Updated: April 9, 1:35 p.m.
A proposed deal unveiled last week between the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School offers the opportunity for a decade-long truce between the two entities, but not without substantial changes to the status quo.
Per the 10-year accord, the charter school would take over most of the Egan Junior High School campus and the district would move Egan to the 10th-school site in Mountain View. The deal would cap the charter school’s enrollment at 1,111 students, beginning next school year and continuing for the duration of the agreement.
In addition, nearly 3 acres on the Egan campus would be reserved to build subsidized teacher housing.
Negotiating teams for the two parties agreed early last week on the terms, but they still must be approved by their respective boards.
The district and the charter school are in the final year of a five-year facilities agreement. Over the past year, the two groups have been trying to forge a new deal, with negotiations picking up steam in recent months.
“We heard loud and clear from the public input that people wanted us to work it out, and so it got both of us back to the table,” said Jessica Speiser, president of the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees.
Since the deal was announced, however, some residents have complained that the district is giving too much to the charter school.
More than 75 people gathered outside Egan Monday morning to oppose the move to the 10th site. The protesters held signs with slogans such as “Save Our School” and “LASD, Listen to Your Community.”
District Trustee Vladimir Ivanovic was among the protesters. Ivanovic has come out against the deal, saying he doesn’t believe giving up the Egan campus is worth what the district gets in return. In particular, he isn’t convinced the district can ensure that Bullis Charter School adheres to the enrollment cap; it could simply open up another charter school in the district to circumvent the limit.
“I don’t think an enrollment cap is enforceable; I just think it’s a mirage,” he said. “We’re completely dependent on BCS’ goodwill – and we have not had good experiences with BCS’ goodwill.”
Rather than signing the deal, Ivanovic wants district parents to organize and push back against the charter school’s growth.
Speiser said she supports the deal in part because it will enable the district to use all of its resources for students, rather than concentrating on negotiations with Bullis.
“It will be so great for all of our administrators and teachers to go back to focusing on education,” she said.
Speiser cited the teacher housing project and no longer having district schools share space as further evidence that this is a good deal for the district.
Joe Hurd, chairman of the Bullis Charter School Board of Directors, said he doesn’t view the deal through the lens of what the charter school gets versus what the district gets, but rather what benefits the entire community.
“I think the biggest thing for the community as a whole is that we get a long-term agreement that provides stability to BCS and stability to LASD,” Hurd said. “That enables both entities … to focus on the most important thing, which is educating our kids.”
Under the agreement, Bullis would take 16 acres of the Egan campus as early as the 2023 school year, while Egan would move to a 9.65-acre site at California Street and Showers Drive that the district is in the final stages of purchasing.
In the interim, Bullis will continue to be housed at Egan and Blach Intermediate School. The charter school would not expand to Loyola School, a move the district board had approved in January.
If the 10th site isn’t ready by 2023 and Bullis doesn’t get access to the 16 acres at Egan, the deal includes provisions to delay the switch until 2024 or 2025. In that case, the accord would extend for one or two more years.
A matter of size
Some local residents have questioned why the charter school couldn’t be placed on the 10th site rather than Egan. Francis La Poll, a Bullis Charter School board member who helped negotiate the agreement, said the charter school has too many students to fit on the proposed new campus.
With up to 1,111 students next year, Bullis Charter School’s enrollment would be nearly double that of Egan’s approximately 560.
According to La Poll, the average Los Altos elementary school sits on approximately 10 acres and has 425-600 students.
“To have 50 percent more students on a slightly smaller site just clearly doesn’t work,” he said.
Speiser said the district estimates the 10th site could accommodate 600-900 students.
“We do believe that it could have housed a version of BCS, just not the version we have now,” she said.
Given that the charter school wouldn’t fit, Speiser said Egan was chosen partly because it is roughly a half-mile from the new campus.
That half-mile traverses busy El Camino Real. However, Speiser said the district will work with the cities of Los Altos and Mountain View to ensure students can get to and from school safely.
Egan is the lone school site that could accommodate teacher housing, Speiser said. While other campuses sit on residential roads, one side of Egan runs along San Antonio, which is where the 2.83 acres of teacher housing would be built.
The district employs more than 200 teachers, and Speiser said many live in South San Jose, where housing is less expensive but farther from work.
“We would not have schools if we did not have these teachers,” she said. “We would not have the great education for our children without these wonderful teachers. We need to show them how much we value them, and this is part of that.”
No decisions have been made about how many units would be built or the price to rent them.
The charter school and district each intend to vote on the proposal by the end of April. Both groups planned to discuss the deal at Monday’s board meetings, held after the Town Crier’s press deadline.