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Settlement possible in charter school case

Negotiations are under way to settle Bullis Charter School's lawsuit against the Los Altos School District. The district has not ruled out sharing the Bullis-Purissima Elementary School campus, Superintendent Tim Justus said last week.

"The reality is the charter school is going to be in existence for years to come and we will need to coexist somewhere in the district. We began looking at coexisting at the Bullis site, and that's where we left it," Justus said.

The charter school and the school district began negotiations last Wednesday. The hearing previously scheduled for Aug. 15 is now set for Oct. 17 - if it is held at all. Justus said the two parties in the case, filed by the charter school Sept. 30, 2004, will meet again Sept. 7 and Oct. 5 with a court-appointed mediator "to work on meeting the needs of both groups."

"The district has an interest in utilizing the Bullis site in the future, and so does the charter school," Justus said. "I'm hopeful we can continue some productive discussions and put this (contention) in our past."

Charter school Principal Wanny Hersey and board chairman Ken Moore declined to comment, but Stacey Ahrens of the school's communications committee shared a letter Moore wrote to charter school parents last Thursday. Moore's letter characterized the settlement conference as mandatory.

"While there remain important differences in our positions," Moore wrote in part, "our legal team leader, Martin Neiman, and I considered the district's willingness to continue to participate in court-supervised mediation a meaningful step. We will work diligently to see if these discussions can be productive and result in a positive outcome that will benefit our school and the community."

In its second amended complaint, filed April 1, the charter school asked to be given priority for space at Bullis and also for reparations for the "substandard and/or nonconforming conditions" of its current space on the Egan Junior High School campus. The charter school moved into the portables at Egan after they were vacated by the last of the succession of district schools that held classes in them for an academic year while their campuses were renovated.

One of the charter school's complaints was that the district is violating the joint-use provisions in state education code by allowing commercial preschools to lease space at Bullis. Two preschools are on-site and have leased classrooms and playground space for the coming school year.

The second amended complaint also sought a ruling that the district improperly required acceptance of a Facilities Use Agreement before it allocated a facility to the school for the 2005-2006 academic year. A further claim was that the "reasonable equivalency" analysis the district conducted before offering the charter school the Egan camp for the coming academic year was improperly conducted.

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