The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees unanimously agreed Monday to offer Bullis Charter School classroom space at Loyola School for the 2019-2020 school year.
The decision followed a contentious and emotional board meeting. Approximately 200 parents, teachers, administrators and local residents turned out to learn which facilities the board would offer the charter school and to voice their opinions. Many of the parents who spoke disagreed with the idea of using space at Loyola for the charter school.
“We have no good solutions,” Trustee Bryan Johnson said. “There is no nirvana where BCS occupies an alternate-dimension campus that doesn’t take space away from district students.”
The district and Bullis Charter School are in the final year of a five-year facilities agreement –when the agreement expires, the charter school’s enrollment will no longer be capped. The charter school is growing by 220 in-district students next year, so the school district must find space to accommodate them, as mandated by state Proposition 39, legislation passed in 2000 requiring all public school facilities to be shared fairly among public school students, charter or not.
“The real problem we need to solve is, why do we have a law that allows charter schools to expand unchecked?” asked one Springer School parent.
Trustees weighed three options: let the charter school use all of Egan Junior High School’s campus, increase the number of portable classrooms at Egan and Blach Intermediate School or carve out additional space at one or two of the district’s elementary schools.
District officials must make an initial facilities offer by Friday, which is likely to be negotiated until the district makes a final offer by April 1.
“Our parents and our board will be taking a careful look at the facilities offer from LASD, but this does not seem to be the best use of LASD’s resources nor the best option for our students,” said Joe Hurd, chairman of the charter school’s board of directors, after the meeting. “A third campus would be expensive both for the district and BCS.”
Charter school officials had requested the exclusive use of Egan in its initial facilities request in November, but district administrators almost immediately discounted the idea. Randy Kenyon, assistant superintendent for business services, said there would be nowhere to put Egan’s current junior high students in such a quick timeframe. The district is in negotiations to purchase land for a 10th campus in Mountain View, but that site would not be open for students until 2023 at the earliest.
“I’ve been saying all along: 10 schools, 10 sites,” Trustee Steve Taglio said.
It’s unclear how a 10th site would allow the charter school and nine district schools to each have their own campus, but until then, the district must come up with facilities for the charter school. Increasing the number of portable classrooms at Egan and Blach – effectively maintaining the status quo, but creating space for 220 more students – was the popular choice among parents.
But Kenyon said it would be an expensive option – the lack of space could require two-story portable classrooms, which are much more expensive than one-story portables. Or, the district would have to put classrooms in a flood plain at Blach, which would, again, be expensive. Also, increasing the number of students at Egan and Blach would increase traffic to the sites, which he called already “impacted.”
Kenyon added that increasing the number of students at the existing sites might not be equitable in the eyes of the law, because that would crowd the two sites while leaving room to spare at the district’s other schools. California education code states that space offered must be “sufficient to accommodate charter school students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending public schools of the school district providing facilities.”
District staff ultimately recommended that the district pull space from an elementary school – splitting the charter school’s students among the three campuses, which some district parents felt “pitted school against school.”
“I would fight tooth and nail for Gardner Bullis, and every parent here would fight tooth and nail for their school, with reason,” said one Gardner Bullis School parent.
Trustee Vladimir Ivanovic argued that the decision to house part of the charter school on an elementary school site doesn’t pit school against school, but the entire Proposition 39 process and the charter school’s unchecked growth pits school against school.
Based on enrollment and available space, trustees opted for Loyola. Loyola has the most extra rooms already available (four to five). Loyola’s projected enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year is 373. Its enrollment has been declining for the past five years and is not expected to grow, because Loyola is not in the northern part of the district.
“Even when considering all the elementary schools as a third campus, we had nothing but bad choices to deal with,” said Trustee Jessica Speiser after the meeting. “Loyola just happened to be the best bad choice.”
All of the trustees said they were unhappy with the decision.
In addition to the third site, the preliminary facilities offer includes an increase in sharing common spaces at Blach and Egan. The district listed the computer lab, library, multipurpose room, blacktop, track, parking and other facilities as those that would be shared at Blach and Egan. The district is offering a 50/50 sharing agreement of most of Egan’s communal spaces and a 60/40 district/charter agreement at most of Blach’s spaces, based on the percentage of students who attend each school on the site.
After the meeting, Speiser said the district is already working with Loyola administrators and parents to develop a working plan for sharing the campus. The facilities offer is preliminary, however, and likely to change over the next two months.