Charter school squabble misguided | December 9, 2011 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

Opinion - December 9, 2011

Charter school squabble misguided

It is time for the Los Altos School District (LASD) to turn down the rhetoric and accept that it can no longer refuse to provide Bullis Charter School (BCS) classroom space as required by Proposition 39. A recent state Appeals Court ruling sided with Bullis, although LASD apparently has decided to pay more than $60,000 to finance an appeal to the state Supreme Court.

The Los Altos district and Bullis Charter have stellar test scores and serve the same attendance area that includes parts of Los Altos Hills and Mountain View and all of Los Altos. But rather than enjoying a spacious 10-acre campus similar to other LASD schools, BCS students are crammed into portable classrooms on 5 1/2 acres carved from Egan School on San Antonio Road. The Appeals Court said LASD needs to do much more to give BCS students space and facilities that are "reasonably equivalent" to the space and facilities found at similar schools throughout the district.

We agree. With 465 students, BCS enrollment is similar to that of other LASD elementary schools. The charter school should be given comparable facilities somewhere in the district as required by Proposition 39. After all, BCS students are not coming from outside the district. All are residents of the same area the LASD serves; if BCS were not there, another 465 students would be attending LASD schools.

A key factor is where BCS funding comes from. The charter students are supported by state funds of about $5,076 per student while LASD students are almost entirely funded by local property taxes. This tax stream is not dependent on student count, so the district receives the same amount no matter how many students it serves.

So while LASD is losing responsibility for 465 K-8 students, it is also losing the obligation to support those students in the classroom, while as a basic aid district, it continues to collect property tax regardless of the number of students it serves.

With support from their school foundations, both schools ultimately spend about $11,000 per student each year, although LASD does not have to spend some $5.1 million in costs for BCS students who are now off its "payroll."

Meanwhile, BCS is a continuing success story, with more that 600 applicants for the limited number of spaces available each year. A lottery determines who can attend after seats are given to returning students, siblings of in-district students and students who live in the attendance area for Bullis-Purissima Elementary School in Los Altos Hills, which was shut down and has been reopened under a new name, Gardner Bullis Elementary School. And contrary to some charges, only 25 percent of BCS students live in Los Altos Hills, school officials say, although five of the seven board members do live in the Hills.

With a budget of $4.7 million and state funding of only $5,076 per student, BCS has a wide gap to make up to reach the $11,000 a year goal for each student. We expect school officials are eagerly awaiting the day when they can welcome students to real classrooms on a campus with green grass and room to run.

It is time for the Los Altos district to give up its misguided fight to stifle Bullis Charter and move on. It is not worth wasting $60,000 or more to punish 465 students who just want to attend school on a regular campus like other kids in their neighborhood.


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Posted by Community Member
a resident of The Crossings
on Dec 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I look forward to the day that both superintendents can go back to the job of educating our children. What an enormous time sync this has been. Let's hope it ends soon.

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Posted by Beatrice
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2011 at 8:31 pm

The case must go forward to protect the interest of taxpayers, communities and students throughout California. Prop 39 is deeply flawed. Only through the courts can we refine the interpretation and application of a well intentioned but badly implemented law. There is life beyond the emerald hills of Los Altos. And it is for the rest of us that the decision of the 6th district must be challenged.

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Posted by Joan J. Strong
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Joan J. Strong is a registered user.

Another article bought and paid for by the billionaire owners of Bullis Charter School. No independent paper in the world would support an entity that wants to shut down public schools for the sake of revenge.

Those "stellar test scores" are NOT stellar when you consider that they are just 1-2% higher than the surrounding schools--and that BCS charges a "tuition" of $5000/year per student, thus weeding out any sort of "problem students" that might drop their test scores a smidge--i.e. enough to drop them well BELOW that of surrounding schools.

LASD "giving up its fight" means hundreds of kids get to be thrown out of their current public school and scattered all over the district, ripped from their friends, siblings and teachers. Did MV Voice do ANY research on this topic at all, or did you just forward the copy from BCS' high-paid PR agency?

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Posted by Courtenay
a resident of another community
on Dec 10, 2011 at 1:24 am

Too bad you don't list the "emerald Hills" of Los Altos as my neighborhood!

Great editorial. Thanks for seeing what anyone driving down San Antonio sees...we are on a postage stamp while other public school students deface the desks that eventually are handed down to us. It is a shame it has taken the courts to ask LASD to do the right thing.

Debatable? Find someone...anyone willing to switch schools with BCS.

