Los Altos School District officials are consulting with their lawyers this week, following the Sixth District Court of Appeal’s unanimous finding Thursday that upheld Bullis Charter School’s position that district-provided facilities do not meet state requirements.
The decision, which overturned a lower court’s ruling, states “the (Los Altos School) District’s offer of facilities for the 2009-10 school year did not comply with Proposition 39 or its implementing regulations.”
The Appellate Court found that the Los Altos School District, in its initial facilities offer to Bullis, “excluded from consideration over one million square feet of collective non-classroom space of the comparison group schools.”
The charter school filed suit against the school district in June 2009, requesting that the court evaluate whether the district had fulfilled its legal obligation to provide facilities for the charter school. Proposition 39, passed in 2000, mandates that districts must provide “sufficient and reasonably equivalent space” to that of district students for charter school students who reside within district boundaries.
After the Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled in favor of the school district in late 2010, the charter school appealed. The appellate court heard arguments Oct. 18.
The Oct. 27 verdict is significant, not just for Bullis, but for charter schools around the state.
“This decision will bolster our statewide efforts to fulfill the promise of Proposition 39,” said Jed Wallace, president and CEO of the California Charter Schools Association. “By finding that the district failed to make a good-faith attempt to comply with the law, the court affirms that charter school students are entitled to ‘reasonably equivalent facilities.’”
In a press release Friday, the Los Altos School District reported that the ruling specifically addressed the district’s 2009-2010 school year, which ended nearly a year and a half ago.
“It is important to note that the court of appeal did not address ... the district’s selection of the location of (the charter school’s) facility, or its decision to place (Bullis) at the Egan site,” the release stated.
Superintendent Jeff Baier said he is consulting with lawyers to determine how the ruling will impact future facilities requests.
“The court of appeal’s decision appears to focus more on the process for considering facilities requests, as opposed to requiring that the allocated facilities meet a prescribed mathematical threshold,” the release stated. “The decision contradicts prior judicial treatment of this issue, including (a) previous decision ruled in the district’s favor. (The district) is assessing its future legal options.”
Bullis Charter School officials expressed satisfaction with the victory.
“We are pleased with the appeal court’s unanimous decision,” said Ken Moore, Bullis Charter School Board chairman. “All we want is for families who choose the charter school to have facilities that are equivalent to what all students in the district legally deserve.”
District officials said they have always acted in good faith when providing facilities for Bullis.
“The Los Altos School District has always been committed to providing safe and reasonably equivalent facilities to district children whose families choose to enroll them in Bullis Charter School,” Baier said. “For eight years now, the district has made its best, good-faith efforts to share facilities fairly among all students, those attending Bullis Charter School and those attending the district’s schools.”
District Board President Bill Cooper said he was concerned the ruling may cause the district further hardship down the line.
“Our main concern is that the court’s adoption of (Bullis’) interpretation of Proposition 39 imposes an additional burden upon the Los Altos School District,” Cooper said. “The district already struggles every year to meet the onerous demands imposed under Proposition 39, in addition to the fiscal challenges imposed by the state’s economic condition. This ruling now adds further complication.”
Ultimately, leaders from both sides said they want to move forward – eventually toward a permanent location for the charter school.
“The court of appeal’s ruling is the latest step in the continuing process of finding a long-standing facilities solution for (the charter school), and allowing both parties to return their focus to their core mission of educating their students,” Baier said.
“With this facilities decision final, and hopefully behind us, it is our desire to work in partnership with the district to ensure that all students are treated equitably,” Moore said.
To read the court ruling, visit www.courtinfo.ca.gov/opinions/documents/H035195.PDF.