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BCS, LASD dispute split-campus option in court

Lawyers representing Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District met in Santa Clara County Superior Court last week to determine whether a split-campus option for the charter school conforms to the intent of state law regarding facilities.

The parties presented arguments related to the district’s 2013-2014 facilities’ offer for the charter school to Judge Mark Pierce, newly assigned to the ongoing controversy.

John Lemmo, attorney for the charter school, contended that the district failed to fulfill its facilities obligation as defined by law. He stated that the law includes a “contiguous site” requirement that the school district must begin its facilities allocation process under the premise that it will provide Bullis Charter School with a single site or adjacent sites and adjust other factors if possible to achieve that result – even if it requires disruption to district programs.

“The Los Altos School District has the discretion to decide how to adjust its facilities in order to provide a contiguous (and reasonably equivalent) site to Bullis Charter School, but it does not have the discretion to decide it prefers not to provide a contiguous site,” Lemmo said.

The charter school’s argument focused on a ministerial duty – which has a prescribed procedure under which it must be accomplished. Lemmo contended that the district did not follow the correct way to allocate facilities, resulting in the split-campus offer.

The district’s counterargument focused on the district’s right to a discretionary duty – which affords the district latitude in determining facilities allocation.

“The district believes that we do have the discretion in how we balance the needs of all students,” said Doug Smith, president of the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees.

Pierce, who did not file a tentative ruling, said he would take the case under submission and file a ruling soon, because there is follow-up litigation between the two parties. He shared his unofficial opinion with the two parties, who have been embroiled in litigation for eight years.

“I find it really disconcerting that so much money is being spent on litigation when the money should be going to the kids and education,” Pierce said. “I think you can all work together. We need to funnel this money into what it is really important, and that is educating the kids.”

The judge added that while he cannot order the two parties to enter into mediation, he highly suggests trying to solve the matter via mediation.

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