District trustees rejected any move toward a compromise that acknowledges all the students are part of the Los Altos district and deserve equal treatment when it comes to assigning school facilities. Instead, after losing their last chance to overturn the appeals court order, the LASD simply ignored it and said it would assign Bullis K-6 students to the same crowded line-up of portable classrooms it occupies now in an Egan Middle School parking lot and send its grades 7-8 students to Blach Middle School, some four miles away.
Not surprisingly, Bullis cried foul, finding the preliminary offer not only unacceptable but "unlawful," in the words of Bullis board member Anne Marie Gallagher. The charter school will no doubt will look to yet another court action to enforce the earlier rulings affirming the right of their 465 students, nearly all of whom live in the district, to equal accommodations.
Unless a compromise is forged, the current LASD trustees, who voted to spend $60,000 on their losing state Supreme Court appeal, will likely waste even more precious school dollars trying to defend their cause.
As we said last December, as a basic aid district, Los Altos receives the bulk of its financial support from local property taxes, an amount that is not dependent on the number of students attending LASD schools. The district receives the same amount whether or not the Bullis school exists.
But now, 465 students attend Bullis, which is totally supported by state funds, taking the obligation away from LASD. Given that LASD, through taxes and parental support, spends about $11,000 per student, the district saves $5 million a year by not having to educate the Bullis students.
So in our view, rather than force Bullis into a parking lot of portable classrooms, about the only rational solution is to hand over an entire school to Bullis and be done with it. At last count, less than 300 students attend the Gardner Bullis School in Los Altos Hills, by far the lowest enrollment of any school in the district. These students could be transferred to other district schools to make way for Bullis Charter School. This would place 465 students on a proper school campus, which is their right as residents of the Los Altos school district. Their presence would not detract from the district, which would save millions of dollars in basic aid funds, perhaps enough to build a new school elsewhere in the district.
This dispute has gone on long enough. We do not believe any piecemeal solution will be acceptable to Bullis or the courts. The Los Altos district may not believe it is fair play for Bullis to demand a school site. But the decision is not up to the district. Proposition 39 dictates that charter schools must be given "reasonably equivalent" space and facilities. Portable classrooms on a parking lot are hardly "equivalent." Charter schools are here to stay. And it is time for the Los Altos district to recognize that fact and move on.