Wed04162014

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District, BCS work together for solution


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With the goal of reaching a long-term facilities agreement that benefits the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School, two board members and two community members from each side met informally last week.

“We are discussing the logistics and what our respective interests are,” said Doug Smith, district trustee. “We are going to dive deep on that for a framework for how to find a solution. We are setting up a cadence of multiple meetings a week.”

Smith said the private meetings are protected from future lawsuits and those involved are exploring all options with everyone’s interests in mind. Smith said John Phelps is the charter school board representative but declined to identify the community members.

“We are trying to find a solution where we can enter into a multiyear facilities agreement,” Smith said. “Whatever we come up with would be a negotiated solution with both sides having input.”

The district and the charter school have been at odds for years, with ongoing litigation culminating last month. The California Supreme Court Jan. 18 denied the district’s request to review an appellate-court ruling that backed the charter school’s contention that the district failed to meet its obligation to provide adequate facilities. Proposition 39, passed in 2000, mandates that school districts offer “reasonably equivalent” space for charter school students who reside within district boundaries. The school district currently allots space at Egan Junior High School on West Portola Avenue for the charter school.

More than 150 parents and community members packed Covington School’s multipurpose room Jan. 30 to hear the specifics of the district’s initial facilities offer to the charter school. The offer would split the charter school program between two campuses – Egan for the K-6 program and Blach Intermediate School for the seventh- and eighth-graders.

While the offer did little to quash the argument over what defines “reasonably equivalent” facilities, parents did agree on one thing – it is time to move forward and seek a permanent solution on the charter school’s facilities.

Many district parents, fearing the initial facilities offer could involve closing one of the district’s elementary schools, were on hand to say how much they value their neighborhood schools.

“I don’t think closing one of our neighborhood schools and handing over an existing campus is a viable solution for the future,” said Karen Pereira, an Oak School parent. “I think people really need to get in the same room and communicate. We need to show BCS good faith at truly working toward a solution.”

A fellow district parent agreed.

“I support this resolution; it preserves our small neighborhood schools,” said Jen Denebeim, parent of two Gardner Bullis School students. “I have a lot of friends at Bullis Charter School, and there are some incredibly creative thinkers at both BCS and the district, and I know we can come up with a solution.”

Charter school parents and board members, however, were not pleased with the offer.

“This offer is even more egregious than the offer made in 2009-2010,” said Andrea Eyring, Bullis Charter School board member. “The Egan camp school was ruled noncompliant then for 327 students; how can it be compliant today for 439 students? We would really like to move on. We don’t want to waste time and money on litigation.”

Though many charter school parents said they were disappointed in the offer, they too agreed it was time to work with the district to determine a solution.

“This is not an us-versus-them battle,” said Millie Gong, Bullis Charter School parent. “This is about the parents in this room uniting behind the enemy, which is the school budget. I ask you to look at out-of-the-box solutions.”

A long-term solution, said Trustee Mark Goines, will require everyone’s participation – and perhaps even a bond measure.

“The only amenable solution for our whole community is to find another site,” he said. “That will require our entire community to come together to raise the money.”

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