Other Voices: Engagement process stacked against charter school

As parents who care deeply about our local public schools, we entrusted the Los Altos School District to run a fair and representative community engagement process around facilities. We were told that the process would help result in solutions to address the long-term facilities needs for all district students, including finding a permanent site for Bullis Charter School. We attended info sessions, participated in charrettes, listened to others, shared our opinions and participated in workshops. As we near the end of the process, we are becoming increasingly concerned that its flawed design works against true community engagement.

This process of voting on proposals was stacked against the charter school. Bullis Charter School may be the largest public school within the district, and the only school with a fully integrated K-8 teaching model, but together we make up only 20% of the district public school population. Bullis Charter School parents, by percentage, were quite engaged at the workshops and charrettes. No matter how many showed up, we were always going to be outnumbered.

District officials said they wanted to consider all options, but many of the facilities proposals being voted on make little sense and are not viable. The district allowed many false options to be presented without regard to key factors like costs, legality or the district’s continuing enrollment decline.

It’s impossible to place all of Bullis Charter School on the 10th site for a number of reasons, including Mountain View’s requirement that the school serves the local neighborhood and Bullis Charter School’s large student population (which far exceeds the space at the 10th site).

The district also has no authority to implement a geographic preference or an enrollment cap on Bullis Charter School, yet those were among the options being “voted” on.

The workshops ended up as simple “voting” forums on an overwhelming number of mostly nonviable options.

The district did little to stop a pressure campaign being waged by a group of district supporters that encouraged participants to vote only for the options that place Bullis Charter School at the 10th site and to oppose all other sections consisting of a variety of options, with no regard for site capacity, enrollment numbers, legal or financial realities, the desire for a neighborhood school at the 10th site or other basic facts.

The district supporters were actively campaigning in the workshop room right before voting started. In addition, district parents were told by email and social media to vote “Do Not Support” on every proposal except for some proposals that move Bullis Charter School to the 10th site.

These behaviors were contrary to the purpose of the workshops and have misled participants to believe that bloc voting on nonviable options equated to supporting neighborhood schools. The Los Altos School District and its facilitator, MIG, did nothing to stop this.

We all participated in this community engagement process with enthusiasm and an open mind and are disappointed by the way it was handled. Rather than informing and educating the community about the pros and cons of various ideas and fostering fact-based discussions about financial realities and the meaning of underlying principles such as neighborhood schools and Bullis Charter School’s integrated K-8 teaching model, Los Altos School District participants simply pressured citizens to vote as a bloc for specified options that would place the charter school at a site that is too small, not centrally located enough and not agreeable to the city of Mountain View.

All taxpayers in our community should be asking Los Altos School District officials why they’re wasting our time and money on this sham process.

 

This letter is co-signed by a group of parents from Bullis Charter School: Barry Austin, Jan Baer, Jim Burnham, Maggie Du, Donald Gardner, Nandakumar Krishnan, Ying Liu, Jean Sik, Robin Sik and Hui Yang.

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