Sat08302014

Other Voices: BCS asking district to fool public over bond purpose

Over the course of decades, our community has developed excellent public schools into which the community pours its heart, soul and minds. The ongoing facilities dispute with Bullis Charter School (BCS) has been a sore spot that we need to solve. But it’s hard to find the right path in light of recent BCS actions.

Last year, they waged a $300,000 PR campaign to promote compromise – then still sued the Los Altos School District (LASD) and lost. This year, they signed a Facilities Use Agreement that they are now violating. And now, instead of negotiating, they’re back on the PR trail again.

Throughout September, LASD and BCS met to discuss both short term facilities enhancements and long term cooperation on a school facilities bond. Yet, for the past month, LASD has been unable to get BCS to return to the negotiating table.

Based on BCS’s requests, the District proposed an agreement that would provide BCS with short term enhancements to their current facilities, and lays a path toward passing a bond. We have received no formal response to that proposal – no meetings, no dialogue –until the charter school manifesto recently printed in this paper.

Instead of working with LASD on a bond measure the community could support, BCS urges the district to position the bond as something other than what it would be. Repeatedly, they’ve suggested that the LASD Board of Trustees has mystical influence over our community – that folks here believe whatever we say, no matter what the facts show. They’ve asked us to deceive the public about the proceeds of a school bond. Ironically, a similar fight over a school bond spurred the creation of BCS in the first place.

Every year for the past 10 years, BCS has asked LASD (and often the courts) to close a neighborhood school and give it to BCS. The community has been very clear in their opposition to this. BCS knows this, and knows that a successful bond campaign would result in building a new school for BCS students. Yet they insist that isn’t their request. Our community is smart enough to see through that charade.

When we met in September, BCS negotiators refused to even discuss how they might change to help build community support for a bond. Instead, the BCS editorial asks LASD Trustees to violate state law and breach the trust of our local community by ignoring the legal funding formulas for charter schools. The state legislature allocates the property taxes between charter schools and school districts – it isn’t up to LASD trustees to change that formula. Similarly, voters of our community have generously supported LASD schools through parcel taxes, but it is the voters – not the trustees – who decide how those funds are spent. LASD has expressed a willingness to work with BCS to address these questions through the legislative process in the longer term. Perhaps if we’re considering a financial rebalancing we will also discuss sharing of all private funds as well. However, in the here-and-now, we have a facilities shortage that we need to address. Let’s talk about how BCS can help us pass a desperately needed school bond.

Doug Smith is president of the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees.

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