Bullis Mountain View has dropped plans to open a new charter school in Mountain View this fall, but that hasn't stopped the Mountain View Whisman School District from threatening to revoke its charter.
The Mountain View Whisman School District's Board of Trustees voted unanimously Thursday evening to put Bullis Mountain View (BMV) on notice, accusing it of several violations that could lead to the revocation of its charter petition.
The 5-0 vote includes firing off a letter to the nonprofit BMV, accusing the school's officials of 10 violations ranging from failing to comply with information requests to attempts to "illegally" circumvent the approved charter.
The district intends to revoke the charter if the school "fails to remedy such violations" by May 5, the letter says. It's not clear if scrapping the existing charter would eliminate the school, given that BMV could then appeal the decision to the Santa Clara County Board of Education or re-submit its petition to Mountain View Whisman.
The school board reluctantly approved BMV's petition to open a charter school in the Mountain View Whisman School District late last year, imposing a series of conditions that charter school officials never agreed to implement. Among them, the district required the school to give top enrollment priority to low-income students residing near Monta Loma, Castro and Theuerkauf elementary schools, followed by low-income students throughout the district.
Other requirements include having a governing board where a majority of its members reside in Mountain View, requiring BMV to use the same benchmarks and reading assessments as the district and requiring students across all subgroups to perform better than district students on those tests by "not less than 5 percent."
Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph told school board members at the April 4 meeting that he believes Bullis Mountain View had made no progress towards implementing those requirements and may intend to ignore them. Describing mounting frustration and a complete loss of communication between his staff and charter school officials, he said the rumor is that BMV was being coy about the requirements and telling parents not to worry about restrictions on higher-income families seeking to attend the school.
Attempts to get clarity through information requests, including via the California Public Records Act, shed no light on the school's activities, he said. There are signs that Bullis Mountain View's board of directors are meeting to discuss major decisions, but no posted agendas or meeting minutes exist to verify these meetings are taking place, he said.
"Bullis' actions between January and today have been one of secrecy, have been one of clandestine activities, have been one of obfuscation to make sure we do not have any information on their operations," Rudolph said. "And as an authorizer, by law, they are required to provide us with any information that we request in order for this board to do their job."
BMV officials maintained for months that they could not -- and later explicitly stated they would not -- follow the district's demands, arguing they ranged from untenable to illegal. Jennifer Anderson-Rosse, BMV's head of school, told trustees at a March 7 school board meeting that the district doesn't have the authority to approve the charter while simultaneously rewriting details in the document, and that the requirement to "mirror" the demographics of the district would amount to discriminatory enrollment preferences.
The March meeting came at a critical moment, in part because BMV officials had just postponed the admissions lottery to determine which 168 students could attend the school in its inaugural year. It was also the first public admission that the district and the charter school had made no progress in settling their differences since December. Just weeks later, Anderson-Rosse sent a letter to parents and the district stating that BMV would not open in fall 2019 as originally planned, blaming the unresolved concerns she had with the district's demands.
What didn't make sense to district officials, Rudolph said, was the claim by BMV on March 21 that the conditions amounted to a "fundamental" change to the charter petition that amounted to a denial of the petition. A denial, in this case, could give the green light to BMV to appeal to the Santa Clara County Board of Education, which would serve as an end-run around the district and its demands.
The evidence seems to support the contrary -- that BMV leaders, at least through February, had interpreted the board's action as an approval of the charter petition, Rudolph said. The school sent a letter to the district thanking the staff and showing a willingness to accept the facilities offer under Proposition 39, ran student registration events, hired staff and applied for an official school code from the California Department of Education.
"All of those actions indicate they were planning to open in the coming year," he said.
The district fired a warning shot on March 19, sending a strongly worded letter admonishing BMV for what Rudolph called an attempted "end-run" around the district to swap oversight agencies. The letter claims that charter school leaders had secretly met with County Superintendent Mary Ann Dewan and her staff to discuss the possibility of operating a school with the county's approval instead, spurred by "its dissatisfaction with the governance and enrollment requirements" imposed by the district.
"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," Rudolph said in the letter.
Following the vote, Anderson-Rosse said she maintains that the district's "untenable" conditions amounted to a rejection of the charter, and that the school board cannot revoke a charter that was never approved in the first place. She said BMV has no further intention of responding to the district or participating in a back-and-forth over the terms of revocation, and that the district's latest actions amount to a "wasteful spectacle."
"Unfortunately, it’s the families who wanted this educational opportunity that the district has harmed," she said.
In a short letter to the district April 4, Anderson-Rosse also suggested the warnings by the district contained numerous false statements, including the claim that BMV representative held a secretive meeting with the county superintendent.
Shortly after scrapping plans to open the school in fall 2019 as originally planned, Anderson-Rosse told the Voice that there was no clear decision on what to do next, and said she could not clarify whether the announcement postpones the opening of the charter school or officially ends the effort to open the school.
The notice of violation can be found on the district's April 4 agenda packet.