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Bullis Charter School discouraged by LASD response

The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees met in a special study session with their attorneys, Janet Mueller and Mattie Scott of Miller, Brown & Dannis, to discuss the district's legal obligations to a charter school.

Efforts have been under way by some Bullis-Purissima School parents to start a charter school, since the district's Feb. 10 decision to close the K-6 school in Los Altos Hills beginning with the 2003-04 school year. Bullis Charter School hopes to submit its charter this week.

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

In order for Bullis Charter School to become a reality, the charter school first must submit a proposal which outlines the following criteria: description of the educational program; measurable pupil outcomes; a method for assessing pupil progress; the governance structure of the school; employee qualifications; health and safety procedures; means to achieve race and ethnic balance; admission requirements if applicable; manner in which annual independent financial audits will be conducted; student suspension and expulsion procedures; staff coverage by STRS, PERS or social security; public school attendance alternatives; district employees' leave and return rights; dispute resolution process and a declaration regarding exclusive public employer for EERA; facilities to be utilized; provision of administrative services; potential civil liability effects if any; proposed first year budget and three years of financial projection.

The charter also must have the following affirmations: to have a nonsectarian program; no tuition; no discrimination and no admission based on residence of the pupil or parents, according to the Charter School Act of 1992, as presented by Mueller and Scott.

Bullis Charter School has been working on drafting its proposal with its lawyers at Spector, Middleton and Young, a Sacramento-based law firm.

The proposal first must be approved by 50 percent of Bullis parents or teachers, then by the district or the California Board of Education. If a charter school is approved, its founding members hope the school will be able to occupy the Bullis site. The district would decide whether they want a charter school to use that specific facility or offer other facilities.

According to the law, a district must grant a charter to a school if the proposal is "consistent with sound educational practice." According to Proposition 39, "students in a public charter school should be entitled to reasonable access to a safe and secure learning environment," within the jurisdiction of a particular school district.

The law states a board may not deny a petition unless it makes written factual findings that state the charter presents an unsound educational program; the petitioners are unlikely to successfully implement the program; the petition does not meet the signature requirement; the charter does not contain required affirmations or a comprehensive description of the charter criteria.

Superintendent Marge Gratiot thinks that the Charter school would have some negative financial impacts on the district.

"We estimate that the net cost to the district would be at least $480,000 the first year, and even more in subsequent years," Gratiot said. "That does not include the even scarier prospect of the charter school being a magnet for special education students who do

not reside in the district, and the district being responsible for the

additional costs that would entail."

Craig Jones, president of Bullis Charter School, came away from the district's study session disappointed.

"The lawyers for the District started by saying that State law dictated that the District have a positive prejudice toward Charter Schools and authorize the Charter unless there is a strong reason not to, particular to the charter, its leadership or mission," Jones said. "The lawyers proceeded to dump on charter schools for two hours painting a bleak and we think highly misleading picture of charter schools. Among the exaggerations were those connected with: amount of district time; amount of district liability; special ed nightmares and lack of academic rigor. Special Education is a fact of life and charter schools and districts sign Memorandums of Understanding where they agree as to how special education students will be handled. We will propose such an arrangement in our charter application."

For more information about Bullis Charter School, logon to www.bullischarterschool.com.

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