The Los Altos School District is trying to finalize plans for important facilities changes. District officials attribute the need mainly to Bullis Charter School’s 15-year period of having inferior facilities. It’s almost as if they blame Bullis Charter School for needing a better facilities share for its 25% of district students.
Truth be told, the district once struggled to reduce enrollment at schools, which neared 600 students. Now, the average school size is sinking below 400. The district has put forth a process to take limited community input, focusing it on Bullis Charter School. However, for the good of the district, the facilities planning needs to take into account several other factors.
Here are the important facilities challenges facing the Los Altos School District:
• Demographics. The district’s demographic studies have revealed a declining population of students residing in every residential quarter of the district for at least the next 10 years. A 20% drop-off in student counts per housing unit is forecast. (The district is overdue a demographic update, having last had a presentation the year before last. This delay is unusual.)
• Housing crisis. The only area of the district with some significant growth in the number of housing units is the Mountain View section north of El Camino Real. This growth is coming just in time to partially mitigate the drop-off in the school age population.
• Promises. The district has committed itself to adding school land and opening a new school. District officials have gotten an 80% cash equivalent contribution from the city of Mountain View toward this added site and promised the city that it would directly benefit residents around the location.
• Rushing. The district is in the process of buying 11.65 acres of land from Federal Realty. Using that land as part of a solution for Bullis Charter School ensures that the soonest there would be a new permanent home for the charter school would be five years from now. At this point, a vocal minority (including certain district current or former board trustees) have fostered a new concern. Previously the concern was not to close any existing school. Now that has morphed into an opposition to adjusting neighborhood school locations in reaction to sea change in the location of the student population.
Furthermore, the Los Altos School District has just lodged a serious charge against Bullis Charter School, which has not yet had a hearing from the elected school board overseeing the charter school. These two factors argue that the time for public input is later. There is no need to rush charter school planning immediately because they have reached a two-year mini peace agreement with the charter school, and no projected solution would take effect before five years from now.
Why the rush? The other factors are even more important and are being overlooked.
David Roode is a Los Altos resident.