Bullis parents charting a course to a new school

When some Bullis-Purissima School parents learned that the Los Altos School District was closing the elementary school in Los Altos Hills starting in the 2003-04 school year, they began looking into starting a charter school.

A charter school is an independent public school supported by public funds and held accountable by public authority. Charter schools have a "charter," or written legal agreement, with a sponsoring agency, which is usually a school district.

In order for Bullis Charter School to become a reality, the proposal must first be approved by 50 percent of Bullis parents or teachers, then by the district or the California Board of Education.

If the charter school is approved, its founding members hope the school will be able to stay at the Bullis site.

"The most logical site is the current Bullis site for a K-6 school," said Bullis parent and charter school supporter Craig Jones. "We are the most logical tenants of the space since it is a K-6 site and we are a K-6 school. There is not another K-6 tenant looking for that kind of space in the district."

According to Proposition 39, "Students in a public charter school should be entitled to reasonable access to a safe and secure learning environment" within the jurisdiction of a particular school district. The Los Altos School District Board of Trustees has scheduled a study session with a charter school expert. The date has yet to be set. Call the district office at 947-1150 for details.

It may not be that easy for Bullis Charter School to occupy the former Bullis School site.

According to Eric Premack, co-director of the Sacramento-based Charter Schools Development Center, the charter school law states that a district must provide a charter school with facilities near where the latter wishes to be located -- not necessarily where exactly it wishes to be located.

"Whether that requires a particular site might have to do with alternative sites the district has in that particular area. The law is a little bit fuzzy there," Premack said.

Lisa Corr, an attorney with Spector, Middleton, Young and Minney, the Sacramento law firm hired by Bullis Charter School, said that the decision on whether the charter school will occupy the Bullis campus will be made by the district and the charter school.

"The district can decide whether they want a charter school to use that facility, or it may offer other facilities," Corr said. "It is up to the charter school to decide whether or not they want to accept those facilities."

Corr said the Bullis Charter School group plans to present the charter to the district by Feb. 27.

"Charters vary in the amount of time it takes for them to be drafted," Corr said. "Since this charter school effort is attempting to recreate what is already existing, there has been a quick time line based on the recent action of the school board, which is not unreasonable."

The charter school proposal does not have 100 percent support from the community.

"The charter school issue has been somewhat divisive," said Bullis Principal Dave McNulty. "It's causing a division in the district. Parents are wondering why it's happening and are concerned that it might affect other schools or impact the budget."

Jones said the district would benefit from supporting Bullis Charter School.

"The residents of this district pay $597 in parcel taxes, and that will be money that the district doesn't have to share with the charter school," Jones said.

According to the Charter School Law, the state must give the same per-student funding to a charter school as to a public school.

The charter school will be funded by state funds, "combined with giving at historical levels by the Bullis parents and the community, which will allow for a financially viable institution and potential investment in the facility and programs," according to the Bullis Charter School Web site,

As for the current teachers and staff at Bullis, McNulty said all but two temporary teachers will be reassigned to Covington School.

The charter school would recruit teachers from within the district and elsewhere. District and union rules prohibit the majority of senior teachers from relocating to other schools.

"Teachers want to keep their connection to the district," McNulty said. "With all of the training, opportunities for growth and enrichment, they are very involved at the district level."

Bullis parent and charter school advocate Acenia Farrand wanted to make it clear that the charter school group respects Los Altos School District teachers.

"We love our teachers," Farrand said. "We just hope to start a charter school if Bullis is going to close. It's not out of animosity; we just want to do the best thing for our children. I hope the district can work with us on that."

Bullis Charter School has scheduled a presentation 7 p.m., Feb. 27, in the Multipurpose Room, Bullis-Purissima School, 25890 Fremont Road, Los Altos Hills.

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