Photo By: Traci Newell/town crier
Based on public input at last week’s board meeting, Los Altos School District parents are unhappy with the tentative agreement the district recently struck with Bullis Charter School.
The agreement would suspend litigation between the parties, at odds for eight years over facilities, and give the charter school one of the district’s campuses – either Almond, Gardner Bullis, Santa Rita or a 10.5-acre portion of Covington – within the next two school years. To compensate for losing a campus, the district and charter school would join forces to support a bond measure to finance a new campus, the community’s 10th public school site.
But if the bond measure doesn’t pass in November – or in a follow-up election in June 2014 if the first attempt fails – the district would be a school short, permanently displacing hundreds of students who would be moved to other campuses for only a few years under the best circumstances. That was a cause of concern for parents who spoke at the May 14 board meeting.
“I need you to go back to the drawing board and find a solution that does not hold our children and a bond for ransom,” said Deborah Tolomeo.
“Eight years ago we went down this path,” said Noah Mesel, who encouraged others to join him in voting against the proposed bond. “This is a perfect example of no good deed goes unpunished. Eight years later we are on the precipice of making the same exact mistake. As well intentioned as everyone is, I’d suggest that closing another school is just going to change the players at the table.”
If the parties reject the agreement, however, board members noted that the district would be responsible for the charter school’s legal fees, and the court could force the district to surrender a campus – perhaps sooner than two years and without a chance to choose the site.
“We have to accept the fact that we are in, as much as many parents would like to gripe about Bullis Charter School and charter law – plain and simple, like it or not, whether we move forward with this agreement or we don’t. Ultimately the court will force our hand and give BCS their own exclusive campus – that is a reality I buy into,” said district Trustee Bill Cooper.
“This has been a very difficult chapter in the history of our community,” said district Trustee Doug Smith, who sat in on the five mediation sessions that led to the agreement. “It will be good for all of us to put this behind us and focus on this being a special place to live.”
Smith added that the agreement includes language that the charter school must accept having one site for 10 years. Historically, under Proposition 39 law, the district must offer facilities to the charter school annually, a time-consuming process.
“They waive their Proposition 39 rights – this is a big deal,” Smith said. “They agree they will be on one site for the duration of the agreement. This is a tremendous win for the district to get that sort of stability in the process.”
District trustees said they are under a time crunch to get the agreement approved and hope to vote on it by their June 4 meeting.
District parent Chris Mesel urged trustees to go forward with the facilities offer already on the table for next year.
“We are not required to keep Bullis Charter School in one location,” Mesel said. “We should be looking at splitting them.”
Most parents said they would like the tentative agreement, which some mentioned might be more than 100 pages long, to have a “sunshine” period, enabling parents to read and analyze it for themselves.
Smith said the longer the district takes to resolve the matter, the bigger it gets. He said he would ask the parties involved in the agreement specifics about a sunshine period.
The board also solicited input on location possibilities for a 10th campus, and while no new ideas were reported, parents took the opportunity to continue to share their thoughts on the bond and agreement.
“It makes more sense to me to put the charter school in the new location,” said Laura Teksler, Almond School parent. “I am in favor of anything we can do to preserve our school communities, not break them up.”
Parents also expressed confusion over the tie-in of the bond measure.
“I have mixed feelings on this,” said Darrel Odnert. “Did we need (the bond) anyway, or are we using this to put the charter school issue to bed? I don’t understand. The charter school board will agree to support the idea of a bond? I don’t understand why they would.”