If you bring up Bullis Charter School in Mountain View or Los Altos, you're likely to hear a range of reactions.
The charter school is looking to expand beyond its split campus at Blach and Egan junior high schools. Bullis officials recently submitted a facilities request under California's Proposition 39 to Los Altos School District that revealed plans to grow from its current enrollment of 915 students to 1,105 in the 2019-20 school year. And while LASD officials have said they won't contest Bullis' projected growth, it's clear that the relationship between the district and Bullis has grown more contentious.
Which brings us to Bullis Mountain View. In October the charter school submitted an application to open a new school in the Mountain View Whisman School District next fall. BMV leaders aim to attract low-income students and students learning English, with a goal of having a student body where 35 to 40 percent of children qualify for free and reduced-price meals.
The Mountain View Whisman school board is expected to approve or deny Bullis' petition at a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 20. It became clear at a school board meeting last week, however that any decision it makes will be controversial. A majority of comments from parents, students and community members at the Dec. 6 meeting called for the board to either reject the request altogether or delay opening the school for a year, while a group representing Bullis' Los Altos campus showed up to speak in favor of the proposal.
While Bullis Charter School has the ability to charge ahead and expand into Mountain View under state law that favors charter schools, we believe BMV staffers should hold off on their petition and take more time to work with Mountain View Whisman officials and families.
A number of concerns have been raised about Bullis' petition to open in Mountain View. In an open letter signed by PTA leadership members from every school in the district, parents said the proposal would "devastate Mountain View's public schools." Opponents have argued that Bullis Mountain View would pull children away from existing schools, driving down enrollment and paving the way for the elimination of teaching positions or even a school closure. The district, which is already preparing for budget cuts, has indicated that the opening of a charter school could trigger a $1.7 million drop in the annual budget.
Parents have also expressed skepticism about how Bullis Mountain View would attract and retain low-income and minority students. These families may not have the ability to send their children to school across town, parents argued in the letter to Bullis, and the school doesn't have much of a history educating underserved youth -- the Los Altos campus serves mostly affluent families. Parents said in the letter that they believe Bullis Mountain View would "siphon off more affluent and likely higher-performing students" from district schools, creating more segregation and reducing volunteer hours and financial donations at schools that are already strapped for resources.
Moreover, questions have been raised about Bullis Mountain View's outreach efforts with Latino families. At the Mountain View Whisman meeting Dec. 6, parent Tania O'Connell said that Bullis "only approached our community in the last few months, and only to present their program and ask for signatures of support, not to analyze our needs."
Mountain View Whisman is also already in the midst of a major upheaval, with the new Jose Antonio Vargas Elementary set to open next fall and new attendance boundaries being rolled out.
Adding to all the angst about the potential impacts of a charter school is the fast-tracked timeline for this proposal. The school district is required to move quickly, with state law mandating that the school board hold a public hearing within 30 days of receiving the petition (which it did Dec. 6). After that, the board has 30 days to decide whether to approve the charter application.
A lawyer for Mountain View Whisman informed board members that they have little recourse to deny the charter school's petition and if they do, the decision could be appealed to the Santa Clara County Board of Education and then to the state Board of Education. If either of those boards approve Bullis Mountain View, the school district wouldn't have any oversight. If the school board does approve the petition, the district would be able to monitor Bullis Mountain View's finances and ability to meet its stated goals.
With the law on Bullis' side and the ability to have oversight over the charter school in mind, we believe that if the district board does have to decide on the petition now, it should approve it.
But it shouldn't have to make that decision now. Residents -- and school districts, for that matter -- are accustomed to a yearslong process when a new school is proposed, one that involves many discussions, reports and opportunities for public input. It's only been a few months since Bullis' proposal arrived, and officials are looking to open a Mountain View charter school in less than a year.
Bullis Charter School in Los Altos is one of the highest-performing schools in the state. It could have a positive impact in Mountain View, where some families are seeking an alternative to existing schools. But if they want to start off on the right foot and avoid a contentious relationship with Mountain View Whisman School District officials and residents -- like the one they have with LASD officials -- Bullis representatives should withdraw their petition for now and take the time to do this in a more thoughtful manner.