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LASD trustees move toward Egan/Blach split for BCS

After another evening of public input, Los Altos School District trustees directed staff to begin drafting a preliminary facilities offer for Bullis Charter School that would split charter school students between Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools.

How to divide the program remains under discussion as trustees requested that district staff examine configurations that would divide the program’s grades K-3 and 4-8, K-4 and 5-8, or K-5 and 6-8.

The Jan. 14 board meeting was the fifth gathering where trustees solicited public input on the charter school’s facilities for the 2013-2014 school year. Approximately 200 parents attended and nearly 50 weighed in on the various options for the charter school.

Alternatives

The options under discussion included (1) splitting the charter school grades between the Egan and Blach campuses, (2) dividing the program among three district school sites, (3) closing Covington School and turning the campus over to Bullis Charter School and (4) obtaining a 10th site to house the charter school.

As he presented the potential scenarios, Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Randy Kenyon said that finding a 10th school is not likely to be the solution for next school year, as the district has been unable to secure a site.

Kenyon said that after submitting paperwork declaring interest in the Raynor Activity Center in Sunnyvale, a possible 10th campus, the city of Sunnyvale notified the district that it did not “qualify for special treatment” and would be put in a larger pool of candidates pursuing the property.

Parent input

Many Bullis Charter School parents attended the meeting to reject the location in Sunnyvale as a 10th site.

“I’m all for a 10th site in Los Altos,” said Donna Wing, charter school parent. “I don’t think it should be in Sunnyvale. A commute one way takes 50 minutes to an hour. I can’t imagine subjecting anyone to drive two hours a day – it’s a hardship for any family.”

Parents from both the charter school and Covington disagreed with the option of a three-campus split.

“Is it really fair to break Bullis Charter School among three campuses?” said Kristen Barton, charter school parent. “Would any of the other district schools accept these options? Is this really compromise from all sides, and is this our best work?”

Many charter school parents said they felt their students were being discriminated against compared to district students.

“Telling Almond families they would be split among three campuses next year or Santa Rita parents they would have to drive to Sunnyvale – these are unthinkable for Los Altos School District families,” said Christine Kani, Bullis Charter School parent. “Sure, Bullis parents selected the charter school, but did they also choose to be treated as second-class citizens? I don’t think so. I believe our town is better than discrimination.”

Semantics were clearly important to speakers. Many charter school parents characterized the Covington option as “redistributing” district students or “redrawing” school attendance areas rather than actually closing a school.

“I don’t think it is unreasonable to change school boundaries,” said charter school parent Mike Carlton. “Growth is inevitable and, unfortunately, just plain necessary. Kids can handle it. They adapt.”

District parents were quick to notice the language selection.

“Take Covington off the list,” said Noah Mesel, district parent. “No matter how you package it, it’s not a redistricting – it’s a closure.”

Board input

Los Altos School District trustees also disapproved of the Covington solution and removed it as an option for next year. After hearing comments about the three-campus split, they also took that option off the table.

“(The Covington) site has a thriving school community, and it simply isn’t rational to close a high-performing neighborhood school to accommodate Bullis Charter School if there are other options available,” Board President Doug Smith wrote on his blog in reflection of the Jan. 14 meeting.

Trustees agreed that a 10th site would be the best solution for permanent charter school facilities, but they understood it was a long-term solution, not one that would be available for the next school year.

After whittling down the options, trustees were left with the Egan and Blach split.

“We don’t want to further encroach on Egan,” said Trustee Mark Goines. “We want to give Egan back some space.”

Trustees agreed to review ways to make the split more equivalent between the two campuses.

Moving forward

The best way to allocate the charter school’s facilities is on the agenda for Monday’s board meeting.

After listening to input, Smith wrote on his blog that he expects a study session with charter school leadership sometime in February, when he expects the two parties to hammer out an agreement on how best to make the two-campus split work.

Smith said he wanted the study session to be open to the public for transparency’s sake, although the agenda would likely not include a public comment session.

“It’s worth reminding folks that the study session will likely go through a litany of ‘wants’ from Bullis Charter School,” Smith wrote in his blog. “They’ll raise concerns about various aspects of the offer. While we will carefully consider each issue Bullis Charter School raises, it still is up to the discretion of the board as to how to craft the final offer. We will weigh the totality of the offer, not just look at each individual part.”

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