Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Bullis Charter School’s facilities are currently split between Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools.
The Nov. 5 Los Altos School District meeting, scheduled to gather feedback from the community on the 2013-2014 facilities offer, opened with Bullis Charter School’s estimate that an additional 140 in-district students would enroll next year.
California’s Proposition 39 mandates the district to provide “reasonably equivalent” facilities for in-district students who attend the charter school. The district’s offer is due by Feb. 1.
As part of the process, the charter school must identify a preferred site. It named Covington School as its single-site choice.
A majority of the district parents at the meeting pleaded with the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees to protect their neighborhood schools . The speakers did not want a district school closed to meet the charter school’s requirements and suggested that the district continue the current Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools’ split accommodations for Bullis Charter School students.
Covington parents raised concerns about increased traffic and the difficulties of co-sharing space with the charter school.
“It is said it takes a village to raise a child,” Covington parent Davida Ewan said. “For us here at Covington, this is our village. I understand the challenges facing you, but I implore you to keep this fantastic community together. Displacing the school should be a last resort.”
Many parents echoed Ewan’s viewpoint and requested that the district continue the current split of facilities – with K-6 housed at Egan and junior-highers at Blach. They did not offer suggestions for how the current facilities could accommodate an additional 140 students.
Midway through the public statements, Trustee Doug Smith asked the audience how the district could make that split work well.
“I think we need to think of the split on a more permanent basis,” said Santa Rita parent Bryan Johnson. “Bullis Charter School is still growing – larger slices need to be carved out so that it is clear that this is a space that the charter school will have.”
The meeting set a new direction for the annual facilities process. Charter school Board of Directors member Peter Evans and Bullis parent Fred Gallagher discussed the growth projected for next year.
Following Evans’ presentation, the district board allowed parents approximately 15 minutes for questions before opening discussion to the charter school board members.
Evans and Gallagher remained until the meeting’s conclusion.
“I want to thank you for hanging in there with us,” Trustee Steve MeTaglio said to them. “Thanks for hearing what we hear all the time.”
Mark Goines, president of the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees, said the meeting – and the charter school’s participation – gave him hope.
“I sense a real breakthrough in a way to collaborate,” he said. “I’m feeling optimistic. This is the type of collaboration we should be having – a step in the right direction. Remember that if we can come to a solution for next year, it is a step in the direction toward the long term.”
Not all interactions with the charter school representatives were conciliatory. Several times parents went off track with their questions for Evans and Gallagher and challenged them instead.
“What would you say to the neighbors that might be displaced at Covington? If BCS gets what they want, there will be hundreds of students that won’t have their local neighborhood school,” said one parent, who did not offer a name.
District trustees intervened quickly to keep parents on topic, but one trustee was confrontational.
District Trustee Bill Cooper, whose tenure ends in December, threw what he termed a “strong comment” at the charter school officials.
“As I understand it, the charter school exists because the district closed a school,” Cooper said. “The district took away that sense of belonging for the families within Los Altos Hills. Isn’t it ironic? I find it appalling that 10 years later you can go and do it to another school.”
Evans responded that he thinks that isn’t the only reason the charter school was started.
“What happened 10 years ago is only relevant a little,” he said. “We are now drawing from all district attendances. What I thought 10 years ago doesn’t matter anymore.”
Cooper criticized the charter school’s enrollment preference favoring the Los Altos Hills area.
“We can continue on a back-and-forth or we can start to work together,” Gallagher said. “That is why I am here tonight.”
The discussion will continue at the next meeting, scheduled 7 p.m. Dec. 3 in the Covington School Multipurpose Room, 201 Covington Ave., Los Altos. The district board is slated to present additional facility options based on community input and continue to solicit feedback on its preliminary offer.