In their riposte to the latest filings from Bullis Charter School, Los Altos School District officials defended their offer of facilities for charter students and added a twist. In legal paperwork filed this week, district officials challenged the charter school’s practices and charged that it operates more like a private school than a public one.
After maintaining that the facilities they offered to the charter school are more than equivalent to those housing district schools, district officials sought clarification from Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Patricia Lucas on whether Bullis’ practices – which the district deem to be “private” in part – give the district the right to offer fewer facilities.
“The offer (on the table) is compliant,” said district Trustee Doug Smith. “The district may be at fault for having been too generous to Bullis Charter School, given the semiprivate nature of the school.”
The charter school and the district have been at odds over facilities since the charter school opened in 2003. Under Proposition 39, school districts are required to provide “reasonably equivalent” facilities to charter schools.
The current legal dispute extends from a previous case regarding the district’s 2009-2010 facilities offer to the charter school. The Court of Appeal backed the charter school’s objections to the district’s previous facilities offer. Two weeks ago, Bullis Charter School filed papers to compel the district to comply with the court’s previous order in its 2012-2013 facilities offer.
Next year’s offer, which provides the charter school with additional acreage, divides the school, locating K-6 students at Egan Junior High School, the charter’s present location, and seventh- and eighth-graders at Blach Intermediate School.
The district’s lawyers argued that the district complied with the ruling, measuring all space and increasing the charter school’s acreage by 177 percent.
“Bullis Charter School’s fixation on ‘mathematical exactitude’ and raw acreage is a ploy not aimed at reasonable equivalence but on a wish for an exclusive site,” the paperwork states.
In the charter school’s initial arguments, its lawyers concluded that the only way Bullis could achieve parity was to acquire exclusive use of one of four district schools – Almond, Gardner Bullis, Santa Rita or Covington.
“By demanding that a neighborhood school be closed, pupils displaced, relationships and community destroyed and the district’s remaining public schools crowded, Bullis Charter School manifests the ‘me-first’ attitude on which it was founded,” the district’s legal documents states.
The district filed a cross-motion that calls for declaratory relief, a clarification of whether the charter school’s admissions and fundraising practices affect its claim on district facilities. The motion includes more than 100 pages of evidence gathered from parents who have interacted with the charter school.
“Bullis Charter School walks, talks and quacks like a private school,” the cross-motion claims.
The district alleges that the charter school does not admit students on a basis equal to the Los Altos School District, and expects $5,000 in annual per-pupil tuition payments disguised as donations.
The arguments claim that Bullis “cherry-picks” the most privileged students in the area for admission and does not provide comparable space for special-needs, economically disadvantaged or Latino students.
“Bullis Charter School has continued to enroll families who would have opted for another private school, and it has continued to discriminate in admissions,” the paperwork states. “The district has found itself taking millions of dollars worth of public facilities away from schools who accept all equally and without charge and providing those public facilities to an exclusionary school.”
To support the district’s claims, the filed paperwork includes statements from families who previously enrolled (or attempted to enroll) in the charter school and faced problems because of their students’ special-needs status.
Rita Estrada Rosenfeld’s seventh-grade son was accepted at Bullis for the next school year, but her declaration details difficulties working with charter school administrators to meet her son’s needs. Rosenfeld’s declaration states that she was steered away from placing her son at the charter school, that there was a consistent delay in answering questions and that she received an eleventh-hour response from Principal Wanny Hersey claiming that Bullis did not have enough information to provide her son a quality program.
Rosenfeld eventually declined the offer to enroll, because “from almost the onset of the application process, I felt that my son would not be welcome at Bullis Charter School by the school’s top administrators.”
The legal paperwork also alleges that the charter school operates with a lack of transparency, citing one district parent’s claim that the Bullis board did not report the details of a closed session.
“This conversation has been going on for eight years,” Smith said. “It is time to have this conversation in a place where it matters – in court.”
Overall, Smith said he hopes the public understands that the district is asking for clarity.
“The way Bullis Charter School runs their program and the semi-private nature of their school impacts the nature of the facilities offer,” he said.
Bullis Charter responds
Last week Bullis Charter School Board Chairman Ken Moore sent a letter to the charter school community calling the district’s response “full of baseless and inflammatory allegations.”
Moore’s letter asserts that it’s “time to solve this problem and move on,” “Bullis Charter School has acted in unilateral good faith,” “the accusations (the district) makes against (the charter school’s) existence as a public school in its filings are absolute fabrications” and “(the district) continues to treat Bullis Charter School students as second-class citizens.”
“Los Altos School District trustees have many options available to accommodate all the students residing in equitable conditions,” Moore wrote. “Unfortunately, they lack the gumption and political will to do the right and legally compliant action.”
Bullis Charter School is scheduled to file a reply to the district’s response by Tuesday, and the two parties are set to meet in court Aug. 15.
To read the court documents, visit www.lasdschools.org.