Seeking to end a lengthy and litigious dispute over facilities spanning more than a decade, board members from both Bullis Charter School and Los Altos School District hammered out a 10-year peace agreement, which was unveiled to the public on April 3. Under the terms of the proposed deal, Bullis would be granted the majority of the Egan site — 16 acres in total — while Egan students would move to the future Mountain View school. The agreement states Bullis will remain in its configuration at Egan and Blach until the new school is built, expected to be no sooner than 2023.
The 10-year agreement won swift approval from Bullis Charter School's board of directors on April 23, and was called a path to peace and the result of compromise on both sides. The agreement means Bullis would willingly be constrained by an enrollment cap of 1,111 students for 10 years in return for permanent facilities at a single school site.
Support among the Los Altos School District trustees, on the other hand, appears tenuous at best, and all five members agreed to at least postpone a final decision on displacing Egan. District officials plan to solicit more public feedback over the next several months, with a goal of giving community members more time to digest the details before making a major commitment about Egan's future.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Bullis' board chair Joe Hurd said he and the board of directors were "disappointed" that the district's school board declined to approve the 10-year agreement in whole at the April 29 meeting, calling it a missed chance to help "heal the long-standing divisions that have roiled our community for much of the past 15 years."
Hurd said the charter school's board of directors also met on Monday night and agreed, in closed session, to offer LASD a similar interim agreement, albeit for one year instead of two. One year should be enough time for the community engagement that district officials and the community seek, Hurd said.
Los Altos School District parents have thoroughly slammed the proposal in recent weeks, calling it a major concession to the charter school in exchange for very little. Packing three straight board meetings, residents repeatedly told trustees that moving Egan amounts to a closure of the school, which would be a major blow to the community. Others argued that moving Egan into Mountain View would cause traffic and safety problems, as students living in Los Altos would have to travel across El Camino Real.
Parent Robert Burdick said the board should forget about trying to sell the proposal to the public in the coming months and just reject the 10-year agreement outright. The public has been loud and clear in its staunch opposition since it was unveiled on April 3, he said, and there is no appetite for giving up a neighborhood school to the charter school. Parent Kate Disney urged the board to stand strong against what she called the privatization of education through a rejection of the proposal.
"Do not turn over our public assets to a quasi-private school," she said. "Do the right thing for LASD, save our neighborhood schools and just say no to handing over Egan to BCS."
Unlike past meetings, several members of the Bullis Charter School community spoke at the April 29 meeting, largely in support of the 10-year agreement. Several Bullis parents argued the proposal comes from a careful, deliberative debate between the two parties over the course of 18 months — albeit behind closed doors — and represents deep concessions from both sides seeking a peaceful compromise. Bullis parent Ying Liu, who ran unsuccessfully for the school board last year, said postponing the decision is a mistake.
"Let's not pretend that we will be smarter and come up with a bright idea that has never been thought of," she said. "The challenge we're facing will not become less personal or emotional, the challenge will only get more complex."
A split decision
The proposed 10-year agreement came with two parts: the short-term arrangement with Bullis Charter School; and the long-term facilities plan that moves Egan and grants the charter school exclusive use of most of the Egan campus.
The decision Monday night by the Los Altos school board essentially splits the document in half, approving the short-term aspects — allowing Bullis to grow to 1,111 students and providing more classroom space at Egan and Blach for the next two years — while shying away from deciding the fate of Egan Junior High and the future school in Mountain View.
Given the significant opposition and the short time frame in which the negotiated agreement was revealed to the public prior to the April 29 vote, board president Jessica Speiser said it only makes sense to hit the brakes on the controversial aspects of the plan. While many more painful alternatives for housing Bullis have been considered and ultimately rejected over the course of several years, many parents opposed to the proposal simply don't have that context, she said.
"While we have gone through this process for many many years, there are newcomers to this process who haven't been. And it's time to get them up to speed," she said.
School board member Bryan Johnson, who represented the district in negotiations with Speiser, also agreed it was worth taking the extra six months to present the district's data and either get community buy-in or find a better option, while also having a short-term plan in place for Bullis' growth.
"We can't rush this when it's going to cause so much change in the district as a whole," he said.
Board member Vladimir Ivanovic, an opponent of the proposed agreement, called it a "mistake" to consider moving Egan in a closed-session environment without giving the public a chance to weigh in. But he said the short-term agreement is a good way to deal with Bullis' near-term enrollment growth while giving the district and its constituents more time to figure out a better solution. The charter school has already enrolled 200 additional students for the fall this year, and the district is required to provide the space for them.
Ivanovic said the reaction of Bullis Charter School's leaders will be a clear sign of whether they are willing to cooperate on a long-term facilities agreement that unites the community.
"I would look to BCS on what they do next as a signal of how willing they are to cooperate," he said. "If they continue to bully us by increasing their enrollment, that sends us a very clear message."
Trustees largely considered the interim agreement a better deal for both the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School, noting that the alternative is more expensive and more painful. If there is no negotiated agreement on facilities, the district and the charter school must fall back on the state's Proposition 39 process, which requires a rigid offer and counter-offer framework for school facilities. The district's prior offer under Proposition 39 was to divide the charter school further by placing additional students at Loyola Elementary School -- an idea that raised concerns about shared use of the Loyola's facilities.
In a statement, Bullis board chair Hurd said that, as a way to guarantee facilities in the event that the interim agreement falls through, the charter school will continue to respond to the district's facilities offer for classroom space at Loyola Elementary School. Hurd characterized it as a necessary negotiation that needs to happen alongside the debate over a short-term agreement.
"Quite simply, we need to ensure that, one way or another, our students have facilities for the 2019-2020 school year," Hurd said. "This means we shall continue to request facilities under Prop 39 in parallel with our negotiations with LASD."
Prior to the release of Hurd's statement, Johnson said he hopes the board's vote Monday night is flexible, and that the short-term facilities agreement could be shortened further — to just the 2019-20 school year — if Bullis Charter School's board of directors finds two years untenable.
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