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Bullis adds admissions preferences for low-income students after sharp questioning about school's lack of diversity

County board of education approves changes, presses charter school on whether they go far enough

Parents pick up their children fom Bullis Charter School's North Campus. Photo by Magali Gauthier

Editor's note: This story has been expanded since it was first published. After tough questions about whether Bullis Charter School is going far enough to diversify its student body, the Santa Clara County Board of Education on Oct. 6 approved changes to the Los Altos school's admission preferences that will prioritize children from low-income families.

County board members raised concerns about whether the changes would be sufficient to fix long-running enrollment disparities at Bullis Charter School and what measures would be taken to ensure the school's student population mirrors that of the Los Altos School District.

Bullis is located within the boundaries of the Los Altos School District, and its charter is authorized by the county board of education. In 2020, 1.4% of charter school students were considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, compared to 6% of students in the school district, according to data from the California Department of Education.

The state's definition of socioeconomically disadvantaged includes those eligible for free or reduced price meals, as well as those whose parents or guardians did not receive a high school diploma.

County board member Grace Mah, whose district represents a region that includes Los Altos, made the motion to approve the enrollment preference change, but otherwise did not participate in the discussion about the charter school at Wednesday night's meeting. She did not ask any questions or make comments. Board member Joseph Di Salvo seconded the motion but also was silent on the topic.

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The remaining five trustees queried charter school officials about their plans, with some raising pointed critiques of Bullis' practices.

Board member Peter Ortiz said that he believes the future of the charter school needs to be determined based on measurable outcomes. Without a culture change at Bullis, Ortiz said he fears there may be a continued "funneling" of wealthy students into the school.

"Through every reauthorization, Bullis Charter School has promised to improve its diversity, but has not delivered," Ortiz said. "I would like to know: What about this process will make the results different?"

The admissions preference change comes after the county board of education voted in May to send a "notice of concern" to Bullis over a lack of diversity at the charter school. In particular, the county pointed to the under-enrollment of socioeconomically disadvantaged students, those with disabilities, English learners and Hispanic students.

Unless the charter school addresses these concerns, it runs the risk that the county board won't approve its next charter renewal, which had been set to come up for a vote this fall. Due to the pandemic, the state granted charter schools an extension and Bullis' charter is now set for review in fall 2023.

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After working with county staff, the charter school announced last month that it would seek to add an enrollment preference for students who qualify for free and reduced price school meals. These are typically kids whose families' income falls below certain thresholds.

The changes will take effect for next school year's enrollment cycle, which begins next month.

Bullis Superintendent Maureen Israel told the board that her school values diversity and felt adding a preference for students who qualify for subsidized meals was the best approach, noting that the school can't legally have a preference for a particular racial or ethnic group. Israel said that the enrollment preference is one part of a broader effort to improve outreach and communication.

"As a free, open-enrollment public charter school, we at BCS believe deeply that we welcome all students and all families in our community," Israel said. "We know that there's a big value in having a community of diverse students and learners."

Each year, Bullis holds a lottery for students who wish to attend the school. The lottery is based on a set of enrollment preferences, listed in priority order. The county board approved two new preferences last night, for a total of eight.

The first change that the county approved last night would add a preference for students living within the boundaries of the Los Altos School District who qualify for free or reduced price meals. The preference would be limited to 10% of the total openings at each grade level and would come after an existing preference for siblings of charter school students who live within the school district's boundaries.

There's more to diversity than just the Asian community.

-Peter Ortiz, Santa Clara County Board of Education member

The charter school is also adding a preference for students living outside the school district, but within California, who qualify for free and reduced price meals. That additional preference doesn't have a cap, but is the second to last preference on the list. The only preference that's lower is for any remaining applicants who live in California.

Some county board members questioned why the charter school is limiting the in-district enrollment preference to 10%.

"If, in fact, you are serious about recruiting more socioeconomically disadvantaged students then that number should be higher … considering that you're so far behind," board member Rosemary Kamei said.

