Tue09022014

News

Negotiations close, leave redistricting uncertain

Negotiations among local school districts, the town of Los Altos Hills and Bullis Charter School ended without resolution after a final closed meeting last Thursday.

The proposed reopening of a $10 million public elementary school at the Bullis-Purissima site in Los Altos Hills by 2008 seems certain. Yet to be decided is whether Bullis Charter School will move to that site, as it has requested since being founded three years ago, or whether a Los Altos School District elementary school will reopen at that site, as proposed by the district this winter.

Los Altos Hills as a community has become divided between residents who appreciate the status quo - children enrolled in either Los Altos or Palo Alto public schools - and residents who feel their children, and the town as a whole, have been ill-served by the closure of the town's only remaining public school three years ago. The limited funding allocated to the charter school and its assignment by the district to a nonpreferred location have also been key sore points for proponents of redistricting.

Residents opposed to the proposed redistricting met Monday after the Town Crier went to press. The Los Altos Hills City Council is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to initiate the redistricting process with the Santa Clara County Board of Education. In coming months, the Palo Alto Unified and the Los Altos school districts will evaluate options for Bullis Charter School and the Bullis-Purissima school site in Los Altos Hills. The Citizens Advisory Committee for Finance is expected to report to Los Altos School District June 5 with information on projected enrollment and financial details related to the options being negotiated.

Financing a compromise is going to require careful study by all involved. Charter schools typically receive approximately $5,000 from the state for each student enrolled. How that money is transferred and allocated depends in part on whether those students' home school districts receive funding entirely from property taxes (Basic Aid) or whether they also receive supplementation from the state (Revenue Limit). Negotiations between the district and the charter school must plan for Los Altos' shifting category, as it approaches Basic Aid status.

Another tricky aspect of the compromise is ensuring priority for Los Altos Hills students at an elementary school in town. If Bullis Charter School got the spot, it would have to rewrite its charter to include preferential admission for local students.

Representatives from the charter school and Los Altos Hills seem confident that the charter school will be moved to Los Altos Hills. City Councilman Craig Jones said that the framework designed during negotiations included "the placement of the Bullis Charter School at the Bullis-Purissima site."

Representatives from the Los Altos School District were more reticent. Superintendent Tim Justus said, "I have to tell you in all honesty that no decisions have been made. We need to go back to the public process now and decide what is right for the long-term future."

Margot Harrigan, president of the Los Altos school board, said at the April 17 board meeting that the redistricting scuffle is detracting from what should be the district's and community's focus this year: renewal of the parcel tax. The $597 tax, approved in 2002, is up for renewal in November. "Nothing should confuse the public as to the clarity of our program and the necessity of that $597," she said.

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