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Judge rules for district in charter suit

 Image from article Judge rules for district in charter suit
Santa Rita Elementary School students will move out of the portables at Egan Junior High School in June and head back to their renovated school for the fall. As their facilities have been modernized, the district's elementary schools have each taken a turn at "camp."

The Los Altos School District complied with Proposition 39 requirements for "reasonable equivalency" in offering the Egan camp site to Bullis Charter School for its first year of operation, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge ruled May 25.

The board of directors of Bullis Charter School, acting under the name of Bullis-Purissima Elementary School, had petitioned the court for a writ of mandate, asserting that the school would be subjected to an unnecessary move after its first year if located in the portables at Egan Junior High School next year.

John Yeh, who defended the school district, said, "The district is pleased that the judge ­recognized its broad discretion in allocating its facilities."

Stephen Vernon, the attorney for the charter board, did not respond to phone calls about the decision.

Judge Kevin E. McKenney further ruled that the school district made "reasonable efforts to provide (Bullis Charter School) with facilities near" its desired site and "not move the charter school unnecessarily."

The charter board also asserted that the Mitigated Negative Declaration for the Egan camp school might make the site unusable for the charter school.

"(Since) defendants appear to be in compliance with the law, there does not appear to be an abuse of discretion in offering the Egan camp site, and (since) the (California Environmental Quality Act) concern appears to be speculative, the court must decline to order the relief requested," McKenney wrote.

Superintendent Marge Gratiot said, "I'm very glad that the judge reviewed the documentation carefully and decided that the district had been following the law and that Egan is an appropriate site to offer to the charter."

She added, "I am hoping that will be the last expensive and frivolous lawsuit. The charter school seems to have an unlimited amount of money to spend on attorneys, but every dollar that the district spends defending a suit comes directly out of our educational program. Now that the Bullis issue is settled, and Bullis is not an option for the charter, I hope we can all move forward and concentrate on education."

The charter school's board of directors met in closed session four times from May 3 to May 26 to discuss this litigation. The directors unconditionally accepted the camp school offer in a letter dated May 3 after conditionally accepting the site April 30.

Craig Jones, chairman of the charter board, said the judge's ruling that the offer was accepted is "the silver lining for us in the decision" because "this represents a contract and (school board trustees) cannot withdraw their offer."

Attorneys for the charter board and the school district are still negotiating changes to the Facilities Use Agreement (FUA) for the Egan site.

Gratiot said most of the charter school's changes to the FUA are minor. She said the charter board met its May 26 deadline to pass a resolution accepting the district's offer and expressing the directors' intent to sign the FUA.

Nevertheless, Jones said, "We will go back to court if they try to jam this FUA down our throat."

Jones claimed that the district wants to control the charter school's curriculum.

"(School district officials are) trying to regulate which classes we can hold, even though they are not our oversight agency," Jones said. "(They) are trying to use a backdoor approach through the FUA to regulate our classes ... (and) stop us from educating our kids."

Gratiot said, "We would have no right to regulate their curriculum even if we wanted to, which we don't. They will be developing their own curriculum, not using ours. The Santa Clara County Office of Education is responsible for oversight of the instructional program of the school. (The charter school is) not in any way a Los Altos School District school. They will not use our curriculum, be involved in our districtwide activities, or have their academic performance be part of our ranking."

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