In November, Bullis Charter School officials announced they intended to increase enrollment to 1,200 students over the next three years, which means the current arrangement may no longer be sustainable. The charter school's 915 students currently are housed on portions of the Egan and Blach junior high school campuses, but the campus is already pretty cramped at both sites. Making matters worse, Blach is within a floodplain and requires a significant investment to put down even temporary portable classrooms, according to Assistant Superintendent Randy Kenyon.
Bullis' enrollment growth is spelled out in a formal request for facilities filed in November through the Proposition 39 process, which requires school districts to provide "reasonably equivalent" facilities to charter school students who reside within the district's boundaries. The Los Altos School District is obligated to find a classrooms to house 1,058 of the 1,105 students enrolled for the 2019-20 school year.
The district has to make an offer to the charter school by Feb. 1, leaving district officials less than three weeks to draft a detailed plan, Kenyon said.
Some board members used the meeting as an opportunity to vent about the short timeline and what they described as a unilateral decision by Bullis to grow at a fast and unpredictable rate. Board member Bryan Johnson said dropping portables at another school site seems like the only immediate-term solution to the charter school's growing enrollment, a Band-Aid fix that no one is going to be happy with. Board member Steve Taglio took the triage approach and said that the district should put Bullis' additional classrooms at a school site that would place the least burden on any district school or community.
Traffic mitigation came to the fore as a prime concern for both board members and parents who spoke at the meeting. Given that the charter school draws students from all over the district who are more likely to be driven to school, any elementary school that accommodates Bullis Charter School could see a traffic snarl during pickup and drop-off times. Parent Alison Biggs said she lives close to Santa Rita Elementary School, but traffic is already too dangerous around her house near Egan for her children to walk to school.
Oak Elementary parent Sara Payne said a huge number of kids at her school — close to a quarter of the student body — bike to school, and that a huge increase in cars would make it difficult for those students to safely walk and bike.
"We have a lot of kids on the road," she said. "The more traffic you bring into the neighborhood roads, the more dangerous you make it for the kids trying to get to and from school."
Another parent suggested that Bullis could agree, as a part of the facilities negotiations, that the school require charter school students to take a bus.
Board members showed little appetite for Bullis' request for the "exclusive use" of all 20 acres of the Egan Junior High campus. Johnson said the charter school could have asked for something more reasonable, and that the school district can't move 600 displaced junior high school students to an "imaginary" site that doesn't exist by fall.
Board member Vladimir Ivanovic said Bullis Charter School has reached a point of "uncontrolled growth" by deciding to increase enrollment to 1,200 students without consulting with anyone, and that it's unclear if it will stop there, speculating that it could increase to 1,800 students or beyond. Ivanovic said he felt Bullis will always demand more from the district, making it all the more important not to cede any ground.
At the same time, Ivanovic said that Bullis' leadership has fought against increasing the district's available facilities through the acquisition of a 10th school site in the San Antonio neighborhood of Mountain View. He implied it was a vindictive act in response to the district's decision to close Bullis-Purissima School in Los Altos Hills in 2003, which sparked the creation of Bullis Charter School, and that charter school officials won't be satisfied until the district is forced to shutter a school to accommodate Bullis.
"It's my belief that BCS will not be satisfied with any solution that does not include the closing of an LASD school," Ivanovic said. "I think BCS wants their pound of flesh from us."
A 10th school site could end up being a long-term solution, but certainly won't help anytime soon. Kenyon said the earliest the district could open the doors on a new school in Mountain View is the 2023-24 school year. And even then its usefulness may be limited: School board members agreed last month that Bullis could only be moved to the San Antonio school if it offered enrollment preference to students in the surrounding neighborhood — Mountain View residents who live within LASD boundaries.
The staff report for the Jan. 14 board meeting states Bullis had not agreed to placement at the 10th site with a neighborhood preference. Bullis board president Joe Hurd said the statement is inaccurate, and that the charter school's board of directors has not taken a formal stance on the issue. He said the district has yet to reach out to the charter school's leaders to even solicit their opinion.
The lack of communication appears to go both ways — Johnson said the charter school has not put forward a proposal for its growth plans and could have attended the Jan. 14 board meeting.
In order to solicit community feedback, the district planned to hold a "public input" session on Wednesday evening. Board members emphasized that they are seeking suggestions from the public on how to accommodate Bullis Charter School's projected enrollment growth, which will likely require a minimum of 12 classrooms by the 2021-22 school year.
Additionally, an outside group called Creative Facilities Solutions met on Tuesday in the social hall at Hillview Community Center in Los Altos. The group is not associated with the district, but had an architect available to talk about the district's ability to "maximizing existing land." Over the last year and a half, the group has sought to come up with alternatives to buying a 10th school site in Mountain View.
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