Other Voices: Let's have an honest conversation around LASD facilities

Los Altos School District trustees held a public forum Jan. 16 for local residents to voice their opinions about the ongoing facilities issues and Bullis Charter School’s Proposition 39-mandated facilities request.

The meeting was respectful and factual, and I’m optimistic that this will be a turning point in the ongoing conversation around facilities in the Los Altos School District. We’ve heard from the community a desire to know more about Bullis Charter School’s goals and intentions, so I’ve outlined some of my thoughts here. I am expressing my personal opinion and not speaking for the entire Bullis Charter School Board of Directors, but I hope this helps.

1. Bullis Charter School is invested in a long-term agreement. Representatives from the charter school and district boards met several times in 2018 to discuss a solution beyond our five-year agreement, which expires this summer. It is in everyone’s interest to agree to a long-term solution, and this is our goal.

2. Bullis Charter School has no plans to grow indefinitely in perpetuity. First and foremost, Bullis Charter School is a public school that currently educates 20 percent of the Los Altos School District public school population. There is extensive demand for the school’s offerings. I believe that Bullis Charter School should be able to provide an education to every in-district family who chooses our option for their children, but I also recognize that there are physical limits to growth. In 2014, we were able to take a phased approach to growth over time as part of the five-year agreement, and I am confident that we can have a reasonable conversation about enrollment numbers as part of a permanent facilities solution.

3. The Bullis Charter School board can’t respond to a facilities offer it has never received. District trustees are responsible for allocating adequate and equal facilities for all public school students in the district. The Proposition 39 process isn’t ideal, and I wish there were another option. With the five-year agreement expiring in six months, the school had no choice but to submit a Proposition 39 request for facilities for next year. We look forward to receiving a facilities offer from the district and discussing it with our parents and the community. If the district trustees would like to bypass the formal Proposition 39 process and present a long-term solution to the Bullis Charter School board for public discussion and consideration, either through informal or formal (mediation) channels, we would be happy to receive it.

4. There’s an undeniable opportunity to use existing facilities to solve this problem. In September 2006, district trustees approved targets for school sizes. The target for a “large” school was 560 students. In 2014, six schools were close to or exceeded the target. In 2018, only two schools met the target: Covington (585) and Egan (586). Covington is the only school in this district that has grown during the past five years. Rather than spending money to buy a 10th school site the district cannot afford to operate, now is the time for an honest communitywide conversation about rebalancing school loads, redrawing attendance boundaries and responsibly using the Measure N bond funds for new facilities and resources at every public school in the district. I’ve listened to many parents with children in district schools, and I agree that our neighborhood schools are cherished communities. The answer may very well be to maintain the status quo, but we should at least have the courage to ask the hard questions.

I know this issue is emotional for all of us, but we owe it to our children and our community to have an open, truthful dialogue that puts our students first.

Joe Hurd is chairman of the Bullis Charter School Board of Directors.

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