LASD parents speak out against BCS deal

Courtesy of Jody Vandergriff
A few dozen parents and students gather outside Gardner Bullis School Friday to protest moving Egan Junior High School to the 10th site in Mountain View.

Although weeks have passed since the Los Altos School District and Bullis Charter School reached a tentative agreement that would give the charter school nearly all of the Egan Junior High School campus, emotions are still running high.

Protesters have mobilized at multiple schools, and dozens of local residents spoke against the proposed deal at the district’s board of trustees meeting April 8.

Negotiating teams for the district and charter school forged a 10-year agreement early this month, but both boards still need to sign off on it.

Under the accord, the charter school would take possession of 16 acres of the Egan campus as early as fall 2023. Egan would relocate to the 10th-school site at California Street and Showers Drive in Mountain View, which the district is in the final stages of purchasing.

In return, Bullis Charter School would agree to cap enrollment at 1,111 students beginning next school year and continuing for the duration of the agreement.

The district plans to use the remaining 2.83 acres on the Egan campus to build subsidized teacher housing.

Opposition organizes

A few dozen parents and students gathered outside Gardner Bullis School Friday morning to protest moving Egan. The rally was scheduled to coincide with a forum district trustees were hosting at the school.

“We wanted to send an unambiguous message to our board that our community opposes the plan to move Egan,” said Jody Vandergriff, Gardner Bullis PTA co-president.

Signs sported slogans such as “Save Egan” and “Our Neighborhood, Our School.”

A similar protest occurred April 8 outside Egan, which attracted more than 75 people.

However, the debate over space for the charter school holds special significance at Gardner Bullis, as the closure of Bullis-Purissima in 2003, on the same site Gardner Bullis sits now, led parents to create Bullis Charter School.

“Obviously, we’re deep-rooted in the story of how the charter school started,” Vandergriff said. “We don’t want it to happen again.”

At the district’s April 8 board meeting, multiple parents invoked the closure of Bullis-Purissima as evidence that no good can come from closing a school site.

“Fifteen-plus years ago, this school board closed a neighborhood school, much to everyone’s regret,” one speaker told the board. “Please do not make that mistake again. And understand if you do, the voters will make you own that mistake.”

Many parents spoke in opposition to the idea of moving Egan across El Camino Real to a heavily commercial area.

Warren Yang said he wants his kids to bike to school, but that he and his wife won’t feel safe allowing them to ride down San Antonio Road and cross El Camino Real during rush hour.

“If this really happens, I want my kids to go to public school, but there’s a good chance that we’ll start looking at private,” Yang said. “God forbid, maybe even BCS.”

Multiple speakers said that if Egan were moved to a commercial area in Mountain View, they could consider taking their children out of the district.

Trustees weigh in

The meeting was held in the Covington School auditorium to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd. Many of the hundreds of audience members wore “Save Egan” stickers.

Peipei Yu Pollmann, who helped organize the Egan protest, told trustees that on principle she doesn’t believe any school sites should be closed.

“I can’t help but feel that ultimately this decision was made based on who has bigger coffers and who can afford more attorneys,” Yu Pollman said, to loud applause and cheers from the crowd.

Board President Jessica Speiser repeatedly asked everyone to stay quiet throughout the meeting, but the cheers continued.

After listening to public comment, trustees had their opportunity to weigh in. Only Trustee Vladimir Ivanovic indicated that he was opposed to the deal.

Ivanovic said he doesn’t believe Bullis Charter School can be held to the enrollment cap, but instead could open another charter school within the district.

“We’re giving up Egan, and what are we getting in return?” he asked.

Trustee Bryan Johnson, who helped negotiate the deal, said that though moving Egan is painful to consider, he hasn’t found another option he’s convinced would be less damaging to the district.

“I do in fact have a child at Egan. I walk around the campus all the time,” Johnson told the crowd. “It kills me to look at the mature redwood trees and think about walking away from them, it really does. None of us are considering this because we want to consider it.”

The charter school’s board held a meeting the same night, but it was substantially more subdued, with only a few dozen people attending. Multiple charter school parents spoke in support of the deal, saying that it was a good compromise.

Both boards plan to vote on the proposal by the end of the month. The district’s board has scheduled forums at all of the district’s schools throughout April.

Janie Dent, a writer for the Los Altos High School student newspaper The Talon, contributed to this report.

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