In exchange for exclusive use of the Gardner Bullis School campus, the Bullis Charter School’s foundation offered this spring to donate $3 million to the Los Altos School District. Superintendent Tim Justus said no - at least while the charter remains independent of the district.
"If the district provides BCS long-term exclusive use of the Gardner campus, then, in addition to the statutory fees BCS pays for facilities, our foundation will contribute $3 million to the district," said David Spector, chairman of the Bullis-Purissima Elementary School Foundation, at a district board of trustees meeting in March.
Spector clarified that his goal was not to present the board with a take-it-or-leave-it offer, but to open negotiations for a permanent site for the charter school.
Justus rejected the foundation's offer because of the implications for district students.
"We felt as a district that we have a need to serve our own students," he said. "The district currently meets our plan of keeping sizes down at all of our schools. To take $3 million and undo all of that and have large schools didn't seem to be a valuable thing for us."
The district voted to close Bullis-Purissima School in 2003 for financial reasons. The closure triggered the formation of a charter school by Los Altos Hills residents who championing in-town public education.
In 2008, the district renovated and reopened the former Bullis-Purissima campus as Gardner Bullis School, an effort to keep the class sizes at the district's elementary schools small and maintain a presence in the hills.
Bullis Charter School, chartered by the Santa Clara County Board of Education, has been housed at the Egan Junior High camp school site since 2004. Because the school is chartered by the county, the Los Altos School District is required to provide facilities reasonably equivalent to other district schools.
Spector said that while communication with the district remains cordial, charter school advocates and district officials fundamentally differ on how they view charter school students.
"It would be easier if you look at this as an overall district, if you weren't dividing it as charter school students and Los Altos School District students," Spector said.
Justus said he must make a distinction, because his primary responsibility is to educate district students.
"My first priority is to the children who choose to attend schools under our jurisdiction," Justus said. "My second priority is to make sure the charter school has appropriate facilities. I recognize that some 200 kids attend (the charter school), but our responsibility to educate those children has now been shifted to the charter school."
When forming the charter school, founders originally presented their charter to the district. The district board denied the charter request, Justus said, because it felt the proposal did not meet the specified criteria. The charter founders then took their charter proposal to the Santa Clara County Board of Education, which approved the group's request.
Justus said the ideal solution to the impasse would be for charter school representatives and district officials to collaborate on rewriting the charter under a shared jurisdiction.
"An answer lies in working together, rewriting a charter together and having one of our school sites turn into a charter school," he said.
Justus admitted that both sides have reservations about the idea because of the complications that would result from sharing governance of the charter school.
Spector said he hopes the district addresses finding a permanent location for the charter school sooner rather than later.
"Our feeling is, unfortunately, the problem is going to get worse by not addressing it sooner," he said.