Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Los Altos School District officials took a step forward in the facilities process last week by ordering portable classrooms for Bullis Charter School to occupy next year.
The district board of trustees officially approved its final facilities offer last week, which splits charter school students between Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools.
Trustees directed district staff to plan a public meeting for the Blach community to discuss the imminent changes.
“At risk of being inflammatory, … it’s a public meeting – everybody’s welcome to come,” said district President Doug Smith, alluding to a March 21 incident when he was asked to leave a Bullis Charter School parent meeting. “I want everyone to feel they can come and ask questions, and we will invite Bullis Charter School members to participate.”
The date of the meeting is still to be determined, but Smith indicated that he would prefer this month, while the facilities issues are still fresh in people’s minds.
Randy Kenyon, the district’s assistant superintendent for business services, said the buildings would be ready for the charter school Aug. 1. Now that the offer is finalized, an architect has begun to convert the conceptual drawings into design/construction plans for the company providing the portable classrooms.
Regarding furniture, which prompted much of the back-and-forth discussion between the charter school and the district last year, Kenyon said the district is waiting for the charter school’s response to the final offer before ordering anything.
Janet Medlin, Bullis Charter School board member, said they have provided their furniture needs to the district three times throughout the facilities process.
Speeding along the annual facilities process, Medlin sent the district an Intent to Occupy letter which precedes the May 1 deadline to do so. Medlin’s letter states that charter school officials sent the letter early in the hopes that the district would provide facilities “furnished, equipped and available for occupancy” by Aug. 1.
Charter school reaction
Before submitting their Intent to Occupy letter, charter school representatives issued a press release outlining objections to the district’s final facilities offer.
After reviewing the district’s proposal, charter school officials stated that it is clear that the two school boards do not share a short-term or long-term vision for Bullis Charter School as a self-sufficient, fully contained school on one contiguous site, where charter school students are provided “reasonably equivalent” facilities as mandated by state law.
“We appreciate the efforts of many members of the community who spent countless hours providing input to both boards so that we might work more cooperatively now and in the future,” said Joe Hurd, charter school board director. “Clearly, it is in the best interests of our entire community to end this divide. In agreeing to a split-campus solution for 2013-14, we consented to take on substantial challenges for our students, families and staff in hope that this would create an environment of compromise for all parties and lay the groundwork toward a positive, long-term solution.”
Janet Medlin, charter school board director, pointed out that the district only met with charter school officials once, so “it isn’t surprising that the offer contains a few disappointments that will create real challenges to the Bullis Charter School curriculum.”
She outlined the most significant obstacles:
• The district does not provide facilities for 43 in-district charter school students. The district used its own counterprojection (which estimated fewer in-district students) when drafting the final offer.
• The charter school requested a critical mass of 200 students at Blach to establish a sense of community. The district’s offer provides facilities for only 129 students.
• The district failed to allocate Bullis Charter School sixth-graders blacktop space and a playground at Blach.
• The district controls how the charter school must run its program by restricting access to facilities to certain grade levels – making a schoolwide assembly impossible.
Medlin’s statement also points out that the charter school’s enrollment continues to grow while the district continues to provide inadequate facilities.
“(The district) might say this final offer is its most generous yet, but in terms of where we are today and where we’re going, we still have a lot of work to do to get to ‘reasonably equivalent,’” Hurd said. “Our relationship with the Los Altos School District board remains upbeat and positive, and we hope to work collaboratively with them over the next few months to satisfy our long-term requirements.”
Hurd requested that the district meet with the charter school again to create a workable sharing agreement and resolve the remaining problems. He also suggested more public meetings as a way to avoid litigation.
“I think that it’s reasonable to have a few more public meetings instead of running to a judge for a legal opinion, which we all agree is a waste of money and resources,” he said. “I’d like to see the (district) board implement the will of the California Legislature and just follow the law.”