Leaders from Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District announced a deal Wednesday that gives Bullis most of the Egan Junior High School site permanently, and relocates Egan's students to a yet-to-be-built campus at San Antonio shopping center in Mountain View.
The announcement caps off more than a year of closed-door negotiations between the two parties to craft a long-term agreement for school facilities, which has been a litigious sticking point between Bullis and the school district for more than a decade. It also has the potential to supersede facilities negotiations under Proposition 39, which proposed putting some of the charter school's students at Loyola Elementary.
The framework of the agreement grants the charter school a majority of the Egan site -- 16 acres in total -- to house all of its students, and restricts Bullis Charter School from growing beyond 1,111 students. The agreement would last for 10 years and would finally unite the school, which has been split between between two campuses.
In order to make room for Bullis, Egan Junior High would permanently relocate to a new school site planned half a mile north in the San Antonio shopping center. District officials are negotiating to buy 9.5 acres of land at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive.
Los Altos School District board members met numerous times in closed session to discuss the real estate transaction in March, and expect to finalize the deal sometime this year.
Moving Egan Junior High and allowing Bullis to expand into its old campus would happen "no sooner than 2023," according to the agreement. In the meantime, Bullis Charter School's growing student body will be housed at its existing sites at Egan and Blach Intermediate School.
The deal reserves roughly 2.8 acres on the Egan campus for a future teacher housing project for the Los Altos School District, according to the terms of the agreement.
The negotiating team from the district -- board members Jessica Speiser and Bryan Johnson -- have been quietly meeting with their Bullis counterparts for mediated negotiations on a long-term agreement on how to house the charter school, which has sought to grow beyond its 900-student cap under an expired 2014 agreement. Failing to come to an agreement would mean returning to the state's Proposition 39 process, which calls for a rigidly scripted back-and-forth over the district's obligation to provide "reasonably equivalent" facilities.
Speiser said the negotiations vetted pretty much every option to place 10 schools at 10 sites -- instead of wedging Bullis onto Egan and Blach -- which was the promise made to voters when they passed the $150 million Measure N bond. This included vetting the possibility of closing a school campus and placing Bullis on it.
"We've considered every aspect we can," she said. "We have been working very hard for a year considering every single possibility we could."
The terms of the agreement show compromise on both sides. For years, Bullis officials have lamented that they can only serve roughly 10 percent of the children who apply to the successful charter school, and last year announced its intention to grow from 900 students to 1,200 over the next few years. The deal for 16 acres of Egan's campus in exchange for an enrollment cap of 1,111 students is a chance for Bullis to meet some of the "overwhelming demand," said Francis La Poll, a charter school board member.
Egan has been the center of focus as district and charter school officials have sought a more appropriate home for the charter school. Last year, Bullis Charter School filed a Proposition 39 request asking for exclusive use of the Egan campus, but didn't offer suggestions for where to relocate the junior high school's students. Bullis leaders insist they were required under state law to name a site, and didn't necessarily mean the charter school wanted for Egan to close. Logistically, however, it made sense: Most of the charter school's students are already at Egan, and it's in a convenient location for the families it serves.
When the school district convened a task force of school officials and community members on its future school in the San Antonio neighborhood, Mountain View Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga suggested that the best use of the site would be to move Egan Junior High there and allow Bullis to expand into its former campus. The idea was dismissed by a majority of the task force, and Los Altos School District board members bristled at the idea. Abe-Koga's proposal is remarkably similar to what's in the newly announced 10-year agreement.
There's still plenty of work to do before the agreement is set in stone, Speiser said. Los Altos School District trustees still have to discuss the terms and allow for public comment, and are scheduled to discuss the proposal on Monday, April 8. Bullis' board of directors are also scheduled to discuss the agreement this month, and both boards are expected to vote on the deal by the end of the month.
"We have a fiduciary duty to take into account public input," Speiser said.
For months, the prospects for a long-term agreement between the district and the charter school looked pretty grim. Early negotiations didn't go well and required mediation, with talks between the two parties ceasing at some point last year before starting back up. Falling back on the Proposition 39 process, district board members voted to essentially split the charter school between three campuses -- with Bullis students at Egan, Blach and Loyola -- in order to accommodate a planned enrollment increase to 1,105 students in the 2019-20 school year.
The unanimous vote was made reluctantly as the best of many bad options, and Speiser said that no one felt good about the decision. But just one week layer, both Bullis and the district agreed to pause the process and extend the Proposition 39 deadline out to mid-April in hopes of putting together a better deal.
If the new deal struck between Bullis and the district doesn't work out, both parties will have to fall back on the Proposition 39 process, which will continue simultaneously until the long-term agreement is finalized.
Anyone interested in giving feedback on the 10-year agreement can contact Los Altos School District's board of trustees at [email protected] More details on the proposed agreement can be found on the April 8 agenda.