Calling it the best option in a bad situation, Mountain View Whisman school board members voted 4-1 Thursday night to put Bullis Mountain View's new charter school at the old Stevenson Elementary School site.
Assuming the charter school accepts the offer in May, the new school would open this fall in a compact site shared with two other schools. While it's not an ideal arrangement and is sure to bring traffic headaches to the neighborhood, board members generally agreed that if the buildings were good enough for Stevenson up until last year, they're good enough for Bullis.
Bullis Charter School officials last year sought to expand the school's presence beyond its flagship campus in Los Altos last year, launching a new nonprofit called Bullis Mountain View with the goal of opening a school in the Mountain View Whisman district. The school district reluctantly approved the charter petition last month amid fears that the charter school would sap district resources and draw away the affluent families that support the school district.
In following a strict timeline mandated by state law, the Mountain View Whisman School District has until Feb. 1 to make a preliminary offer for where to put the charter school, which must include "reasonably equivalent" facilities financed by the district. In keeping with the fast-paced process, trustees considered five options that ranged from reasonable to outlandish.
One option was to put Bullis in portable classrooms currently used for excess enrollment at Bubb, Huff and Landels elementary schools, which are located on blacktop space and were slated to be removed in the fall. If Bullis Mountain View can't fit in the portables at one of the schools, it would be split between multiple campuses.
Another option -- which Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph admitted was untenable -- was to hastily redraw attendance boundaries with an eye towards earmarking classroom space for charter school students. This would essentially upend three years of planning for new school zones right in the middle of an open enrollment period, and Rudolph said he strongly recommends against what amounts to a 'surprise' change of plans.
"Our community, after three years, is still struggling to embrace the boundaries, and we've had a long lead-in to this," Rudolph said. "So to change it within six months' time -- I'm sure it would be an interesting situation for all of us."
The idea that won the day, which Rudolph backed and the board ultimately approved, was to plant Bullis at the old Stevenson site, which was recently vacated after the district's choice school was moved into new facilities next door. District officials were originally hoping to use the old campus to create a consolidated preschool program serving district students, but Rudolph said he believes the change of plans would be the easiest and least disruptive way to give Bullis what's red under state law.
"This is not an ideal situation, we're playing the cards that we're dealt," Rudolph said. "And it is my goal to the Stevenson community that I help mitigate this impact as much as possible and that we find a way to make this solution viable."
Stevenson parents at the meeting reluctantly agreed with the assessment, telling board members they understand the difficult position the district is in. Stevenson's foundation chair, Jenn Pierson, said the magnet school is used to sharing school sites -- having been neighbors to Theuerkauf Elementary for years, and Castro and Slater elementary schools before that -- but there are some lingering concerns about traffic, safety, sharing of facilities and scheduling that need to be addressed.
With Theuerkauf, Stevenson, the district office and Bullis Mountain View all on one site, the roughly 17 acre campus is likely to get crowded, causing serious logistical problems. And that doesn't include the potential for Bullis to grow, and how the charter school might alter enrollment at both Stevenson and Theuerkauf.
"We ask that you consider the short and long-term impact this placement could have on both Stevenson and our neighbors and friends at Theuerkauf," Pierson said. "We support the district in making these tough decisions, however both of our schools have much to lose with two non-neighborhood schools in such close proximity."
The plan means Bullis would be "required" to share a multipurpose room and potentially a library with one of the nearby schools, likely Stevenson, according to a district staff report. It will be up to district officials to figure out the hours and terms under which the charter would have access to shared facilities.
In past years, parents, teachers and school board members have been quick to lament that Stevenson's facilities were inadequate -- housed entirely in portables with a small multipurpose room and library that didn't measure up to other district schools -- but board members said they think the buildings are just fine.
"I disagree ... that it's sub-standard," said board member Ellen Wheeler. "I think it's pretty darn good, comparatively to other schools and school districts in the county and the state. We're offering a pretty nice site."
Board member Devon Conley agreed that the former Stevenson site is adequate, noting that she had previously taught in those same classrooms, and that her concerns fall squarely on the "outsized" impact Bullis Mountain View could have on Theuerkauf, particularly its enrollment and ability to attract families in the neighborhood.
"I think that the way that we have to address that, as a school district and as a board, is to make sure that Theuerkauf is fully competitive with Bullis," she said. "That we are offering a program that is attracting and retaining families in the neighborhood so that they are not opting to leave that neighborhood school."
Board member Jose Gutierrez cast the only vote in opposition, stating plainly that he rejected all the options.