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Posted by Rene
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 10, 2011 at 6:46 am


Test scores mean little--the measure mastery of the minimum basic skills required by the state, not any higher standard or beyond. LASD teaches to the test then blows its horn. Big deal. BCS students are getting much more out of a curriculum that's not limited by the teachers' union. There are great and terrible teachers in LASD. The terrible wreak havoc year after year. At BCS they are fired.

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Posted by Joan J. Strong
a resident of another community
on Dec 10, 2011 at 7:55 am

Joan J. Strong is a registered user.

Test scores mean EVERYTHING and the BCS people know it. If those test scores fell below that of LASD schools, then BYE BYE enrollment. Nobody in their right mind would send their kid to a school with LOWER test scores that ALSO costs $5000/year per child and ALSO is hated by the entire community.

I'm very sorry you do not agree with our system of public schools. It's not a perfect system but it's necessarily a compromise since it's, well, public.

But that's okay, there's a solution: they're called PRIVATE schools. If you have a "better idea" or have opinions about what teachers are or are not "
"terrible" then by all means put your money where your mouth is and start a private school.

Stealing public money for your own experiments in education is NOT free enterprise at work and is just ANOTHER government boondoggle, but this time a much WORSE since it's private control over public money.

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Posted by Educator
a resident of Monta Loma
on Dec 12, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Beatrice -
The people of California voted and passed prop 39. I think it's a great law that encourages competition and innovation. Parents now have a much needed choice. We don't need to stop charters, we need more. Teacher's unions and School Boards don't like it, because they do not want to compete. Big dollars, maybe even the survival of the teachers union are at stake.

There is an anti charter poster connected with the Teacher's Union in Santa Cruz named Beatrice, are you the same person?

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Posted by AKA
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Dec 12, 2011 at 8:50 pm

DC is HB is JJS

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Posted by Joan J. Strong
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Joan J. Strong is a registered user.

There is no way in a MILLION YEARS that California voters passed prop 39 and the Charter laws with the billionaire founders of BCS in mind. These laws were never meant to be used as tools for a revenge plot--a way to get back as the local school district for closing "their" school (now reopened as Gardner Bullis School).

The voters of California never envisioned top-scoring schools being SHUT DOWN and the kids thrown out of them to be scattered all over town, their education completely disrupted and permanently damaged.

And no, I'm not "the teachers union" so you can save your smears. I'm a parent who happens to like my top-rated public school and I've worked for years and donated my hard earned money to make it great. Now a bunch of billionaires want to take it from us using a set of laws made for disadvantaged ares, and send my children to god-knows-where.

BCS could be responsible for bringing the entire Charter movement down. It is tearing our own town apart, and showing the entire state how Charters can destroy our very best public schools.

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Posted by Harold
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 12:08 am

Charters are the only way out of this mess. I hear LASD has a 20 MILLION dollar unfunded liability in pensions and benefits. Justice retired with a cool, couple million headed his way after what? Four years? Teachers need to be hired and fired like the rest of the world and their benefits need to be sustainable. Can anyone explain why tenure after 2 years benefits anyone other than the union?

Early applications submitted into to BCS show that all this press is only making more folks want a piece of the pie. In less than 10 years, one of the best elementary schools in the State has risen from the ruins made by the LASD Trustees. Done, I might add in the most pathetic conditions in the district and under constant threat and assault by LASD and their propaganda.

Everyone in LASD and Mountain View should be demanding all schools are run like BCS--Independently. With enough pressure, we might even get them to share the parcel taxes so it wouldn't require a heavy donation.*

(*that is where you actually put your money where your mouth is and write the check rather than just blathering on about having done so.)

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Posted by Joan J. Strong
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 12:25 am

Joan J. Strong is a registered user.

More lies from the BCS propaganda machine. Suddenly a bunch of billionaires are interested where .01% of their tax dollars are going. What bull.

One of the best schools has risen from... one of the best school districts in the state. BCS accomplishes NOTHING that our local public schools here do not.

They always conveniently leave out that they start with the best school district in the state, and then disallow "undesirables" to make their test scores "great"--1-2% higher than surrounding schools.

Meanwhile, BCS is inviting every child in the entire State (literally, as required by law) to come to our schools in Los Altos. If ANY of our public schools allowed such a lottery they would ALL get thousands and thousands of applicants.

And it's BCS that is run like a silicon valley start-up replete with ultra-high paid lawyers and the best PR firms money can buy. Our public schools are... public schools... they are not allowed to be run like a win-at-all-costs silicon valley start-up.

