10th Site Task Force leans toward moving Bullis Charter School

Courtesy of Los Altos School District
A graph from the 2017 Los Altos School District demographer’s report shows enrollment over the target capacity since 2010. Students enrolled at Bullis Charter School are included in the graph, because the district is legally obligated to provide facilities for them. The high, medium and low forecasts for enrollment growth in the next few years all show the total enrollment over target capacity.

The majority of the Los Altos School District’s 10th Site Advisory Task Force members said that placing Bullis Charter School on the 10th site is their first choice, as opposed to the site housing a neighborhood school, Egan Junior High School or a magnet school.

Formed last spring, the task force will determine the best potential use for land the district is in the process of acquiring and will make a recommendation to the Los Altos School District Board of Trustees. The district is currently negotiating with the sellers of the 9.65-acre parcel at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive in Mountain View.

Eight of the nine task force members were present at the Aug. 27 meeting to vote for their first choice for the 10th site: five voted for Bullis Charter School to move to the new site, two voted for Egan Junior High to move to the new site and one voted for the site to house a neighborhood school. The absent member, Joe Seither, a district parent and volunteer, voted in May for Bullis Charter School to move to the new site.

Members of the task force could not reach a consensus on the use for the new site. Bullis Charter School parent Jill Jene advocated moving Egan Junior High to the 10th site, a proposition that Mountain View resident Lara Daetz vehemently opposed.

“We’re talking about closing the middle school for the exact same community that was so angry when their elementary school was closed down, they started a charter school,” Daetz said. “We have a history in the district of uprooting a school community.”

While Egan would not be closed but relocated, Daetz said the community response to the idea of moving Egan has been negative.

Mountain View City Councilwoman Margaret Abe-Koga was the sole member of the task force to select a neighborhood school as her first choice for the site, though many members selected creating a neighborhood school as their second choice.

“The genesis of this conversation was ‘Oh, Mountain View, you’re building all these housing units, increasing enrollment in that part of the district, and so we need a neighborhood school there,’” Abe-Koga said.

When members of the group were discussing the possibility of placing a neighborhood school on the site, they were unsure of whether adding a neighborhood school would mean taking away another neighborhood school or redrawing attendance boundaries. According to Superintendent Jeff Baier, trustees have made it clear that they are not interested in closing a neighborhood school to fill the 10th site, but none of the task force members expressed confidence that they would be able to fill a 10th site solely with students from the North of El Camino Real area.

According to the district’s 2017 demographer’s report, the district was already approximately one school site over capacity, and expecting growth in the North of El Camino area. The Enrollment Growth Task Force found that in 2013, the district’s growth had disproportionately come from the area north of El Camino: The number of students from that area grew from 216 students to 574 students between 1997 and 2012.

Mountain View’s input

The Mountain View City Council voted 4-3 June 27 to allow the district to pursue acquisition of the land without restrictions on what would be built there, though the three dissenting council members wanted to impose either the requirement that the land be used for a neighborhood school or that the site have specific athletic facilities that residents would have access to. The city of Mountain View has agreed to chip in $23 million for the purchase of the land in exchange for park space next to the school.

The close vote has been drawn into question following a conflict-of-interest complaint leveled against Councilman John McAlister, who owns Stepping Stones preschool, which leases land from the district. McAlister voted to allow the district to make the decision on the use for the site without council approval. Abe-Koga said she did not know what the timeline of the California Fair Political Practices Commission investigation would be, but she has heard that it could take a month or so.

Reasonably equivalent

Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Randy Kenyon said the site could comfortably hold 900 students. Bullis Charter School currently has a 900-student enrollment cap, as mandated by the five-year facilities agreement, but has stated its intent to grow to 1,200 students.

“If a school goes to 1,200 students, we’re not going to house them on that site,” said Kenyon, who later said a negotiation isn’t out of the question, if the charter would be happy putting that many more students on that site.

Jene was not speaking for Bullis Charter School’s board, which has not made public its desired outcome of the 10th-site decision, but she said the new site would not meet the standard mandated by state Proposition 39 of “equivalent facilities.” She mentioned that no other campus in the district is trying to fit that many kids on that many acres. Furthermore, she said the 10th site would be unappealing for Bullis Charter School because it’s not centrally located within the district, so kids could not safely walk or bike to school.

“On what planet is that equitable?” Jene asked. “This isn’t going to solve the problem, but it is going to spend all the money.”

What will it cost?

The district intends to finance the purchase of the land through a combination of funds, including some of the $150 million that came from the Measure E bond. The city of Mountain View has tentatively agreed to contribute $23 million to the project in exchange for parkland that the city could control after hours, and the school should make $79 million from the transfer of development rights, according to Kenyon.

Because the land could be developed for more density than the school will use, the district can transfer the development rights to a developer that wishes to build a taller or denser project elsewhere in Mountain View. Kenyon said the price of the land is still under negotiation, so the final numbers aren’t known, but there is likely to be bond money left over for facilities improvements at other schools in the district. The district has estimated the cost for building facilities on the site at $60 million to $75 million, depending on whether the site will be built to hold 600 or 900 students.

The task force’s final presentation to the board is slated for Monday’s trustees’ meeting.

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