News

Future plans to move Bullis Charter School put on hold as LASD grapples with reopening schools

Families and local students protest outside Egan Junior High School last year against a proposal to close the school and relocate it to a yet-to-be-built campus at the San Antonio shopping center. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The Los Altos School District is postponing a major decision on where to permanently place Bullis Charter School, citing a need to pause the public process until schools are reopened in the fall.

The decision on where to put the charter school has been an ongoing challenge for more than a decade, made even more difficult as the school's enrollment swells beyond 1,000 students. A possible solution is closing Egan Junior High and giving the campus to Bullis, which has been deeply controversial and sparked a major opposition campaign last year.

While district officials were originally hoping to make a final decision last month, it was overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted an emergency switch to remote learning and, more recently, a concerted effect to safely reopen schools in August.

"While we can't let the process stall indefinitely, at a minimum, we and staff are going to need to focus just on getting school reopened for the next couple of months," said school board president Bryan Johnson.

Bullis Charter School is currently housed in portable classrooms located on a portion of the Egan and Blach Intermediate School campuses, an arrangement largely seen as a temporary compromise. School board members have long sought to consolidate the school in permanent facilities, finally resolving what have been difficult and occasionally antagonistic debates over equitable facilities for Bullis.

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The school board had winnowed down the options to 13, but declined to discuss them in detail or weigh in on the list at its March 12 school board meeting. Among the options, the charter school could end up being placed at a school planned to be built in Mountain View's San Antonio shopping center.

Residents surveyed during a series of workshops last year found high support for moving Bullis to Mountain View.

Though the topic was sure to pack school board meetings to the brim with parents and community members in the past, no such meetings would be allowed under the state and local public health orders. Even still, Johnson said it may be better to re-launch the debate over online meetings than further put off a decision. He noted that participation in recent school board meetings over Zoom often exceeds 100 attendees.

"If we can get to a steady state where the community and our staff have the bandwidth to think about the long-term plan, I think we have to consider moving forward even if we're doing our meetings remotely," Johnson said. "I think this is just too important to just sort of postpone indefinitely."

To buy more time for the decision and focus on the pandemic, the district's school board and Bullis Charter School's board of directors agreed last month to a facilities agreement that essentially extends the status quo. The charter school can enroll up to 1,111 students, and can occupy portables at both Egan and Blach through the 2022-23 school year. In a statement, Bullis Board Chair Francis La Poll said students, teachers and families are all facing the challenges of the pandemic together, and that it's important for the two agencies to show they can "cooperate in good faith" as it relates to facilities.

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It's unclear whether the protracted debate over facilities will further push out the opening date of the district's new school in the San Antonio shopping center, which will be located at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive. District administrators were already projecting the school would not begin construction until 2023, and that the school would likely not be open until 2025.

Whichever school ultimately ends up at the Mountain View site, it's going to cost a whole lot of money to build a campus there. Estimates from March show building a school for Bullis Charter School would cost $109 million, consuming the majority of the district's $150 million Measure N bond.

Other cheaper options, at least relatively speaking, include closing Egan and relocating the junior high to Mountain View ($90.5 million) and two scenarios that would close Covington and create a new district school in Mountain View ($83.5 million to $85 million).

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Future plans to move Bullis Charter School put on hold as LASD grapples with reopening schools

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Wed, Jul 15, 2020, 1:11 pm

The Los Altos School District is postponing a major decision on where to permanently place Bullis Charter School, citing a need to pause the public process until schools are reopened in the fall.

The decision on where to put the charter school has been an ongoing challenge for more than a decade, made even more difficult as the school's enrollment swells beyond 1,000 students. A possible solution is closing Egan Junior High and giving the campus to Bullis, which has been deeply controversial and sparked a major opposition campaign last year.

While district officials were originally hoping to make a final decision last month, it was overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted an emergency switch to remote learning and, more recently, a concerted effect to safely reopen schools in August.

"While we can't let the process stall indefinitely, at a minimum, we and staff are going to need to focus just on getting school reopened for the next couple of months," said school board president Bryan Johnson.

