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Use agreement remains sticking point: Charter school, district haggling continues via email


Courtesy of BCS
Bullis Charter School families and staff work to prepare the Blach campus over the weekend.

After a week of email communications between the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School, face-to-face contact may finally be on the horizon.

In the latest back-and-forth emails between the two parties, the district suggested meeting Tuesdays and Thursdays, beginning next week, to discuss short- and long-term facilities issues. Charter school officials agreed to the meetings, and added that Los Altos Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw would host and arrange a venue and an impartial facilitator for the discussions. Their Monday response also included a signed copy of the district Facilities Use Agreement (FUA).

Charter school officials had invited the district board of trustees to its Monday board meeting to discuss the major concerns over the FUA, but district officials declined due to scheduling conflicts.

The FUA includes limits on the number of charter school students who may attend the school’s campuses on the Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools properties and on the grade levels at the new Blach facilities. The district’s facilities offer, finalized in April, included the terms.

FUA and lockout status

Bullis Charter School officials received keys to the Blach campus at the district’s Aug. 12 board meeting – along with a warning.

“Now that the district has delivered the keys, I would expect Bullis Charter School will realize it needs to sign the use agreement before entering the facilities, but the district will watch and see what Bullis Charter School does and act accordingly,” said Doug Smith, district board president, at the time.

Smith warned charter school officials of “legal consequences” if charter school administrators fail to sign the FUA.

A letter from the district accompanied the keys, cautioning that if the charter school unlocks the Blach site without signing the FUA, the district will decide whether that action indicates that the charter school agrees to the terms of the FUA or is in breach of the agreement. Smith said the district will be “closely monitoring” the situation.

The following day, charter school officials issued a press release stating that they intended to access their facilities at Blach.

“Our teachers need to get their classrooms ready for the upcoming school year,” said Ken Moore, charter school board chairman. “We disagree with select elements of the FUA and have repeatedly tried to discuss it in good faith with the district. It’s clear that the district plans to use the unsigned FUA as its basis for finding us in violation of its imposed restrictions. It’s evident that the district intends to take us to court simply for daring to serve all our enrolled students and implementing our teacher-designed educational program.”

Moore added that charter school representatives were “saddened by the district’s increasingly hostile and incredulous behavior.”

Charter school families and teachers met at the Blach campus over the weekend to ready the campus for the school year, which opens this week.

Terms of agreement

Charter school officials sent an email to their district counterparts Aug. 14, providing further details regarding the number of students they plan to house at each campus.

An attached letter explained that Bullis Charter School would agree to terms that it would not exceed a student count on either site of more than 20 percent above its in-district projections last fall – 175 students at Blach and 563 at Egan. It would also commit to limit periodic gatherings of its entire student body to at most eight times per month at the Egan site.

The charter school’s letter acknowledged its “full indemnification for (K-3 students’) safety” at the Blach campus.

“Our community is closely watching how the Los Altos School District resolves this matter,” the letter stated. “As trustees over public facilities, you are the elected leaders with a duty to be impartial. Instead of fighting Bullis Charter School, lay the groundwork for productive collaboration and sharing of best practices.”

District response

The district responded to the charter school’s letter via email Friday afternoon.

“Although we are interested in learning more, it is important for you to realize that we spent considerable time and utilized an extensive, publicly driven process to prepare the final offer and the attendant facilities use agreement and crafted it with that input in mind,” the attached letter stated. “This process is not easy to replicate in just a few days’ time or to modify without feedback from our community and a thorough evaluation of the potential impacts.”

The district claimed that a judge certified its 2013-2014 final offer earlier this year after the charter school brought the case to court.

“We understand that you want to run the program you have the way you have designed it, but it is perhaps equally important for you to innovate in a way that meets your goals and also fits into the constraints of the final offer, the court’s ruling validating that final offer and the interests of the broader Los Altos community,” the letter continued.

The charter school board released a rebuttal to the district’s interpretation of the facts in its original letter last week, claiming that a judge denied the charter school’s motion against the district’s split-campus offer but did not address the other issues such as site capacity limits or grade-level restrictions.

“However, given that the status quo is that our final offer was deemed fully compliant with Prop. 39, we would need compelling reasons to grant any exceptions as well as additional time to ensure that the district complies with the California Environmental Quality Act before approving a facilities use agreement that permits more students/buildings than allowed under the final offer,” the district’s Friday letter stated.

The letter proposed that a subset of the two boards attend the suggested twice-weekly meetings, because convening meetings with nine charter school board members and five district trustees would likely create “challenging situations” and raise scheduling conflicts. The district suggested two representatives from each board attend the meetings.

Charter school officials responded positively to the district’s call for meetings next week. Their response made it clear, however, that they want to address short-term issues regarding the enrollment caps and grade restrictions before they tackle long-range plans.

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