Superintendent Israel responded that 10% is merely the number of spots being reserved for those who qualify for free and reduced price meals, and these students can still be admitted through other preferences. She also noted that only 6% of Los Altos School District students are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Los Altos School District Superintendent Jeff Baier told the county board that the district doesn't believe the new enrollment preferences will be enough to bring the charter school's student population in line with the district. In particular, he said that there's no guarantee eligible students will even apply.

If they do, Baier said that because the preference is for the open seats at each grade level in a given year and the overwhelming majority of the charter school's openings are for the incoming kindergarten class, it would take a long time for its overall student population to mirror the district.

Except for kindergarten, the rest of the grade levels typically have vacant seats in the "low single digits" annually, according to a letter the charter school sent the county.

"The charter school must abide by the law as a publicly funded school," Baier said. "The only acceptable response is demanding results that rectify the long-standing lack of diversity in BCS student enrollment."

Roughly a dozen members of the public spoke at Wednesday's meeting about the admissions preferences, with roughly a third favoring Bullis and the rest expressing concerns about the charter school.

Bullis Charter School parent Ying Liu said that her two daughters were part of the school's English language learner program and felt immediately welcome on campus.

"For me as a parent, I'm in full support of this preference change. I think it's a representation of our education philosophy and our school culture," said Liu, who currently serves as the chair of the Bullis Boosters Club and has previously run unsuccessfully for the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees.

On the other side, Kelly Berman said that she is concerned about the charter school's enrollment plans because they are missing accountability and consequences.

"When acting on its own, Bullis Charter School repeatedly and illegally practices segregation in our public education system and we are all accomplices by allowing these practices to continue," Berman said.

Charter school board president Francis La Poll objected to the idea that there is segregation at Bullis, calling that claim "offensive."

"We are more diverse than the Los Altos School District. We have a lower population of Caucasian, or white, students," La Poll said, noting that his school has a much higher proportion of Asian students.

State data from 2020 shows that 51.9% of charter school students were Asian and 22.5% were white. In the Los Altos School District, 34.4% of students were Asian and 43.2% were white.

Ortiz questioned La Poll's characterization of the charter school's diversity.

"You only mentioned the Asian population. What about the Latino and Black population?" Ortiz asked. "There's more to diversity than just the Asian community."

Latino students make up 8% of the school district's population and 3.9% of the charter school's, according to state data. There are few Black students at both Bullis (0.5%) and the school district (0.6%).

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Bullis adds admissions preferences for low-income students after sharp questioning about school's lack of diversity

County board of education approves changes, presses charter school on whether they go far enough

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Thu, Oct 7, 2021, 1:58 pm
Updated: Fri, Oct 8, 2021, 1:56 pm

Editor's note: This story has been expanded since it was first published. After tough questions about whether Bullis Charter School is going far enough to diversify its student body, the Santa Clara County Board of Education on Oct. 6 approved changes to the Los Altos school's admission preferences that will prioritize children from low-income families.

County board members raised concerns about whether the changes would be sufficient to fix long-running enrollment disparities at Bullis Charter School and what measures would be taken to ensure the school's student population mirrors that of the Los Altos School District.

Bullis is located within the boundaries of the Los Altos School District, and its charter is authorized by the county board of education. In 2020, 1.4% of charter school students were considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, compared to 6% of students in the school district, according to data from the California Department of Education.

The state's definition of socioeconomically disadvantaged includes those eligible for free or reduced price meals, as well as those whose parents or guardians did not receive a high school diploma.

County board member Grace Mah, whose district represents a region that includes Los Altos, made the motion to approve the enrollment preference change, but otherwise did not participate in the discussion about the charter school at Wednesday night's meeting. She did not ask any questions or make comments. Board member Joseph Di Salvo seconded the motion but also was silent on the topic.

The remaining five trustees queried charter school officials about their plans, with some raising pointed critiques of Bullis' practices.

Board member Peter Ortiz said that he believes the future of the charter school needs to be determined based on measurable outcomes. Without a culture change at Bullis, Ortiz said he fears there may be a continued "funneling" of wealthy students into the school.