Bullis Charter School is currently housed in portable classrooms located on a portion of the Egan and Blach Intermediate School campuses, an arrangement largely seen as a temporary compromise. School board members have long sought to consolidate the school in permanent facilities, finally resolving what have been difficult and occasionally antagonistic debates over equitable facilities for Bullis.

The school board had winnowed down the options to 13, but declined to discuss them in detail or weigh in on the list at its March 12 school board meeting. Among the options, the charter school could end up being placed at a school planned to be built in Mountain View's San Antonio shopping center.

Residents surveyed during a series of workshops last year found high support for moving Bullis to Mountain View.

Though the topic was sure to pack school board meetings to the brim with parents and community members in the past, no such meetings would be allowed under the state and local public health orders. Even still, Johnson said it may be better to re-launch the debate over online meetings than further put off a decision. He noted that participation in recent school board meetings over Zoom often exceeds 100 attendees.

"If we can get to a steady state where the community and our staff have the bandwidth to think about the long-term plan, I think we have to consider moving forward even if we're doing our meetings remotely," Johnson said. "I think this is just too important to just sort of postpone indefinitely."

To buy more time for the decision and focus on the pandemic, the district's school board and Bullis Charter School's board of directors agreed last month to a facilities agreement that essentially extends the status quo. The charter school can enroll up to 1,111 students, and can occupy portables at both Egan and Blach through the 2022-23 school year. In a statement, Bullis Board Chair Francis La Poll said students, teachers and families are all facing the challenges of the pandemic together, and that it's important for the two agencies to show they can "cooperate in good faith" as it relates to facilities.

It's unclear whether the protracted debate over facilities will further push out the opening date of the district's new school in the San Antonio shopping center, which will be located at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive. District administrators were already projecting the school would not begin construction until 2023, and that the school would likely not be open until 2025.

Whichever school ultimately ends up at the Mountain View site, it's going to cost a whole lot of money to build a campus there. Estimates from March show building a school for Bullis Charter School would cost $109 million, consuming the majority of the district's $150 million Measure N bond.

Other cheaper options, at least relatively speaking, include closing Egan and relocating the junior high to Mountain View ($90.5 million) and two scenarios that would close Covington and create a new district school in Mountain View ($83.5 million to $85 million).

Comments

Dan Waylonis
Jackson Park
on Jul 15, 2020 at 2:14 pm
Dan Waylonis, Jackson Park
on Jul 15, 2020 at 2:14 pm
6 people like this

It's disappointing to read that the schools keep doing what they've been doing for sixty years. In light of COVID-19, it seems like we need more innovative solutions. What about "micro schools" which are small, neighborhood schools? What about testing and accreditation online? What to do with the administrative body of the school systems that are no longer needed?


LongResident
another community
on Jul 15, 2020 at 2:17 pm
LongResident, another community
on Jul 15, 2020 at 2:17 pm
2 people like this

LASD was always failing to be mindful of continually falling enrollment. Each year for the last 5 years, the total LASD enrollment (counting BCS) has been declining. Maybe taking a little longer to consider this will shed light on the district's future enrollment size. Maybe things will change with the epidemic and the 15% (So far) drop in rental prices of apartments. For nearly 20 years, there have been enough kids living in Mountain View near San Antonio Road toward justifying them having a local neighborhood school. Will that change? In the past, it had appeared there would be TOO many kids in that area to all fit into a single elementary school. Will that change?
There's a whale of a big cost difference in constructing a 1200 student K-8 school versus building one of LASD's typical 500 student K-6 schools. Building a local elementary school which is 10 years overdue would be the least costly option for developing the site.

But, then, should LASD even go ahead with purchasing that site there? Will they still get the "development rights" money they had hoped for?

Lots of questions with answers T.B.D.


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 15, 2020 at 2:41 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 15, 2020 at 2:41 pm
6 people like this

Among the 13 options is giving the planned site in Mountain View (San Antonio center) to Bullis. But wait. The current contract with the City of Mountain View would not allow it. So, the gane continues to be: find candidates for Mountain View City Council who wlil support such a change in the contract. And keep secret who they are.


