Bullis Charter School plans to grow by approximately 200 students next year, and the Los Altos School District is trying to figure out where to put them.
Under Proposition 39, California charter schools can request facilities annually from a district for the students the district would serve if they didn’t attend the charter school. The Proposition 39 process began in Los Altos in November, with Bullis Charter School making an initial facilities request for 1,058 in-district students for the 2019-2020 school year, approximately 200 more than currently attend the school. Because the school is growing, the current situation – housing students in portable classrooms at Egan Junior High and Blach Intermediate schools – will no longer suffice. The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees is considering adding more portables to Egan and Blach or adding portables at one or two elementary schools in the district.
“We’re going to have to come up with a Band-Aid for 2019 that nobody’s going to be happy with and then see if we can come up with a long-term agreement,” said Trustee Bryan Johnson at the board’s Jan. 14 meeting.
The plan the district develops now should take into account Bullis Charter School’s resolve to grow to 1,200 students over the next three years, said Assistant Superintendent for Business Services Randy Kenyon at the Jan. 14 meeting. The board met twice last week to gather public input on the facilities offer. For the following school year, the district estimates the charter school will need eight additional classrooms, but by the 2021-2022 school year, the charter school would need at least 12 more classrooms than it currently has if enrollment grows to 1,200 students.
“It doesn’t make sense to plan for their growth for next year without thinking about their growth for the next three years,” Kenyon said.
The charter school and the district have not agreed to a long-term facilities solution or an enrollment cap. The district’s board agreed that an enrollment cap on the charter school is necessary in order to come up with a stable facilities plan. Bullis Charter School Board of Directors Chairman Joe Hurd spoke at one of last week’s meetings, not on behalf of the board, to say that he is eager to meet and come up with a long-term agreement.
“BCS is not interested in growing indefinitely in perpetuity,” Hurd said. “We are not an amoeba; this is not a plague.”
Bullis Charter School initially requested the exclusive use of Egan Junior High’s campus – reflecting the school’s desire to be on a single site with enough room for all of its K-8 students. Johnson said he heard somewhat of a consensus from the public last week: Bullis Charter School needs one campus all to itself, plus maybe some overflow space at an additional site and an enrollment cap.
Kenyon said the charter school using all of Egan’s campus is not feasible for the following school year because there isn’t a plan for where the Egan students would relocate. The district is in the process of purchasing land for a 10th campus, but that site wouldn’t be available until 2023.
It’s possible for the district to put the eight to 12 portables on Egan and Blach’s campuses, but Kenyon said there might not be enough space at Egan, and it’s expensive to put portable classrooms at Blach because the school sits on a flood plain – portable classrooms have to be elevated. Johnson added that he thinks it would be difficult to add portables at the middle school campuses and have them be considered “equitable” facilities in the eyes of the law.
Putting portables at three or four sites is the only viable model, according to Trustee Steve Taglio. He asked district staff to come back to the following meeting with information on which sites have space and which sites would be able to handle the additional traffic.
Jessica Speiser, president of the district board, said that to get to long-term stability, both the district and the charter school will have to make difficult compromises.
“We want to get back to worrying about educating our kids at every board meeting instead of worrying about facilities,” Speiser said after the week’s meetings.
By Feb. 1, the district will make an initial facilities offer to the charter school. Typically, that offer is then negotiated and a final facilities offer to the charter school is due by April 1.
The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet 7 p.m. Monday to decide which facilities to offer Bullis Charter School for the upcoming school year.