Charter closer to getting its own campus

Following the 2012-2013 school year, the Bullis Charter School community may get what it has always wanted – a campus of its own.

In what some are calling a step toward healing, officials from the Los Altos School District and the charter school last week shared details of a tentative agreement that guarantees the charter school one of the district’s existing campuses.

“This agreement will allow Bullis Charter School to redirect considerable resources spent on annual facilities negotiations toward accelerating the pace of innovative program enhancements at the school,” said Ken Moore, president of the Bullis Charter School’s Board of Directors. “We hope this will mark the beginning of an important healing process for our local community as we work together to ensure a quality education for all local public school students.”

The agreement, reached after five mediation sessions, calls for the suspension of litigation between the two parties and guarantees the charter school its own campus no later than fall 2014. That campus will be one of four currently housing district students. The district hopes to secure approval to open a 10th school site via passage of a bond measure in November (see story on Page 5). The agreement states that both parties would support the bond measure, which could return to the ballot in June 2014 if it does not receive the necessary 55 percent approval in November.

“The goal for us was to build a solution we could all support that would share the risk among all the groups,” said district Trustee Doug Smith. “Someone told me that compromise is everyone flexing a little bit, and I think this agreement shows that.”

Terms of agreement

But the agreement has yet to be finalized. The district board of trustees has requested feedback from parents and logistics are still to be resolved.

Specific terms of the tentative agreement include:

• If the bond measure passes, the charter school would receive one of the following district campuses by the 2013-2014 school year: Almond, Gardner Bullis, Santa Rita or 10.5 acres at Covington (where the district offices also reside).

• If the bond measure passes, district officials plan to construct a new campus for the displaced students. During construction, those students would be housed at an existing district campus, following the same arrangements as previous district capital improvement efforts.

• Bullis Charter School would be housed on its new campus for a 10-year period – longer if options to extend the term are exercised – as long as it continues to enroll at least 400 students who reside within the district. During that period, the charter school would relinquish its right to request additional facilities under Proposition 39 in exchange for provisions that enable the charter school to increase the number of students it serves while remaining on one site.

• The district has two opportunities to pass the bond – November 2012 and June 2014. If the measure fails in November, the charter school would receive one of the four district campuses beginning with the 2014-2015 school year. The district would likely consolidate its students in its remaining facilities while campaigning for passage of a bond measure in 2014.

• Until it moves to a new campus, the charter school will continue to run the entire K-8 program at the Egan Junior High campus, which would receive additional facilities.

• Both parties will work in good faith as independent public school partners to resolve future issues through open and direct discussions and seek opportunities to interact in ways both believe would be beneficial to their respective students.

Avoiding Proposition 39 ‘angst’

Smith cited difficulties with the Proposition 39 process of negotiating facilities as just one of the many reasons the district might approve the agreement.

“We really want to get out of the annual Proposition 39 process,” he said. “It is an annual angst we don’t want to be going through. We need to address the facilities’ needs for 5,000 public school students in our community – a growth of about 25 percent in a decade. We also want to put behind us eight years of litigation.”

Smith added that the school displaced during the process would have input on the new campus construction.

“If your school is on this list, think about what a 21st-century school would look like,” he said.

Passing a bond may not be easy – even with charter school support. Results from the community survey conducted the last week of April – before news of the agreement was made public – reported that a bond would fail to generate enough support to pass. (For more information, see Page 5.)

District trustees said they welcome input from the community on the agreement.

“If we can finalize an agreement with Bullis Charter School, we will be able to once again focus all of our resources – our time and our money – on enhancing our nationally acclaimed programs for our students,” said Mark Goines, president of the district board. “While we are required to keep the mediated discussions confidential, at this point we very much want to hear what the community has to say about the proposed agreement.”

The district and the charter school hope to reach a final agreement by June 4. The terms are expected to include a waiver of all fees expended to date by both sides in litigation.

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