Bullis Charter School officials announced that they are seeking to boost student enrollment by over 20 percent in the coming school year, and formally requested last week that Los Altos School District find space to house more than 1,000 students by April next year.
Despite the monthslong process ahead, Los Altos School District shot back Friday, releasing a statement warning that the charter school is seeking to close down Egan Junior High and expand onto the rest of the school's campus -- something charter school representatives flatly deny.
The K-8 Bullis is currently housed in portable buildings on the Egan and Blach junior high school campuses.
The latest back-and-forth was prompted by a state-mandated process for charter schools to request facilities under Proposition 39, which states that school districts must provide "reasonably equivalent" facilities to children within the district who choose to go to a charter school. The request states that Bullis Charter School will increase enrollment from 915 students this year to 1,105 in the 2019-20 school year, 1,058 of whom live within the district's boundaries. The "in-district" enrollment would increase by 220 students, or about 26 percent, according to the request.
An online petition urging Los Altos School District not to close down Egan, started on Friday, has already picked up more than 1,700 supporters as of Monday afternoon.
The request states that Bullis' "preference" is to be located on the Egan site, with "exclusive use" of the site's approximately 20 acres. A large portion of the charter school is already housed on the eastern end of the campus, with the Egan Junior High School campus on the western side, and the request asserts that the large campus would be an ideal location for Bullis to expand without disrupting those students. Egan is one of the district's largest sites, and Bullis, at 1,105 students, would be the largest school, according to the request.
It would also, however, displace hundreds of junior high school-age students in the district to a yet-to-be-determined new location, which the facilities request acknowledges but downplays.
"Since BCS has far more students on the Egan campus returning next year, moving Egan would disrupt the education of far less public school students," the request states. "BCS regrets any disruption for even a single child for a single year, but notes that the District has had many years, including the most recent five years pursuant to the settlement agreement, to effectively plan for a more permanent single site solution."
In the statement released by the school district Friday, district officials said Bullis' request to "close" Egan would cause significant problems, and that it makes no effort to state "where LASD should place the nearly 600 junior high school students who would be evicted imminently from the Egan campus or denied the ability to enroll in junior high there."
The statement calls the request a "step back" from the collaborative spirit between the charter school and the district, particularly the five-year facilities agreement inked between the two parties in 2014. The agreement expires in June, and progress on a subsequent multi-year agreement that avoids annual Proposition 39 requests screeched to a halt earlier this year. To grant the charter school its request for all of Egan would amount to "preferential treatment" for Bullis over district students, according to the district's statement.
Bullis Charter School board chair Joe Hurd told the Voice that parents shouldn't interpret the language of the request to mean the charter school wants to close down Egan, let alone take over the campus. He said Bullis is requested by state statute to name a specific school site as part of its facilities request, as it had to do with all 10 of its Proposition 39 requests since 2004.
"The Prop. 39 request submitted on Nov. 1 is the first stage of a multi-part, monthslong process," he said "It is a process that is set up by statute to give both sides a chance to make the proposal, receive a counter proposal, meet, confer and agree on a final solution. This is the first step in the process."
Hurd said the latest comments by the school district are inflammatory and inaccurate, and shows an unwillingness to collaborate with Bullis on a permanent solution to more than a decade of debates over facilities.
"BCS did not call for the closure of any high-performing LASD school. The fact that LASD wants to paint this as BCS calling for the closure of Egan is a blatant attempt to sow fear, uncertainty and doubt in the LASD community."
School board member Sangeeth Peruri rejects that argument, telling the Voice that the state's education code gives charter schools plenty of room to avoid calling for an outright takeover of the Egan campus. The code states that the petition must include "information regarding the district school site and/or general geographic area in which the charter school wishes to locate."
Peruri said the hope was to avoid the Proposition 39 process, which he said is not beneficial for anyone involved, and that he favored something akin to the five-year facilities agreement that expires on June 30.
"We were extremely startled to see Bullis request all of Egan," he said.
Since word got out, Peruri said he's been fielding emails and text messages, and not just from families with kids at Egan. Families across the district, high school students and older residents without kids in the district -- all of them seem to have a special place in their heart for the school, Peruri said. Even Bullis families are left wondering who this request really benefits.
"I'm getting a lot of BCS families coming to me saying 'Why is BCS doing this? I don't support it,'" he said.
Former board member Tamara Logan said the community went through a similar divisive process during past Proposition 39 requests for facilities, which had asked for other school sites like Covington Elementary School. The stakes seem a little higher this time around, she said, considering Egan is one of only two junior high schools serving the district, and the charter school was by no means required to ask for all 20 acres of the school.
"I think that they have chosen to go down a divisive path," Logan said.
For years, the charter school's leadership has made it clear it wants a consolidated campus in a centralized location in the school district, as well as the ability to grow to 1,200 students over the next three to five years. For Los Altos School District administrators and board members alike, this has represented a huge logistical challenge, particularly with the competing interests of neighborhood school communities who do not want to be uprooted.
Members of a district task force debated, and ultimately rejected, the idea of relocating Egan Junior High to a new potential school site in the San Antonio region of Mountain View, which could have cleared the way for Bullis to expand into the Egan campus. Most of the task force's members opposed the idea, and a majority of trustees rejected the idea at the Sept. 10 board meeting.
Although the school district is negotiating to buy nearly 10 acres of land at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive in Mountain View for a future school, Bullis families and charter school leadership have largely rejected the idea of being placed at the future school site. Among the top concerns are traffic and an unwillingness to put 900 students onto a relatively small site.
State law requires that the Los Altos School District respond to the request by Dec. 1 and put together a written proposal for how to accommodate the charter school's 1,058 district students by Feb. 1.