"Through every reauthorization, Bullis Charter School has promised to improve its diversity, but has not delivered," Ortiz said. "I would like to know: What about this process will make the results different?"

The admissions preference change comes after the county board of education voted in May to send a "notice of concern" to Bullis over a lack of diversity at the charter school. In particular, the county pointed to the under-enrollment of socioeconomically disadvantaged students, those with disabilities, English learners and Hispanic students.

Unless the charter school addresses these concerns, it runs the risk that the county board won't approve its next charter renewal, which had been set to come up for a vote this fall. Due to the pandemic, the state granted charter schools an extension and Bullis' charter is now set for review in fall 2023.

After working with county staff, the charter school announced last month that it would seek to add an enrollment preference for students who qualify for free and reduced price school meals. These are typically kids whose families' income falls below certain thresholds.

The changes will take effect for next school year's enrollment cycle, which begins next month.

Bullis Superintendent Maureen Israel told the board that her school values diversity and felt adding a preference for students who qualify for subsidized meals was the best approach, noting that the school can't legally have a preference for a particular racial or ethnic group. Israel said that the enrollment preference is one part of a broader effort to improve outreach and communication.

"As a free, open-enrollment public charter school, we at BCS believe deeply that we welcome all students and all families in our community," Israel said. "We know that there's a big value in having a community of diverse students and learners."

Each year, Bullis holds a lottery for students who wish to attend the school. The lottery is based on a set of enrollment preferences, listed in priority order. The county board approved two new preferences last night, for a total of eight.

The first change that the county approved last night would add a preference for students living within the boundaries of the Los Altos School District who qualify for free or reduced price meals. The preference would be limited to 10% of the total openings at each grade level and would come after an existing preference for siblings of charter school students who live within the school district's boundaries.

The charter school is also adding a preference for students living outside the school district, but within California, who qualify for free and reduced price meals. That additional preference doesn't have a cap, but is the second to last preference on the list. The only preference that's lower is for any remaining applicants who live in California.

Some county board members questioned why the charter school is limiting the in-district enrollment preference to 10%.

"If, in fact, you are serious about recruiting more socioeconomically disadvantaged students then that number should be higher … considering that you're so far behind," board member Rosemary Kamei said.

Superintendent Israel responded that 10% is merely the number of spots being reserved for those who qualify for free and reduced price meals, and these students can still be admitted through other preferences. She also noted that only 6% of Los Altos School District students are socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Los Altos School District Superintendent Jeff Baier told the county board that the district doesn't believe the new enrollment preferences will be enough to bring the charter school's student population in line with the district. In particular, he said that there's no guarantee eligible students will even apply.

If they do, Baier said that because the preference is for the open seats at each grade level in a given year and the overwhelming majority of the charter school's openings are for the incoming kindergarten class, it would take a long time for its overall student population to mirror the district.

Except for kindergarten, the rest of the grade levels typically have vacant seats in the "low single digits" annually, according to a letter the charter school sent the county.

"The charter school must abide by the law as a publicly funded school," Baier said. "The only acceptable response is demanding results that rectify the long-standing lack of diversity in BCS student enrollment."

Roughly a dozen members of the public spoke at Wednesday's meeting about the admissions preferences, with roughly a third favoring Bullis and the rest expressing concerns about the charter school.

Bullis Charter School parent Ying Liu said that her two daughters were part of the school's English language learner program and felt immediately welcome on campus.

"For me as a parent, I'm in full support of this preference change. I think it's a representation of our education philosophy and our school culture," said Liu, who currently serves as the chair of the Bullis Boosters Club and has previously run unsuccessfully for the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees.

On the other side, Kelly Berman said that she is concerned about the charter school's enrollment plans because they are missing accountability and consequences.

"When acting on its own, Bullis Charter School repeatedly and illegally practices segregation in our public education system and we are all accomplices by allowing these practices to continue," Berman said.

Charter school board president Francis La Poll objected to the idea that there is segregation at Bullis, calling that claim "offensive."

"We are more diverse than the Los Altos School District. We have a lower population of Caucasian, or white, students," La Poll said, noting that his school has a much higher proportion of Asian students.

