As the April 1 deadline for the final 2013-2014 facilities offer to Bullis Charter School approaches, communications have stalled over the differing visions of charter school and Los Altos School District officials.
The charter school and the school district annually engage in negotiations over facilities the district is required to allocate to Bullis Charter School under state Proposition 39 education law.
Last week, charter school officials responded to the district’s request for a 90-day pause in legal action over facilities with a counteroffer to suspend litigation for the 21-day period before the April 1 deadline.
District Board of Trustees President Doug Smith said he was disappointed with the charter school’s counterproposal, as it was framed as “meetings that would only address the Bullis Charter School concerns but not confront the larger issues Los Altos School District wanted to discuss.”
Smith said trustees called for the 90-day pause in litigation to explore options for a 2013-2014 facilities agreement and other longer-term solutions without fear of statements made in meetings being used against them in court.
“I am saddened and disappointed that Bullis Charter School has failed to take up our genuine offer to set aside the litigation and work on creative solutions,” Smith said in a March 22 letter to charter school board Chairman Ken Moore.
Reaction to charter vision
District trustees reacted to the charter school’s response to their preliminary offer at a March 11 board meeting. Smith referred to Bullis Charter School’s vision of facilities as “not a starting point” in possible discussions over next year’s offer.
The charter school, currently located on the campus of Egan Junior High School, requested substantially more space and buildings next year at Blach Intermediate School, with a plan to expand enrollment and divide its student population between the two campuses.
“The proposed configuration from Bullis Charter School is very specifically set up as a K-8 on two campuses,” Smith said. “I don’t think that is a constructive use of the district’s limited resources.”
Smith said he still favors the district’s offer of housing kindergartners through fifth-graders on the Egan campus and sixth- through eighth-graders at Blach.
According to Smith, the charter school’s request for 10 classroom portables for 200 students, presuming a student-teacher ratio of 20:1, at Blach is “outrageous,” as district classrooms don’t “enjoy” that low a ratio, “especially the junior high students.”
Proposition 39 requires that the district provide Bullis Charter School with “reasonably equivalent facilities.”
Charter school officials based their offer partly on Gardner Bullis School facilities when it reopened in 2008 – with a much smaller student population than it currently serves.
“There is a big difference (between Gardner Bullis facilities and the charter school’s current facilities request),” Smith said. “When one is allocated bond funds, facilities are built that need to stand for 30 years. The Proposition 39 process looks at what the loading is today. It is not consistent to go and say, ‘Hey, I want that.’”
District Trustee Tammy Logan agreed, responding that the charter school’s proposal was a “dream,” “something we can’t afford” and something that “isn’t fair to district students.”
Despite their negative reactions to the charter school’s proposal, district trustees agreed that they could possibly tweak the preliminary offer by providing a lunch servery and reviewing the blacktop, parking-space and facility-sharing allocation at Blach.
Problems with messaging
District trustees took issue with Bullis Charter School’s recent messaging campaign in the community.
In today’s Town Crier as well the Feb. 13 issue, the charter school ran a full-page advertisement with the word “Compromise” prominently featured. Mailers with the same message were sent to homes in Los Altos earlier this month.
District Trustee Mark Goines sparred with John Phelps, charter school board member, during the public comment portion of the March 11 meeting.
Goines challenged the “compromise” message and noted how it conflicts with the charter school’s legal paperwork, which claims that the charter school would still prefer to be housed at Covington School.
Goines emphasized that while Bullis Charter School has not yet formally accepted the district’s offer of a split campus, officials are messaging the offer as “compromise.”
“I can’t (accept a split campus) until we reach an agreement,” Phelps said.
Goines said he continues to be disappointed with how charter school officials are presenting the matter, pointing to their “divergent redirect.”
Bullis Charter School parents attended the meeting to support the charter school’s facilities vision and to urge the district to amend its counterprojection of enrollment.
The charter school originally projected 615 in-district students for next year, and the school district countered with a projection of 572 students – a 43-student difference.
Moore sent a letter to district trustees March 11, reaffirming the charter school’s 615-student enrollment projection and providing an update now that the admissions deadline has passed.
Moore’s letter states: “624 students have already reserved spots to attend Bullis Charter School next year, of whom 95 percent reside within the Los Altos School District.”
District trustees said Moore’s letter failed to provide information they would need to adjust their projection, and added that they are still waiting for specific data they requested in November.
Smith said he filed a California Public Records Act asking for information on district students who apply for charter school admission versus the number who ultimately attend.
“We need to fully understand in the past years how many (district students) have enrolled and have not attended,” Goines said.