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 15, 2020 at 3:11 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 15, 2020 at 3:11 pm
6 people like this

Darn. Two typos above. On this matter of offering Bullis Charter the new school site in Mountain View, we can start by asking the current and former city councilmembers planning to run this year who previously took a position. I am asking them now. Post your current position below. We will want to hear from all council candidates on the matter. And there is a related issue. The use of a new money-raising technique by the city: Transferable Development Rights (TDRs). When, if ever, should the city issue TDRs going forward? Think about that one. The Voice should add those questions to its list for council candidates.


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 15, 2020 at 3:24 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 15, 2020 at 3:24 pm
6 people like this

So to be more specific, the current contract between the LASD and the City of Mountain View would only permit Bullis Charter at the new (not yet built) Mountain View site if Bullis gave admission preference to children in that Mountain View neighborhood. A little loose. But candidates may comment from there. Giving city money (some $100 million dollars in TDRs) toward the site was sold as specially beneficial to children in that neighborhood.


LongResident
another community
on Jul 17, 2020 at 10:24 pm
LongResident, another community
on Jul 17, 2020 at 10:24 pm
1 person likes this

I’ve been around so long I’ve lost any sense of the real world. I just gripe about everything out of habit now


LongResident
another community
on Jul 18, 2020 at 7:55 pm
LongResident, another community
on Jul 18, 2020 at 7:55 pm
Like this comment


Questioning assumptions is always reasonable. The thing is that LASD trustees have repeatedly failed to take notice of the decline in population. They neglected to add a school for the San Antonio area back in 2005 when it was first needed. Now the decline in population is distinct, established and likely to continue. It's not just LASD seeing fewer kids. It's the entire state of California and also the larger world. See Web Link for a recent article about the trend.

So, it's interesting that noting the sunny side of LASD taking a pause on planning to adjust for imaginary growth is perceived as a gripe. It's the opposite of a gripe.

The gripe would be that we see an increasing disparity in funding for the wealthy areas like . There's LASD where revenue is largely fixed and having fewer students yields more for each of them. Then there is the bulk of our county and state, where shrinking students means lower overall job demand for teachers since staff has to reduce to match the reduction in kids.


LongResident
another community
on Jul 18, 2020 at 8:07 pm
LongResident, another community
on Jul 18, 2020 at 8:07 pm
Like this comment

Gary, when you think about it, this new school is likely not to be completed before 2027. So much can change by then. Whatever the plans, for LASD to deprive a local neighborhood of a new school ONCE IT'S FINALLY THERE is going to meet resistance from the local residents there. They will have a lot of explaining to do if the do not operate a local school, given the likely demographics and the number of kids living around that new school building.

They can make whatever plans they want now, but in 7 years when it opens, they will be the actual context at the time. I just don't see them being able to turn it over to a district wide charter school and filling it with kids whose average distance traveled each day is increased by that action. With declining enrollment I see it far more likely that they will need to shut one of their existing elementary schools due to declining enrollment.

Now, if they succeed in their constant efforts to shut down the charter school, that will create quite a problem for them. They save a lot of money by sending kids to the charter instead of to one of the traditional schools which are very expensive for them to operate. But obviously then, they'd have NO CHOICE but to
use the new school for some sort of local neighborhood school, be it a middle school or an elementary school. They have to use it for something, if they do go ahead with this purchase (if they can even afford to).


Gary
Sylvan Park
on Jul 18, 2020 at 8:51 pm
Gary, Sylvan Park
on Jul 18, 2020 at 8:51 pm
4 people like this

I suspect the plan is to quietly identify candidates for Mountain View City Council who are willing to vote to cut the strings attached to the City's contribution toward the school site. The LASD would then design and build the school to be occupied by Bullis Charter. Maybe save money by providing for outdoor classrooms.
Being outdoors is better to prevent the spread of some viruses!

Nearby Mountain View residents could complain all they like. They would have been sold out by the majority Mountain View City Council and would next be laughed at by the LASD Superintendent and Board.


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