State data from 2020 shows that 51.9% of charter school students were Asian and 22.5% were white. In the Los Altos School District, 34.4% of students were Asian and 43.2% were white.

Ortiz questioned La Poll's characterization of the charter school's diversity.

"You only mentioned the Asian population. What about the Latino and Black population?" Ortiz asked. "There's more to diversity than just the Asian community."

Latino students make up 8% of the school district's population and 3.9% of the charter school's, according to state data. There are few Black students at both Bullis (0.5%) and the school district (0.6%).

Comments

LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Oct 7, 2021 at 3:31 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 3:31 pm

The attitude of the questioning board members in doubting a preference for low income students reeks of discrimination. They clearly want a racial preference, even though it's illegal. But someone should note that since the school is set to expand to 1200 students, the preference applies to 120 students. There are only 200 or so low SES kids in LASD today., counting the charter too.

So this is a big step. In the past the district has discouraged low income students from considering the charter school. That's what needs to change, and maybe the preference will help counter that prejudice passed on from the district to the low income families.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Oct 7, 2021 at 4:23 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 4:23 pm

Culture Change at Stevenson ('choice', MVWSD)
I hope that ALL who also that a similar "preference for low income students" at Stevenson, show up tonight for the on-line board meeting. Down in the discussion section (A.) is some information on just how Segregated that campus has been for the last 5 years. 4X to 5X less proportion of low income that the Average of the District!

I favor a change in PREFERENCES - #4 - "to 14% low-income" (or SED / = no high-school-graduate guardians). That is the ONLY WAY to start - by January 2022 - the Process of de-Segregation. just Start to Actually get WORKING on it!
Brown-v-Board of Education took 'till 1970 to finish working throughout the South. NO NEED for a Stevenson Segregation fix to wait so long. Start to Actually WORK! Stevenson has been there now about a dozen years.

-The MVWSD Board will/may be "directing" the staff for Public Policy changes to the Enrollment Policy. At 29% SED District Average, there is absolutely No Reason Not to try to meet 1/2 the district average, starting with 2022 new enrollments.
(In My Opinion)


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Oct 7, 2021 at 5:10 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 5:10 pm

For Stevenson it would be a moving target, as not long ago the MVWSD district average was not 29% low SED but rather more like 45%. Soon the district average will be below 20%.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Oct 7, 2021 at 5:22 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 5:22 pm

A step in the right direction but I share the County doubts about attaining better parity with LASD in all protected groups any time soon.

Let's remember that preference is for 10% of open seats per grade and only after siblings preference. Aside from Kindergarten, 10% of open seats might not even represent one full seat if any at all.

Also, SED families face greater housing insecurity; how many will be able to stay 8-9 years in our community?

Given that, wow many years or decades before BCS reaches some parity with LASD in all protected groups?

Let's also remember that BCS has some experience setting preferences to attain a certain demographics. For over a decade, there was a geographic preference for a wealthier part of the district..... for most of that period, the percentage of open seats was not 10% but 50% !


Los Altos Observer
Registered user
another community
on Oct 7, 2021 at 9:32 pm
Los Altos Observer, another community
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2021 at 9:32 pm

BCS is strung over a barrel. LASD is required by state law to provide facilities to BCS, but for 15+ years LASD has refused to provide space for before and after school care on either BCS campus. These services are offered at every other public school in LASD. How is BCS expected to attract low income families without this basic amenity? It LASD trustees truly want diversity at BCS they could enact this simple change.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Oct 8, 2021 at 2:28 am
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 2:28 am

All the seats are open for the K grade. Every year. Once a student enters K they proceed up to the next grade. If you get 10% of the seats filled by low SES in K, the next year grade 1 will see those students. The seats for siblings may be filled in K but they'll be out of the 90%, and won't reduce the 10% priority for low SES. It will be interesting to see if this works, that's true. One thing Bullis could do would be to further expand, because add seats are open seats.... and so get the priority share,

There aren't racial quotas in the admissions and Bullis has more of some minority groups than does LASD. It's not required to closely match the racial make up of LASD, regardless of what the county board says. That is illegal. What is required is to not discriminate. Affirmative Action for racial minorities in public education is expressly banned in California's Constitution.