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Posted by LASD Parent
a resident of Waverly Park
on Dec 13, 2011 at 9:35 am

I entered my child in the BCS lottery, we didn't get in. I wish that we had. I was attracted to BCS because of all of the great programs. The test scores are really close to our home school, and were not a factor.
I think that the district has a better math program, but that's about it. BCS seems to have so many great teacher's. Some of ours are fantastic but too many seem to just coast along, waiting for the big pay off in retirement. Creating more charter schools seems like a good idea to me.

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Posted by Joan J. Strong
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 1:17 pm

Joan J. Strong is a registered user.

LASD Parent:

Are you going to feel the same way when you get letter from the District informing you that your child's school will now be CLOSED to make way for the Charter school? Your kids will be moved "somewhere" and their friends and teachers will NOT be kept together since only Charter kids enjoy THAT privilege.

Did you know that BCS (like all Charter schools) are open to "every child in the State of California". How do you like competing that lottery now? You're better off buying ACTUAL LOTTERY TICKETS so you pay for a private school.

Do you think the slightly better math program is worth $5000/year per child?

Did you know that NOTHING can stop BCS from paying themselves high salaries and giant benefits just like every public school? That in time human nature says that they will just do exactly the same thing?

If you think deeply through the issues, you'll reach a different conclusion.

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Posted by Fact Checker
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 2:40 pm

Charter Schools are open to all students in the state, but LASD district does not have to provide facilities for them. The Board of Trustees holds LASD properties in trust for the state, and they are required by law to provide reasonably equivalent facilities to charter school students who live within the district. They do not have to provide facilities to out of district students. There are very few out of district students at BCS. In fact there is most likely a larger percentage of out of district students at Gardner than there is at Bullis.

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Posted by Courtenay
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Yes...Charters must be open to the entire student population however, there is so much demand at BCS within the primary school boundary (The Old Bullis Purissima boundary) and within the LASD, that I am not aware of any student being admitted into any of the kinder classes who was out of district in over 7 years. It is possible, that some students from out of district have applied and found a spot in the upper classes through sheer luck. And the above poster is right. GB has far more out of district students that we all pay for to help fill the school ($5,000.00 per kid, per year)

Last year BCS had six apps for every seat. This year, I predict a huge upswing with BCS's continued outreach and all the press, both favorable and unfavorable. There is a message in there for you and if you thought about it, you would reach a different conclusion.

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Posted by Joan J. Strong
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 7:38 pm

Joan J. Strong is a registered user.

More lies and distortions from a BCS supporter.

Yes, the district only must provide "reasonably equivalent facilities" (which if they are not exactly what BCS wants they just keep suing since they have infinite money to do so).

NO, BCS is absolutely NOT limited to keep the number of students on the given campus to any particular number. They can put 1000 kids on Gardner and 2000 kids at Covington if they want--this year. Next year they'll take over the whole district because WHO WOULDN'T WANT TO COME TO WORLD-LEADING LOS ALTOS SCHOOLS. All they have to do is hang up some flyers in Sunnyvale or Antioch and the applications will stream in.

We'll see your "outreach" propaganda with FACTS. This is the year that LASD parents will fight back FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. The sleeping giant (silent majority) has been awakened. We're going to defend our public schools from private plunder at all costs.

Once potential BCS parents learn they would be joining the most hated group of people in the entire region they will re-think sending their children there.

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Posted by Courtenay
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Joan, party of one...your table is ready.

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Posted by AKA
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 9:23 pm

Joan needs to bring her friends David and Harold Barton.

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Posted by AKA
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 9:55 pm

The table is getting crowded. Fred Binetti and Just Mom will want to come along too.

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Posted by LASD taxpayer
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2011 at 10:25 pm

Sure, tons of people from Antioch -- why not go for broke and go even further out, let's say Angels Camp -- could apply to BCS, as could students from Sunnyvale, but their isn't any space for them.

Out of District Students don't get in to BCS, there is too much demand from within the district. BCS has enough in-district applicants to have 6 sections of kindergarten.

If you live outside the district and would like to go to Los Altos Schools your best bet is to live in the Palo Alto Unified section of LAH. The district will welcome you with open arms. You will cost LASD taxpayers $6000 and will take resources away from in-district students. But heh, that's ok ,you are filling a space at the $14,000,000 Boondoggle.

