Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Several Los Altos residents reported receiving polling phone calls regarding Bullis Charter School last week, leaving them to wonder who coordinated the survey.
The charter school is often in the news, largely due to its facilities battle with the Los Altos School District. Charter school officials have recently undertaken a campaign to spread their message of “Compromise,” placing full-page advertisements and sending mailers to local addresses.
The phone calls prompted some residents to question whether Bullis Charter School representatives were collecting data or trying to influence respondents with a message that benefits the charter school.
Bullis Charter School officials would not confirm whether they were behind the survey phone calls.
“We often engage the community about their insights into Bullis Charter School through research – both informal and formal,” said Ken Moore, charter school board chairman, in a statement to the Town Crier. “We have routinely done this, as we think it’s an important barometer about our status in the community. However, we do not comment on the specifics of that research or when it was conducted.”
Tom Fenstermacher, an Oak Avenue School parent, said he received a call the evening of March 18 from someone who claimed to be from California Opinion Research. When he asked who sponsored the phone call, the caller said he or she was not allowed to divulge the information.
Fenstermacher said the caller asked his opinion of Bullis Charter School and whether or not the school should have its own campus. The surveyor also asked his views on the city council, state Sen. Jerry Hill, local PTAs, the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees, Los Altos Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw and Joan J. Strong, a frequent online commenter who opposes the charter school.
“They seemed to repeat multiple times about being a top 10 school in California, school choice and not having tenure for teachers,” Fenstermacher said in an email to the Town Crier. “My gut is that they were trying to see what things might resonate and continue to market to the less-familiar homeowners in Los Altos.”
Los Altos resident Howard Thayer also received a call last week. Thayer said he was questioned about his opinion of the mayor, the city council, local elementary, middle and high schools by name, charter schools in general and then about Bullis Charter School.
“Halfway through, the caller began to lecture to me about the benefits of charter schools,” Thayer said. “It was clearly propaganda – bait and switch.”
Springer School parent Kristine Dworkin received a phone call March 19 from someone who claimed to be conducting an opinion poll on public education institutions in the area.
“It wasn’t an opinion poll as much as it was a propaganda call,” Dworkin wrote in an email. “The questions quickly went from being general, like they could be focused on any school, to centered on Bullis Charter School.”
Santa Rita School parent Andi Barnett said a surveyor asked if she were aware that the Los Altos School District had sued the charter school twice.
“That was a bit strange to me,” Barnett said in an email. “There was not much emphasis on the number of times Bullis Charter School has sued the Los Altos School District.”
Barnett said it was unclear what the survey was trying to accomplish.
“Overall, it was very clear that (the call) was biased toward Bullis Charter School,” she said. “It’s clear that the community has a negative view of Bullis Charter School.”
Conducting focus groups
The survey phone calls weren’t the first time parents in the community were asked about Bullis Charter School for research purposes.
Local parent Joe Seither said he was invited and participated in focus groups on “Educational Needs in Your Area” in January. The focus group sessions, conducted at Nichols Research in Sunnyvale, centered on the schools conflict between Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District, he said.
Charter school officials declined to answer whether they had a hand in the Nichols Research study.
“Board members, staff, parents, kids and alumni all have a tremendous sense of pride about what we’re trying to accomplish here at Bullis Charter School,” Moore said. “However, given the constant flow of half-truths or outright lies about who we are and what we’re trying to accomplish with our students, it’s important that we communicate to the community who we are and what we’re about.”