Cranky Educator
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 8, 2021 at 8:43 am
Cranky Educator, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 8:43 am

The County Board is filled with politician hopefuls who cling onto issues like this in hopes of rising to their next office. Bullis, even if it were to execute on this admissions preference perfectly, would still not be "diverse" because it is located in Los Altos, which isn't particularly diverse to begin with and doesn't have a lot to offer families without loads of resources. Mirroring LASD will not make the quality of experience any better for students in the charter school or in LASD - the board needed to find something and this is what they decided on. A waste of taxpayer dollars.
Meanwhile, Cupertino school district is preparing to close schools due to years of financial mismanagement and declining enrollment. Alum Rock District in East San Jose continues to fail students and families. There is malaise and distrust with school districts across SCC. Why is the county board not holding these bodies accountable? Asking tougher questions of all schools and districts it oversees. Oh yea, because the union lackies who back their campaigns insist they focus on closing charter schools.
Wake up parents - vote with your feet, choose what works best for your child. And vote these clowns out in 2022


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Oct 8, 2021 at 1:39 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 1:39 pm

Cupertino is underfunded compared to LASD because they only get money if they have students. They are having to close schools because they are having fewer students to provide demand for school. Their parcel tax provides a very small amount of income per student whereas LASD's parcel tax provides 4 times as much per student in historical enrollment situations. But the biggest difference is that ALL of LASD's revenue is fixed based on local property values rather than proportionate to enrollment. LASD has lost an even greater percentage of enrollment in recent years but this helps their budget. LASD is up over $21K in revenue per student, whereas CUSD gets around $14K per student which drops off as they lose students to population shifts.

THe same thing happens to the charter school. It gets state funds based on the number of students, so it gets around $11K per student whereas the rest of the LASD kids are funded to the tune of $21K each. So in theory a disadvantaged student is getting more funding at LASD's traditional schools. Certainly the LASD traditional schools have elegant sites compared to CUSD or the charter school but that comes out of the district owning an immense amount of land for a declining student population. (And the LASD board members are politicians in the making looking to score points by mistreating the charter school similar to the county board's attitudes.)


Pancho
Registered user
Bailey Park
on Oct 9, 2021 at 5:02 pm
Pancho, Bailey Park
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2021 at 5:02 pm

It's so simple: separate is still inescapably unequal. BCS enrollment today is not representative of the LASD community because it has been a targeted program since shortly after its inception. the enrollment disparity some people are calling "soft" segregation is not a function of the lottery, it's community-driven. some families feel very at-home and others just don't. it has never been run as a welcoming place for families that don't fit the right profile.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Oct 10, 2021 at 2:40 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Oct 10, 2021 at 2:40 pm

Compared to MVWSD, all of LASD is highly "targeted" to high SES students That is so much true that the area north of El Camino Real in Mountain View, which is a part of LASD, is fragmented between 3 different elementary schools in Los Altos. These schools are located between 1 and 2.5 miles from the areas they serve in Mountain VIew. This serves to keep these 3 schools bearing the education of the kids from the allegedly low-SES Mountain View.

It gets pretty ridiculous. Within that Mountain View subarea of LASD, the area itself is divided. The highest SES portion goes to the highest SES full-size elementary school in LASD, namely Covington. Almond and Santa Rita have more of a proportion of lower SES kids living in LOS ALTOS already then any other LASD school. So naturally they are tapped to serve the 2 different lower SES areas North of El Camino Real. The highest SES elementary school in LASD is Gardner Bullis, and it only serves half as many students as Covington or the other schools.

I don't see how the LASD board can with a straight face claim that their schools are unsegregated, when they are. The only thing is that the low SES proportion is kept below 10% at all of the LASD schools, and only achieves that mark at Santa Rita and Almond--not at Oak, Gardner Bulls, Loyola, Springer or Covington (typically under 3%).

People in MVWSD might not fully appreciate just how well off the students in LASD area.


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