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Posted by Sharron Eisenthal
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2011 at 1:23 pm

I've been following BCS since its creation. It is an extraordinary achievement by any measure in the annals of public education. It attracts students who want to learn, teachers who want to teach in the way they have proven actually works and regularly produces test scores that are the highest in the state.

Rather than viewing it as an adversary, why not learn from it? Rather than trying to close it, why not replicate its formula for quality? Rather than intimidate its students, teachers and administrators, why not embrace them and their design?

The battle is NOT about educating children. Why not admit that and move on?

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Posted by Sam
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Dec 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm

No one doubts that the education methodology of BCS is producing outstanding students, but at the same time these students aren't performing much better than those of the surrounding public schools (which are already top rated in the state). Elements of BCSs formula is already in use across the country at various charter schools that have had a dramatic impact on a population of low achieving students. Public schools should learn from that, as we all would agree.

However, this 'battle' isn't about how BCS educates their kids. It's about how a charter school was formed in an already top performing school district, that does not serve disadvantaged kids, and is growing without bounds (6 kindergarten classes!?), that now threatens the existence of neighboring public schools. Because of current laws the LASD will have to come up with a sizeable facility to house this ever increasing population, while BCS has made it clear their top choice is to retake Garder-Bullis elementary, or if too small possibly Covington. Why should non-BCS kids be forced to move schools if BCS gets their preference? BCS does not serve any additional benefit as compared to LASD, other than a different structure of teaching. Laws aren't perfect and sometimes are taken advantaged of, thus LASD will appeal as far up as it can.

What really needs to be done is for the County to get BCS to modify their charter: Drop this 50% slot filling preference toward Los Altos Hills, accept more disadvantaged children, put in a growth cap, and actually serve the County that charters you and not the boundary of LASD. Act like a charter serving a purpose to the County and State.

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Posted by AKA
a resident of another community
on Dec 17, 2011 at 10:33 pm

HMMMM it's getting really crowded at the table, HBDC, JJS Sam T will have to rent the entire restaurant

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Posted by Tom
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 4, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Sorry, I am somewhat new to this issue, and late to this thread.

Some of the legal details are confusing. Like, what is BCS, public or private?? If BCS is private, why is it on public land?? If BCS is public, why charge tuition??

If BCS is allowed under prop 39, then my gut says prop 39 will not stand.

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Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Jan 24, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Gosh, this is entertaining!

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Posted by Michael
a resident of another community
on Jun 13, 2012 at 10:58 am

BCS is a public school.
BCS is a public charter school...meaning admission to the school is via lottery.
The lottery has preferences: 50% of the open slots got to those in the LASD boundaries, 50% goes to those in Los Altos Hills.
There are about 10 applications for every 1 seat available at Bullis.
It is an open lottery.
If and only if there are any open seats after the LASD/LAH preference, then the lottery is open to others in Santa Clara County & in fact the rest of the state. Detractors want people to fear students coming in from all over the state to Bullis. That won't happen because demand is too high from LASD people.

Since BCS is a charter school Los Altos Schooll District is legally required by Proposition 39 to provide 'reasonably equivalent' facilities.

BCS doesn't charge a tuition. BCS asks for a donation of roughly $5000 per student, where as LASD asks for a donation of roughly $1500 per student. Why is the BCS donation request higher than LASD's? Because LASD doesn't share the parcel taxes it receives with the charter school-hence the charter school looks to make up that funding gap by asking parents for donations.

Tom-I hope that helps explain things.

What I don't understand is if 60%+ of the district applies to the school, obviously they are doing something right. Why is LASD so vociferously opposed to the charter school when there is such significant demand from their constituents? Why not embrace the #1 charter school in the state?

Why are 'people' (people is in quotes because they're internet trolls-who hide their true identity) like Joan J Strong so against the charter school. Is her best interest the children of LASD? I don't know. No one knows. But why hasn't the LASD board repudiated 'her' repeated lie and slimy tactics?

Does the other most outspoken critic against the charter school in Los Altos, Dave C. have the best interest of Los Altos kids in mind? He doesn't even have why are these people stirring up discord and hate, when we can all work toward giving the town what it wants? Greater access to BCS' teaching methods.

By the way the article's author did a great job of explaining so much of what's going on-AND pointing out that if the charter school detractors closed the school the c. 500 BCS students would end up in the other LASD schools, causing crowding and reduced $ per student.

It's a shame that the LASD board kotows to the likes of JJS, DC and those who create such much discord in our community. Just because LASD schools are great doesn't mean we can't do better.

Thank you MV Voice for giving clear perspective on this topic.

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