The Santa Clara County Superior Court last week rejected all but one petition filed by Bullis Charter School in the latest legal battle over the Los Altos School District’s mandate to provide reasonably equivalent facilities for the charter school.
While Judge James P. Kleinberg noted Nov. 24 that the district and the charter school should work out an agreement regarding shared use of outdoor, nonteaching space, he denied the charter’s petition for additional space for a seventh grade and teaching and nonteaching classroom areas.
The charter school filed the petitions in Santa Clara County Superior Court June 10 requesting that the court define the extent of the district’s legal obligation for providing facilities to the charter school.
Proposition 39, passed in 2000, mandates that districts provide “reasonably equivalent space” for students who reside within district boundaries but attend a charter school.
The petition outlined seven areas the charter school requested the court to evaluate, including the controversial proposed addition of a seventh-grade program at the charter school, which currently serves K-6 students on the Egan Junior High School campus.
Ken Moore, board chairman of Bullis Charter School, expressed his reaction to the ruling in a letter sent to school parents Monday.
“We are disappointed that the court did not address a number of fundamental questions raised by (the charter school) and appeared to misunderstand our position on others,” he wrote. “We have spoken directly to many experts on charter school laws in California and remain convinced that continued efforts must be made to make crystal clear the intent of the law to treat charter schools as equal partners in the public education of our children.”
Moore added that charter school staffers are reviewing the judge’s ruling this week. He said supporters are examining both legal and public policy avenues to resolve matters moving forward.
David Pefley, Los Altos School District board president, called the charter school’s legal action “unfortunate,” pointing out that the charter school has taken the Los Altos School District to court four times and has been turned down by four different judges.
“The Los Altos School District has always taken great care to ensure that it has been compliant with granting ‘reasonably equivalent facilities’ to the Santa Clara County-sponsored Bullis Charter School, and has even gone beyond the requirements of Proposition 39 in many cases,” Pefley said.
While the final ruling predominantly outlined the denied charter school requests, the judge leveled criticism at both parties.
“The court is struck by the amount of continuing acrimony and inability to cooperate exhibited by the parties,” Kleinberg remarked.
In his written decision, Kleinberg added that the school district could do a better job of meeting its responsibilities.
“District officials must make every effort to work with charter school officials in good faith, comply with their reasonable requests for transparency and not adopt a reflexively adversarial position,” he wrote.
But the judge also criticized the charter school, noting that some of the school’s supporters “are motivated by a strongly held yet entirely unjustified sense of superior entitlement to the Gardner Bullis School (site).”
Moore said he was satisfied with one aspect of the court’s ruling.
“We are ... pleased the court ruled that the district has an obligation to negotiate a clearer, more fair and equitable shared-use of turfed field areas at our current campus,” he stated in his letter to parents. “We look forward to working with the district on this matter.”
District Superintendent Tim Justus said he is relieved that the judge ruled in favor of the school district.
“We sincerely hope that the charter school will discontinue its practice of continual lawsuits, which waste the community’s money and distract from educating our children,” he said.