The Los Altos Hills City Council unanimously voted to form a new school district for kindergarten through eighth grade last Thursday. After debate, the council also voted 3-2 to delay the redistricting process 30 days to conduct last-ditch negotiations with the affected existing school districts.
The council approved the K-8 district plan as presented by John Radford of the public education committee, rejecting the second option of a K-12 district as potentially more complicated and slower to finalize. The committee estimated that the redistricting proposal might make the ballot in November 2007 but more likely in November 2008. Before it reaches voters, redistricting must be approved by the Santa Clara County or state boards of education.
Los Altos School District board members Bill Cooper, Mark Goines and David Pefley spoke against redistricting, and Superintendent Tim Justus promised to reopen Bullis-Purissima school for elementary education by 2008. Justus and other board members pledged to form a committee dealing with the expressed need for a public school in Los Altos Hills.
The audience applauded and jeered when Mayor Breene Kerr cut off Justus mid-sentence at the buzz of the three-minute timer. "I was hoping you might give us more concrete answers rather than a speech about general terms," Kerr said.
Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District Superintendent Rich Fischer asked the council to give the neighboring school districts more time to negotiate, noting that his district had never been invited to share its opinion on the redistricting. He said he planned to present
budget cuts to his board on March 27, after press deadline, outlining a 12 percent decrease in schools funding in anticipation of the Los Altos Hills pull-out.
"This will take property from the MVLA school district, take students and take resources that could be pretty dramatic for our district," Fischer said. "If you pass a resolution on this tonight, there are three school districts involved that will be spending resources fighting this issue because they don't have any choice."
A majority of nearly 200 community members in attendance at the meeting were in favor of the proposed Los Altos Hills school district.
"I've heard a lot of conciliatory statements this evening, but I wonder where all these people have been for the past two and a half years?" said Martin Neiman, board member of the Bullis Charter School foundation.
Los Altos Hills resident and Covington Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association co-president Ann Wolff said a separate district would deny students a guarantee that they could remain in their preferred Los Altos district schools.
"Parents feel part of a positive, enthusiastic, inclusive community," she said. "Why would you want to take this away from your residents? This proposal would create terrible tensions in an otherwise peaceful and unified community."
"It's not dividing the town, it's unifying the town. My answer to redistricting is not yes, but hell yes," Councilman Jean Mordo said.
Councilman Craig Jones suggested the month delay before bringing the proposal to the county and was joined in approving it by Mike O'Malley and Kerr. Issues aired at the meeting that may appear at the negotiating table in the coming month ranged from the familiar, such as improved housing for Bullis Charter School, to the more farfetched, such as allocation of parcel-tax funds directly to the charter school.
Mordo, voting against the delay, said it would weaken the town's position, reduce the chance of making the 2007 ballot and involve the town in rounds of negotiations needing longer than a month.
Timing for redistricting is also crucial in that the Los Altos district, now receiving revenue-limit funding, is close to achieving basic-aid status, in which property-tax revenue funds the district without help from the state. The district and state have a fiscal disincentive to lose the Los Altos district's basic-aid status, which relies on revenue from Los Altos Hills.