Thu04172014

Solution for BCS/LASD – a merger: Editor's Notebook

I’ve been to the Bullis Charter School campus at Blach Intermediate School twice in the past three months. The first time was in August, at the invitation of Los Altos School District officials. It was a “see what we’ve done to accommodate the charter school” tour to demonstrate how the district met facilities requirements.

The second time, in October, was altogether different. It was a “see how unreasonable the school district is” tour, with a blacktop full of children unable to use the surrounding playing fields. I met assistant principal Alison Schwartzbaum, a passionate educator who didn’t understand why her students couldn’t play on the empty fields.

For 10 years, since the arrival of the charter school, it’s been the same old “us versus them” mentality. The community is beyond tired of it. The Town Crier is tired of reporting on it. However, Bullis Charter School versus the Los Altos School District remains a major problem that must be solved. Ignoring it is not the solution.

I believe that the ultimate solution involves Bullis Charter School becoming part of the Los Altos School District. It should be a magnet school, offering more educational alternatives that add to the district’s overall strength.

The bad vibes on both sides could be attributed to a matter of positioning. Because the Santa Clara County Board of Education, not the school district, sponsors the charter school, it is seen as an outsider, taking away from our existing schools’ resources.

If Bullis Charter School were part of the district, “them” would become “us.” My sense is that facilities issues would be easier to solve were the charter school planet part of the district’s solar system.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way. But there’s no will, as far as I can tell. District folks in past years said they’ve made overtures to the charter school to join the district, but charter school officials apparently refused. It’s understandable, in part because of a lack of trust, but also because Bullis Charter School would have to re-charter with the district – a major bureaucratic hurdle – and be subject to increased transparency.

A decade later, the charter school is a successful institution. It’s grown too big for its previously desired campus in Los Altos Hills. It’s drawing students from all over. The charter school is here for good. The district must accommodate it.

It has cost both parties hundreds of thousands of dollars to battle in the courts. Talks reached a low point recently when the district basically threatened to close the Blach campus unless the charter school adhered to the letter of its facilities agreement.

But there are some streaks of light through the dark clouds. Talks are underway that would involve a halt to litigation and a long-term plan for housing the charter school in a shared-campus configuration.

That’s great. But for real action to occur, both sides have to bury the hatchet. This would require new people in charge who were not burdened by history and who could commit to working on a merger.

It won’t be easy. I understand concerns about Bullis Charter School’s loss of control or fears of being under district control. But I don’t see why the charter school can’t be part of the district and continue to do its own thing. It works just fine for the Downtown College Prep charter school and the San Jose Unified School District. Why not us?

Bruce Barton is editor-in-chief of the Town Crier.

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