Battles over facilities may be commonplace between school districts and charter schools across California, but the Mountain View Whisman School District appears to be on track towards a peaceful resolution.
Earlier this month, Bullis Mountain View (BMV) -- a new charter school in the district opening its doors in the fall -- sent a letter to the district expressing "appreciation" that Mountain View Whisman was able to find facilities that work for the charter school, and that they expect to accept the offer in the coming months. The letter is the latest in a back-and-forth over school facilities under California's Proposition 39 law, which has been the source of divisiveness and lawsuits in the neighboring Los Altos School District.
The proposal, which the school board approved in January, calls for putting BMV in portable buildings at 1400 Montecito Ave., a somewhat compact site next to the district office that also houses Stevenson and Theuerkauf elementary schools. The district has played musical chairs with facilities on the campus during construction starting in 2017, putting Stevenson in what it calls the "portable village" on Montecito Avenue before moving the district office into the buildings last year. The new district office is expected to be completed this summer, leaving the portables free for the charter school.
Originally, district officials sought to use the portable buildings to expand its preschool program, but later offered the space to BMV. The other ideas -- putting Bullis in portable classrooms on the blacktops at Bubb, Huff or Landels elementary schools -- were seen as unreasonable, as was re-drawing boundaries to create classroom space for the charter school at an existing school.
Although the March 1 letter amounted to tentative acceptance of the district's offer, it wasn't without serious concerns. BMV's head of school, Jennifer Anderson-Rosse, pointed out several deficiencies in the district's offer that could cause problems. For example, the district agreed to provide enough classrooms for the projected 168 charter school students in the 2019-20 school year, but didn't allocate any space for a multi-purpose room or kitchen and cafeteria space.
"As charter schools are now required to provide all their eligible students with meals each day, the lack of legally compliant food service space is extremely problematic," Anderson-Rosse wrote in the letter.
Proposition 39 is a complicated process that pays careful attention to whether school districts are providing "reasonably equivalent" facilities for students residing in the school district who choose to attend the charter school. This is typically done by measuring the amount of space available for classrooms and specialized uses at what it calls "comparison schools" in the same district.
That analysis took place, but Anderson-Rosse points out that none of the data was shared with BMV, making it impossible to determine whether the charter school is getting a fair deal.
"Prop. 39 requires a level of transparency by the school districts in explaining how they calculated the space to be offered to a charter school," she wrote in the letter.
In the final facilities offer, which the district is required to make by the end of the month, Anderson-Rosse requested that the district make clear how parking will be handled at the site. No parking was specifically allocated to the charter school, meaning the existing parking lots would likely need to be shared. Parents at Stevenson have also asked the district to clarify how traffic and parking would be mitigated on a site with an ever-increasing number of students.
If the charter school grows to 320 students as planned over the next five years, the total number of students across Stevenson, Theuerkauf and BMV will exceed 1,000 -- the largest number of children at any one location in the district.