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LASD to decide on charter by mid-October

 Image from article LASD to decide on charter by mid-October

The Santa Clara County Board of Education conditionally approved the Bullis Charter School petition Sept. 3, by a 6-1 vote.

The charter was approved by the county board, but the Los Altos School District has 40 days from that date to make a decision whether or not it wants to become the sponsoring agency for the charter. The charter school hopes to open its doors in the fall of 2004.

A charter school is an independent public school, supported by public funds and held accountable by a public authority. Charter schools have a written legal agreement with a sponsoring agency, usually a school district.

"The charter school appeal is a strange animal," said Santa Clara County Board of Education member Leon F. Beauchman. "I don't know if there were enough arguments heard tonight or enough weight to deny the charter. There is enough gray here."

The district expected to discuss the issue at its Sept. 8 board meeting, after the Town Crier's deadline. Superintendent Marge Gratiot said, however, she would be surprised if the board didn't take more time in making its decision. Look for an update on the board's actions in our Sept. 17 issue and online at www.losaltosonline.com.

If the Los Altos School District denies the charter after the 40-day deadline, the county board of education will automatically become the sponsoring agency for the charter. The sponsoring agency is responsible for fiscal and curricular oversight, negotiations of details of the charter operation and special education.

The school district will be responsible for the approximately $5,000 in Average Daily Attendance Revenue Limit funding from the state for each student who attends the charter school. The charter projects 155 students in its first year. As Craig Jones of the charter group pointed out, however, the district will be able to keep the per pupil parcel tax revenues paid by charter school families.

The district is required by law to offer an acceptable facility to the charter school, even if the county is the chartering agency. The charter school does not have to accept the district's facilities offer. Craig Jones, of the charter school stated to the county board that the charter would be willing to accept any worthy school site, though the group has a strong preference to remain in Los Altos Hills.

Efforts to start a charter school came after the district voted to close Bullis-Purissima School this June. The school was the last K-6 public school in Los Altos Hills. Bullis students were reassigned to Covington School this fall. The district's Site Disposal Committee has declared the Bullis School site surplus. The charter school has expressed serious interest in occupying Bullis, including offering to rent Bullis from the district for $$150,000 for the 2003-04 school year. No decision has been made about the site.

The county board came to its decision after long hours of discussion. The decision also went against the county's own staff and legal counsel recommendations.

"I think I was surprised at the decision because it was not what had been recommended by the county's staff and lawyers," said Marge Gratiot, superintendent of the Los Altos School District.

The county's staff had recommended the board deny the charter on the legal grounds that the original charter's admission preferences were unlawful.

The finding of fact according to the county office of education's staff report was, "The charter's proposed admissions requirements do not comply with California law, and would render the school unlikely to achieve racial and ethnic balance or to serve students as required by law."

The board asked that the charter petition be amended to remove all enrollment preferences other than a priority for district residents and the charter group agreed.

Gratiot said that by the charter group agreeing to change the admissions preferences, it actually helps the district if it wants to become basic aid. A Basic Aid District receives a basic amount of general funding from the state, since the local property tax revenue within the district exceeds what could be provided under other state funding formulas. Currently the district is a revenue limit district, but hopes to become Basic Aid in 2004-05.

"If we become Basic Aid and we get students from outside the district into the charter from non-Basic Aid district, the state reimburses us (Average Daily Attendance funding) for those students," Gratiot said. "If we get children from another Basic Aid district we get no reimbursement and the cost for those students come from our district. Since the charter school has changed its admission preferences to include our whole district, I suppose there won't be room for other students. The change not only helped the charter legally comply, but also financially helped decrease the threat of students from Palo Alto, which is another Basic Aid District." Gratiot added that both the district and charter group have agreed to work together in a productive way.

The charter group submitted the following proposed changes to its admission preferences in order: all Los Altos School District residents who are also documented Bullis Charter School volunteers with at least 40 hours of volunteer time (first year of operation only); all Los Altos School District residents; siblings of current Bullis Charter School students if also California residents; residents of Los Altos Hills; children of teachers hired to teach in the upcoming school year at Bullis Charter School and residents of Santa Clara County; residents of California.

The county board, who has only seen one other charter school appeal just approved its process on which to view a charter appeal application in its office three months ago.

"If you look at this case on the facts, no matter how this is decided, I believe the children of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills have community supported education," Beauchman said.

The charter school group, which was fully prepared to submit an appeal to the State Board of Education had the charter been denied at the county level was elated at the county's decision.

"We are delighted with the decision of the county board," said Craig Jones, of Bullis Charter School. "The Bullis Charter School will deliver unprecedented, innovative educational opportunities for the Los Altos School District. We are looking forward to providing additional public educational choices for all students in our district."

The charter school is now working on finding a school site, fund-raising and hiring teachers and staff.

Wanny Hersey, of the Bel Aire Elementary School in Tiburon, has signed a letter of intent to serve as the principal of the charter school.

"We are committed to creating an outstanding school where children develop a lifelong love of learning," Hersey said. "We look forward to providing our unique and outstanding curriculum to our future students."

For more information, logon to the Bullis Charter School Web site at www.bullischarterschool.com or the Santa Clara County Office of Education at www.sccoe.org.

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