The Monday, Oct. 1, special board meeting proposed by Bullis Charter School seeks to strike a conciliatory tone between Bullis representatives and the Los Altos School District on the vision for a 10th school site. LASD officials intend to purchase 9.6 acres of land on the corner of California Street and Showers Drive — currently home to Kohl's department store and several other businesses — and are rapidly approaching decision time on what school should go there.
The two most likely options are to move Bullis Charter School to the site or create a new neighborhood school serving nearby Mountain View residents.
While Bullis Charter School's board of directors has yet to officially weigh in on which option it prefers, members of the charter school community have long questioned the idea of buying land for a 10th school site, pointing to the significant acreage already owned by the district — particularly the more than 15 acre-campus occupied by Covington Elementary School. At a school board meeting Monday night, Bullis parent Jill Jene said it feels like the conversation has been artificially constrained because land acquisition must be treated as a given, despite the lack of interest by Bullis and district school communities to relocate to the site.
"You really should look hard at why you're buying land when nobody wants to go there," she said.
In an opinion piece in the Voice last week, Bullis board chair Joe Hurd also raised concerns that the district may be on track to purchase expensive real estate for a school that would do "nothing to serve LASD's only neighborhood without its own school."
At the Sept. 10 board meeting, district school board members amped up their rhetoric about what they described as a lack of transparency from the charter school and its plans for enrollment growth, creating doubt about whether Bullis is a good fit for the new school site. Trustees raised the notion that the charter school may prompt school closures by growing to 1,800 students and beyond in the coming years — a number that charter school officials deny has ever been seriously considered.
School board members took a more measured approach at the Monday, Sept. 24, meeting, no longer referring to the 1,800-student figure, with Ivanovic stating that the community at-large would be far better off if the district and the charter school cooperated with each other.
"I believe that neither board has publicly acknowledged that the other side may have legitimate interests that conflict with the other side," he said. "And I think that's a first step before we can even hope to cooperate."
Still, Ivanovic said he and the rest of the district leadership have been frustrated by the lack of transparency about the charter school's plans, and lack of clarity on what Bullis expects in the way of facilities next fall. Communication between the two parties has been so limited that the district only learned of Bullis' intent to grow to 1,200 students — likely over the next three to five years — through a report put together by the district's hired demographer in May. Hurd told the Voice that sharing this information with a district-hired demographer felt like the "appropriate avenue" for enrollment information.
The idea that Bullis would grow past its current limit of 900 students likely stamps out the possibility that a new school in the San Antonio area of Mountain View could house the charter school in its entirety, with the Los Altos School District Associate Superintendent Randy Kenyon stating last month that cramming a 1,200-student campus on the site is out of the question. It's unclear how the charter school would be split among existing and future district campuses after growing by 30 percent.
In August, a majority of a district-run task force agreed that moving Bullis to the future Mountain View school would be the best option, with opening a new neighborhood school as a second option. While Los Altos district board members have yet to make a final decision, some board members have opted to weigh in.
Earlier this month, board member Steve Taglio said his goal from the start is to put nine schools on nine campuses without closing any schools, and that relocating Bullis from its split-campus arrangement at Egan and Blach junior high schools was the only way to do it. He also argued that the district can't handle the burden of operating another neighborhood school at an annual cost of $800,000.
Ivanovic, on the other hand, said he believes a strong case can be made for putting a neighborhood school in the San Antonio area, and that it could "improve education outcomes" of students without hindering other nearby schools. He also pointed out that enrollment is expected to grow in the area — quickly — and that the Mountain View City Council has unanimously backed the idea of a neighborhood school. With all the development going on in the San Antonio region, he said this is probably the last chance to create a neighborhood school.
"The north of El Camino area is the only area without a neighborhood school, and if we don't put a neighborhood school there now, they will never get a neighborhood school," he said.
The Oct. 1 meeting starts at 7 p.m. and will be held in Bullis' multipurpose room at 102 W. Portola Ave. in Los Altos. Information on what precisely will be discussed at the meeting was still in flux as of Wednesday morning.
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