Finding a home for Bullis Charter School has been a contentious issue that has split Los Altos School District residents for years. But a big majority can agree on one thing: Put the charter school in Mountain View.
A series of workshops held late last year gave more than 900 parents and community members a chance to vote on a staggering 55 options for where the charter school should be located and whether any public schools should be relocated or closed in the process. Popular picks will be analyzed by district officials over the next month, with plans to choose a final option by June.
Though there was virtually no agreement between Bullis parents and district parents, a majority of workshop attendees agreed that the best option was to move the charter school to a future school campus located in the San Antonio neighborhood of Mountain View. The district recently purchased 11.6 acres of land at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive and plans to build a campus there, but the school board has yet to commit on what kind of school it will be.
The most popular option -- garnering support from more than two-thirds of the participants -- was to place the entirety of Bullis Charter School, from kindergarten through eighth grade, at the as-yet unbuilt school site in Mountain View and give students living in the neighborhood an enrollment preference. Bullis Charter School's leadership has not agreed to such a preference, raising questions about the viability of the idea.
Other top picks among workshop attendees include placing some portion of Bullis in Mountain View, making it an elementary school campus, and finding another place to put middle school-age charter school students, such as a shared-campus arrangement with Egan Junior High. Options that received less than a majority of the participants' votes, but still had significant enough support for trustees to consider them, include scenarios in which Bullis Charter School and a district-run school share the future Mountain View campus.
Parents with students attending district schools were overwhelmingly in favor of moving Bullis out of Los Altos and into Mountain View, with more than 94% supporting the idea of the charter school adopting a neighborhood preference for San Antonio neighborhood students. Nearly 800 students reside in the area, where the district's boundaries extend into Mountain View, but they are split up between three campuses in Los Altos.
Bullis parents sharply opposed the idea of getting shifted into Mountain View, with more than 80% instead favoring the charter school getting exclusive use of the Egan or Covington Elementary campuses.
Putting the charter school in Mountain View may be a popular option among district residents, but it may not actually be possible. District officials inked an agreement with the city of Mountain View last year that would clear the way for razing a portion of the San Antonio shopping center to build a future school, including a transfer of development rights agreement that made it financially feasible for the district to pay $155 million to buy the land. But the agreement came with a catch -- the school district would have to build a school that serves the neighborhood.
More specifically, the district could either create or relocate a school with attendance boundaries that encompass the San Antonio area, or it could transplant a charter school at the shopping center under the condition that it have an enrollment preference for neighborhood students.
Board president Bryan Johnson said the community feedback was useful in the sense that some parents, up until now, have felt the district may have skipped over viable options for the new school site and where to house Bullis Charter School. With all possibilities on the table, it's clear that the district hasn't missed any obvious, consensus-building solution, and will have to work to bridge a divided community.
"Obviously it would've been great if we could have seen broad consensus across the community, but I'm not necessarily surprised that didn't materialize," Johnson said. "We'll just have to see as we go forward."
The community workshops and polling drew unexpectedly large crowds last year, with some parents being turned away due to space constraints, and there were worries at the time that the results were muddied by outside efforts. Parents at the Jan. 27 school board meeting alleged that Bullis Charter School's board of directors gave explicit directions on how its families should vote on each of the 55 options.
"The BCS board had the ability to direct their parents how to vote," said parent and former board member Sangeeth Peruri. "There (were) actually information sessions held by BCS board members prior to the meetings where they instructed BCS parents on how to vote."
Another district parent, Peipei Yu, claimed that the Bullis board used its oversight authority to get its parents to vote as a bloc, and was able to observe families at workshops to ensure they voted the correct way.
Bullis Charter School spokesman Alan Simpson said the board did not direct parents how to vote in any way, and called the claims "categorically false." The board only encouraged parents to attend the workshops, he said.
Though there were no claims that Los Altos School District trustees did the same, participants immediately after the workshops complained that district parents were electioneering during the polling. Voting guides passed out by a group calling itself "LASD Families for Public Education" advocated full support for a handful of options -- including moving Bullis to Mountain View -- and rejected nearly all of the others.
The 13 options remaining will come back to the Los Altos board on Feb. 10 with an early analysis of each. The board has tentatively scheduled to decide where to put Bullis Charter School and what kind of school should go on the Mountain View site by the end of the school year.