As a community of proud parents and active volunteers, we have been facing the very difficult situation of balancing the facility needs of all 5,000 Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School children across the district while keeping their needs as a whole at the forefront. Our problem is not simple. It is a complex balance of prioritizing the education of all our children, the constraints of the education code, finite resources and a growing student population.
The Los Altos School District is highly ranked, one of the best districts in the state, and its student population is growing. There is increasing demand, and it is the district’s obligation to meet that demand. A long-term solution must be found.
Bullis Charter School is also a highly ranked charter school, one of the best in the state, and its population is growing. There is demand, and it is within the power of the charter school’s board to address that demand. Likewise, a long-term solution must be found, one such that we do not have to revisit this topic constantly and instead put all focus on the priority of educating our children.
Districtwide growth is occurring at a rate of 90 students per year (10-year average). Nearly a quarter of projected growth rate comes from the San Antonio Road area. With the recent apartment and condominium construction, especially those marketed for young families, that growth will likely increase. Demographer estimates range as high as up to 100-200 new students once the units are filled. At the same time, the rest of the district would continue to experience overall growth as a generation of early homeowners cash in on their retirement.
Recent proposals by the district board, the charter school board and well-meaning parents to close a school and redistribute students would not meet our long-term needs. Nor would increasing site density. These proposals are divisive and threaten our successful model of small neighborhood schools, throwing us quickly into large schools with nowhere to grow.
It is my belief that finding a 10th site is the most viable option and would maintain what we hold most dear about our schools: small classes, community focal point, a place where our children are not lost in a crowd of anonymity – all factors that contribute to making our schools among the best.
Finding a new site within Los Altos School District boundaries is no easy task, especially one able to house a school of 900 students, the size Bullis Charter School wishes to have. Hillview Community Center, or other land owned by Los Altos, Los Altos Hills or Mountain View, would be ideal and the best solution. We need the cities responsible for bringing in so many families to support our high-performing school district, especially if we want our schools to continue to improve and evolve. In-district, or if necessary out-of-district, options would permit Bullis Charter School to flourish and allow a choice of facility tailored to its priorities and requirements.
There are a number of ways to reduce the cost for any 10th site option. For example, the district and the charter school could pool their resources by having the district purchase/lease the land and the charter school contributing to future development. It is not unheard of for high-performing charter schools to partially, if not fully, self-fund facility costs, sometimes with commercial real estate (for example, Livermore Valley Charter School). This would be an opportunity for Bullis Charter School to build facilities to meet its desire without considerable financial impact.
A 10th site would allow some balance of equity and much-needed resources to return to our Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate students, while giving the district more flexibility to tackle long-term growth. Most importantly, a 10th site would improve our quality of education as we grow and strengthen our district and our community.
I ask both Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School parents to keep all students in consideration, not just your local school, regardless of your preference for a solution.
Davida Ewan is a Covington School parent.