BCS' Bullis-Purissima enrollment preference set to return

Beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, Bullis Charter School’s enrollment lottery will once again include a preference for students who live in what was the Bullis-Purissima attendance area.

For years, the charter school’s enrollment lottery included a preference for students who resided within the boundaries of the Bullis-Purissima School’s former attendance area. Up to 50% of the available openings at each grade level were filled by students who lived in that area.

However, the five-year facilities agreement that both sides signed in 2014 included a stipulation that the preference would be decreased by 10 percentage points each school year for incoming kindergarten classes starting in 2015-2016, until it reached zero in 2019-2020.

Once the five-year agreement’s restriction expires, Bullis Charter School officials said the enrollment preference will once again be in effect.

“The preference has always been there,” charter school board member Francis La Poll said. “It’s just that we had a period where we agreed not to apply the preference.”

However, Los Altos School District officials said they thought the enrollment preference was gone for good.

“It was our understanding that it was going away forever,” said Jessica Speiser, district board president. “We thought it was being phased out completely.”

Near the end of May, Speiser sent a letter to the charter school checking whether the preference was going to come back. The letter says the school district has received “conflicting reports” about the future of the preference.

La Poll responded in a letter last week that the enrollment preference was only restricted for a five-year period, ending with the 2019-2020 class.

According to La Poll, the enrollment preference is important because it provides a “nucleus” for the school. He also noted that when the school district closed Bullis-Purissima, residents didn’t have a neighborhood school to attend.

“If the school district had had its druthers, there would be no schools … in that area of Los Altos or anywhere in Los Altos Hills, and so this acts as a safeguard,” La Poll said.

Speiser countered that Gardner Bullis School now exists at the former Bullis-Purissima site, providing a neighborhood school. She said the charter school’s enrollment should mirror the entire district, not preferring any one area.

“They should be serving our entire district,” she said. “Keeping the preference for Los Altos Hills, the most affluent area of our district, is not OK.”

The enrollment preference has long been a subject of dispute between the two parties. In 2008, the school district sued the county office of education, which is the chartering agency for Bullis Charter School, to stop the enrollment preference.

However, the judge sided with the county and allowed the preference to take effect.

Despite the long-running disagreement, there is at least one thing that both sides now agree on – the enrollment preference is going to be part of future negotiations.

In his letter to the district, La Poll writes that the charter school’s board understands that the district may want to extend the limitation on the preference as part of a future long-term agreement and that the board expects it will be part of the negotiations.

Speiser agreed, saying it was certain to be something the district would want to renegotiate.

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