Schools conflict stalemate: BCS wants to discuss facilities issue; LASD asks for litigation freeze

Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/town crier
Photo Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier The Los Altos School District’s offer to Bullis Charter School includes additional portables at Blach Intermediate School.

Bullis Charter School officials have stated their desire to collaborate with the Los Altos School District on facilities allocation for the next school year, but district officials said current litigation must stop before they enter negotiations.

Under Proposition 39 law, the district is required to provide “reasonably equivalent” facilities for the charter school, leading to a contentious relationship between the two parties, which have faced off in court since Bullis Charter School opened in 2004.

As district officials reached a consensus to split the charter school’s facilities between Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools, Bullis Charter School officials stated publicly that they would accept the district’s offer of a two-campus split and drafted their own proposal of what that might look like. Originally the charter school requested use of the Covington School campus, which currently houses approximately 500 district students.

To meet Proposition 39 requirements, district officials had to submit a preliminary offer by Feb. 1. District Board of Trustees President Doug Smith said the charter school’s proposal came too late to integrate into the preliminary offer.


District requests

litigation freeze


Several charter school parents attended the Jan. 28 district board meeting, asking the trustees to meet with the charter school’s Proposition 39 Committee to develop a facilities solution for next year.

“The Bullis Charter School board made a big concession to agree to split the school,” said Buffy Poon, charter school parent. “I ask that you accept the invitation without preconditions.”

District trustees said they would be willing to sit down with charter school representatives if Bullis Charter School would agree to freeze litigation.

“I’m very open to conversations that have to do with this matter with the Bullis Charter School board,” Trustee Mark Goines said. “But when my time is spent with lawyers in litigation and worrying that everything that I say might end up in court record, as it has in our history, I’m reluctant to do so.”

Goines also questioned charter school representatives’ characterization of their position as “concessions.”

“The only compromise I’ve heard is compromise from what somebody else has wanted – not from what they are legally required to provide,” he said.


Ongoing litigation

The charter school and the district have waged a legal battle over the current-year facilities for seven months. During the case, the charter school has filed several motions, which they have lost, as well as some appeals. The district has filed a cross-complaint in the case, which questions whether the district is required to allocate the charter school the space it demands, given the charter school’s practices, which the district contends are more akin to that of a private school.

“Bullis Charter School has not accomplished a single thing in this blizzard of unsuccessful legal maneuvers other than to squander hundreds of thousands of public education dollars from both sides and divert countless time and energy from both sides and from our respective communities,” Smith wrote in a letter to charter school officials last week. “Think about all the facilities that could be funded with those millions of squandered dollars and what could have been accomplished with that misplaced time and energy.”

In the letter, Smith claims that the litigation is so time consuming for the district, that meeting with charter school officials on their proposed schedule of biweekly gatherings would be too difficult.

“You say in your letter that ‘[w]e stand ready now to work with urgency and transparently with the District between now and April 1st to design a mutually viable short-term solution,’” Smith wrote in his response to the charter school’s offer. “But your actions speak louder than those words because you have refused to call for even a temporary pause in the out-of-control litigation that is a tremendous diversion of resources, time and energy and that is also frankly simply a conversation killer. No thoughtful dialogue is likely to occur if BCS simultaneously is launching grenades at the District.”

When reached by the Town Crier, charter school officials wouldn’t say whether or not they considered suspending litigation an option.

“Just as the Los Altos School District claims a responsibility to their parents and children, we have an obligation to ours as well,” Bullis Charter School Board Chairman Ken Moore wrote in an email to the Town Crier. “So until a deal is worked out, we will continue to fight for our kids and we will continue to keep all our options open. We owe it to them.”


Preliminary offer

District officials said they did not have time to interpret the charter school’s vision of a split-campus offer, but they stated in their preliminary offer that it “likely satisfies most, if not, all, of the reasonable Bullis Charter School concerns.”

The district based its preliminary facilities offer on its projection of 572 in-district charter school students for the 2013-2014 school year. The charter school had projected an enrollment of 605 students.

The district’s offer grants space at both Egan and Blach campuses, with the assumption that K-5 students would attend the Egan campus and students in grades 6-8 would attend the Blach campus.

The district allocated facilities with a 22:1 student-teacher ratio for K-3 classes, 27:1 for fourth through sixth grades and 35:1 for seventh and eighth grades.

Kindergarten classes would receive two classrooms for a projected 75 students (half-day programs), first through third grades would receive 10 classrooms for a projected 225 students, fourth through sixth grades would receive eight classrooms for a projected 216 students and seventh and eighth grades would receive two classrooms for a projected 56 students.

The charter school’s footprint at Egan would be the same as the current year’s facilities. At Blach, there would be three portable classrooms for sixth-graders and two portable classrooms for seventh- and eighth-graders. Three additional portables would be added for a library, science/home economics, a computer lab and flex space; one-half of a portable for bathrooms and locker rooms; and one and a half portables for administrative space.

In addition to the portables at Blach, Bullis Charter School students would have exclusive access to a home economics classroom currently on the Blach campus, one period a day to a science classroom and two periods a day to the Drama/Chorus room.

The sharing of facilities entails exclusive use of the turf space (which includes the baseball field) 8-10:30 a.m. every day and use of the Multipurpose Room, gymnasium, track and tennis courts one hour a week. The district also offered access to the inside of the track and field and tennis courts on a shared basis weekdays during Blach’s recess and lunch periods, a total of 51 minutes.


Will they meet?

The district board of trustees scheduled a Feb. 25 meeting with charter school representatives to discuss the details of the preliminary offer.

District officials hoped Blach Principal Sandra McGonagle and Bullis Charter School Principal/Superintendent Wanny Hersey would meet this week to hammer out details on the shared facilities.

District officials said they were too busy preparing for litigation to meet next week, as Assistant Superintendent Randy Kenyon is scheduled to be deposed for three days.

The third week of February is the district’s annual Ski Week break, so parents would not be available to meet. That leaves Feb. 25 as the earliest date for the parties to meet.

Some charter school board members cleared their schedules with hopes of meeting biweekly to hash out a compromise.

“A series of intensive, good-faith talks could include a solution that provides adequate facilities and also a resolution to the underlying dispute,” said John Phelps, charter school board member. “We’re ready to meet today. Let’s work hard, push politics aside, and do what’s best for all of our students.”

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