Bullis Mountain View officials announced Thursday that they will not open a new charter school in Mountain View this fall, accusing the Mountain View Whisman School District of onerous and illegal requirements that made opening virtually impossible.
The surprise decision comes just weeks after the charter school delayed its enrollment lottery for students wanting to attend the school in its inaugural 2019-20 school year. Plans were also well underway to provide facilities for the charter school at a district site next to Stevenson Elementary School.
Bullis Mountain View (BMV) Head of School Jennifer Anderson-Rosse said in a statement that she and other charter school founders are "frustrated and saddened" by the development, which she said was caused by ongoing disputes with the school district's leadership. Although Mountain View Whisman's school board approved the charter school's petition to open in fall 2019, it came with strings attached that BMV leaders say were onerous and even illegal.
Among those conditions, the district required the charter school to enroll low-income students at a rate that mirrors the school district's demographics, which Anderson-Rosse said would impose a quota that would violate state laws on discrimination by favoring certain student subgroups. The board also voted to revamp the charter school's enrollment priorities, which BMV leaders say amounts to rewriting the charter petition in violation of state education code.
All of the requirements were developed and presented shortly before the board's approval in December, which Anderson-Rosse said gave them no time to negotiate more reasonable conditions. The Thursday statement calls the requirements "irrational and harmful challenges" intended to undermine the charter school.
"The district's 'conditional' approval of the BMV charter in December was, under charter school law, a denial of the charter that Bullis submitted for consideration in October," she said in the statement. "The district has spent a considerable amount of taxpayer dollars on outside legal counsel as it continues to undermine BMV's efforts to open."
The school was expected to open in the fall with 168 students in kindergarten through second grade. A total of 218 families had applied, and Anderson-Rosse said the inability to open this year is a "big loss" for those families and the rest of the Mountain View community.
BMV applied to create a charter school in the district in October, and Mountain View Whisman's school board was faced with two options: Approve the charter petition or deny it and risk having it approved anyway by the Santa Clara County Board of Education. Even if the county board denied the charter petition, it could be appealed a second time to the state Board of Education. School districts have very few legitimate reasons to deny a charter petition under state education code.
Mountain View Whisman trustees approved the petition on Dec. 20, but put a series of significant last-minute requirements on the charter school that were legally dubious and drastically changed how it could enroll students.
"The conditions they put on the charter alters the petition, which is not legal," Anderson-Rosse told the Voice. "We see this as a denial of our petition."
The decision to not open in the fall came three months later, in part, because Anderson-Rosse said she thought the district's terms were negotiable, and that she and BMV leaders were amenable to finding a middle ground. The latest correspondence from the district's administrators, she said, shows they are inflexible and not willing to negotiate in good faith.
Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said the announcement came as a "complete shock" to him as well, and that they had been scheduled to talk logistics with BMV on Friday. As of Thursday afternoon, he said the district is still planning to "work with the staff of Bullis Mountain View to make sure that they are prepared to have a successful opening."
But the relationship between the district and BMV has clearly been strained in recent weeks. In a letter dated March 19 that Rudolph sent to Anderson-Rosse, he said he was "very surprised" to learn that BMV was communicating with county staff, and accused her of trying to pull an end-run around the school district by seeking approval from the Santa Clara County board of education instead.
"BMV may not treat the process or the decision of the district board to approve the charter petition as a sham," Rudolph wrote. "BMV's actions amount to a bad faith lobbying effort to undermine the district's oversight authority because of its own inability and/or unwillingness to comply with the charter and the promises made."
Anderson-Rosse said BMV's board of directors still has yet to discuss what to do next. She said she does not know if BMV will seek approval from another chartering authority, such as the county, or re-submit a charter petition to Mountain View Whisman. Nor could she say whether the Thursday announcement postpones the opening of the charter school or officially eliminates the effort.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.