Photo By: Traci Newell/Town Crier
Photo Traci Newell/Town Crier The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees authorized a bid on the Raynor Activity Center in Sunnyvale, above, with the intention of relocating Bullis Charter School.
In an effort to find an adequate site for Bullis Charter School, the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees voted to instruct staff to prepare a bid for the Raynor Activity Center in Sunnyvale.
Before the city of Sunnyvale purchased the center in 1979, the property was a school in the Santa Clara Unified School District. The site is located 3 miles outside of Los Altos School District boundaries and nearly 7 miles from the charter school’s current location at Egan Junior High School.
The center is part of a larger 14.67-acre parcel that encompasses Raynor Park and adjacent athletic fields, but only the Activity Center is for sale.
The property includes buildings, adjacent parking lots and a buffer around the buildings of approximately 3.7 acres. The buildings have received no updating or remodeling since they were purchased in the late 1970s.
District board President Doug Smith said the board would not disclose the financial terms of its offer because of the competitive bidding process, but he revealed that the district has the authority to borrow money.
“If we are successful with the bid, we would need to pursue a bond,” he said.
The district would need the bond to purchase the property as well as renovate the outdated facilities.
Smith was unable to disclose the amount needed to purchase the site, but the district has calculated the cost of renovating the facilities.
Although the offer is for only a 3.7-acre parcel, Smith said the district is focused on upgrading the property to make it reasonably equivalent to the district’s facilities.
The city of Sunnyvale is expected to announce the successful bidder in early May. Smith said if Sunnyvale accepts the district’s bid – including inspections, contingencies and use permits – the district would have to commit to the purchase by summer.
It would require a year to prepare the site and renovate the facilities, Smith added. With no major setbacks, the campus could be available to the charter school for the 2014-2015 school year.
Another school district and several private schools are also bidding on the property.
Charter school unhappy
Joe Hurd, member of the Bullis Charter School Board of Directors, said the charter school community is unhappy with the district’s decision to pursue the Raynor site.
“Bullis Charter School has no involvement in this process,” he said. “Why is the district going to discriminate against 10 percent of its children and exile them?”
Hurd called the action “needlessly wasteful” and “not a good use of taxpayer money.”
“There are more than 100 acres that we haven’t had a sustained conversation about,” he said, pointing to Hillview Community Center and Rosita Park. “Bullis doesn’t support this – it’s too small. At the end of the day, what is the Los Altos School District going to do with a property that is outside of the district?”
Is it legal?
Hurd said the California Education Code makes clear that a charter school can only be located outside a school district’s boundaries if the charter school asks to be located at such a site.
That is not the case in this situation, according to Hurd, who added that “it is being foisted upon us.”
District officials interpret the law differently, Smith said. They believe they have the right to place the charter school outside the district.
To clarify the matter and protect the district from a future lawsuit, Smith said the district board instructed staff to request a declaratory relief, a clarification from the judge on whether locating the charter school outside of district boundaries is legally permissible given the circumstances.
Hurd said the process would require “substantial” money and that the school district is inviting litigation.
“We have spent the last eight-plus years trying to find a site within the district without much success,” Smith said. “We are still open to the possibilities of sites within the district, but given the pace of litigation, we can’t ignore any viable option – and this is a viable option.”
Money spent to date
The district submitted $50,000 as a deposit on its bid. If the city of Sunnyvale rejects the district’s bid, the money would be returned. Funds are also earmarked for legal fees for the declaratory relief, but Smith said they are for a worthy cause.
“This is a significant problem that has been tearing our community apart for many years,” he said. “The district has no option but to chase every possible lead, and this happens to be the first one we can chase down.”