coupon! We're all paying ridiculous prices on homes, and we're all paying the exact same parcel taxes and yet, no neighborhood school for the north end of the district even though the rest of the district is shrinking, and the north end is growing. Why? Because $1.3M isn't enough?

31 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2018 at 12:53 pm

The most interesting piece of information from this article is the statement from Margaret Abe-Koga that she wants to "require" a neighborhood preference for BCS. And if BCS refuses? Then what? LASD gets stuck with an expensive new neighborhood school that they never really wanted and all hell will break loose.

33 people like this
Posted by So disappointing
a resident of The Crossings
on May 25, 2018 at 10:30 pm

What I'm hearing from some BCS families is that they are open to 3 campuses - 1 new one built for them in NEC, 1 existing one at Egan and 1 existing one at Blach. In return for the fragmentation, they will seek to cap their attendance at 1650 (or 550 per campus). The NEC campus would allow them to test some new curriculum for the more diverse population that they will be serving as they are interested in proving their curriculum works as BCS has grander ambitions beyond Los Altos and Mtn View (other cities in both Santa Clara and San Mateo County).

In the short run, LASD can protect its neighborhood schools, offer a smaller teacher to student ratio and feel good about themselves. There will not be much available for LASD school upgrades but the LASD Trustees are maniacally focused on getting one over on BCS.

But the short sighted tactics will come back to bite LASD in the long run. LASD enrollment is stagnating and not growing. BCS has excess demand. My prediction is 10 years is that one of the LASD neighborhood schools will get turned over to BCS as a 4th campus in the area. As LASD populations dwindle, all it takes is one slight economic recession in the area to upset the apple cart. And then we'll be back talking about LASD school closings or transferring schools over to BCS and finally redistricting LASD kids b/c the populations can't support it.

This is the greatest travesty of the last decade and the fight btwn LASD and BCS.

26 people like this
Posted by Egan Parent
a resident of another community
on May 26, 2018 at 8:34 am

The scenario described above by So Disappointing would be an unmitigated disaster for LASD. With that many students at BCS, one could envision LASD teacher layoffs, BCS friendly candidates winning LASD board seats, neighborhood schools being closed and handed over to BCS. It looks like LASD is playing to win the battle and BCS is playing to win the war.

14 people like this
Posted by equityforallstudents
a resident of another community
on May 26, 2018 at 12:31 pm

equityforallstudents is a registered user.

Egan Parent, why would BCS's growth impact teacher layoffs at LASD schools? That doesn't make any sense. Most teachers in LASD are tenured. LASD schools benefit from district kids attending BCS since they retain some of the school taxes that are not shared with BCS. Financially, LASD district makes out better with district kids attending BCS. LASD can continue to enjoy smaller school populations especially if a whopping 1650 kids are at BCS. (That seems a little over the top but anyway.) Clearly LASD will fight tooth and nail to keep each little current neighborhood school open and functioning. As for BCS friendly candidates on the LASD Board. You must mean you are afraid of individuals who do not hate BCS joining the Board. Yes, what a travesty. Imagine a trustee who doesn't hate a school (children, really) winning a position on that LASD Board. That would be nice actually since there seems to be a lot of hate in the world these days and unfortunately exists right here in this community.

14 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on May 26, 2018 at 3:59 pm

Juan is a registered user.

This is a school being built in Mountain View, which means Mountain View will be paying the cost in terms of construction disruption, noise, dust and traffic every weekday morning and afternoon during the school year. It's not acceptable for Mountain View to pay the costs while Los Altos or Los Altos Hills residents get all the benefits. The City Council needs to insist that Mountain View residents get to attend the new school in Mountain View, otherwise construction should not be allowed.

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

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