Representatives from the California Charter School Association (CCSA) are urging Mountain View Whisman School District officials to stop making what they allege are misleading statements "targeting or bullying" families interested in enrolling in a new Mountain View charter school.
Bullis Mountain View recently submitted a petition seeking to open a charter school within Mountain View Whisman's boundaries, and is actively fielding inquiries from families interested in enrolling. Janine Ramirez, speaking on behalf of CCSA, told trustees at the Nov. 1 school board meeting that they've gotten questions and concerns from parents worried that they could "lose" their child's spot in their local neighborhood school if they show interest in switching to the charter school -- something she claims is illegal.
"I don't know if that's a targeted attempt to dissuade families from signing the petition or if it's just an attempt to instill fear, but I think we need to put our families and our students first," Ramirez said. "As trustees elected by the community, I think you have an obligation to support the families and to make sure that we are in compliance with the law."
Among the list of demands, Ramirez asked the board to put together a "neutral fact sheet" for parents that purposefully avoids "scare tactics," along with hiring a different legal firm to handle charter school-related matters -- arguing the current firm has a reputation for having an anti-charter bias. She urged the district to review the comments made at recent district-sponsored meetings about what happens if parents signal intent to enroll children in the charter school.
The concerns revolve around the district's attempts to plan ahead, in terms of staffing and classrooms, for the 2019-20 school year. A whole lot was already up in the air, with the new Jose Antonio Vargas school opening and redrawn boundaries taking effect. Now district officials are contending with an exodus of about 168 children out of district-run schools and into Bullis Mountain View. Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said the district has a responsibility to house charter school students that reside within the district, leaving the district with two options: either double count the student or adjust down the classroom space at the neighborhood schools.
"Just as we do with choice schools, if a parent registers with Bullis we cannot hold space in their zoned neighborhood school," Rudolph said at the meeting. "If you choose this 'choice' program, you are going to forego your neighborhood school placement."
Despite the concerns raised by Ramirez, board member Tamara Wilson said this didn't appear to be a policy change for the school district. She said she recalls going to a Stevenson PACT information night for her incoming kindergarten student and being told she could lose her spot at Huff Elementary School.
"This isn't something new, this isn't like a threat tactic," she said. "But it did inform what I ended up deciding for my own child, and it was clearly stated."
The charter petition is asking to establish a 168-student school in the 2019-20 school year, and so far the district has received a notice of intent to enroll in Bullis from 144 families totaling 171 students. Rudolph said the district started plotting where each of those kids live last week in order to gauge where enrollment will drop, intending to pare back facilities and staff commensurate with the enrollment drop. Rudolph told the Voice after the meeting that, while imprecise and not reflective of who will actually attend the charter school, it's the best the district can do.
"Until Bullis provides their enrollment timeline, we are left in a lurch for planning for our enrollment processes," he said in an email. "Once they communicate that, we can be more specific about how our charter transfer process would work."
Rudolph said he wants to make clear to parents that placement in schools has always been subject to enrollment projections, and that enrolling in a non-district school means they "probably will not be able to re-enter their MVWSD choice or impacted neighborhood school in the same school year."
In past years, the district has taken costly measures to make sure students living within the boundaries of packed schools -- particularly Bubb and Huff elementary schools -- are able to attend regardless of how cramped it is, including by adding portable classrooms. But that was considered a short-term measure until students could be shifted under the new attendance boundaries. The $300,000 cost to maintain the portables will start eating into the district's general fund if they are kept in commission after the 2019-20 school year.
Decisions to keep the portables and retain teachers can't be made on the fly, Rudolph said, which is why the district has been put in a bind by Bullis Mountain View's opening date amid the impending shuffle of students.
"If we would've known this two years ago, then we probably would've developed a different plan of action," he said.