Lawyer: Mountain View has little say over future charter school

Opposition and community sentiment can't be used to deny charter petition from Bullis

Bullis Charter School officials are expected to submit a petition next month proposing to create a new charter school in the Mountain View Whisman School District, aimed specifically at serving lower-income families.

And while the petition will technically have to come before the district's school board for approval, a lawyer for Mountain View Whisman told trustees last week that they have little grounds to deny the petition and warned that, if they do reject it, they could live to regret it.

The Sept. 20 board meeting served largely as a crash course in California charter school law, following surprising news earlier that Bullis Charter School officials plan to submit a petition to open a new campus in the district next fall. The new charter school is expected to serve 320 students from kindergarten through fifth grade. Enrollment would be tuition-free, with a preference given to children in the Mountain View Whisman district who qualify for free and reduced-price meals.

Bullis administrator Jennifer Anderson-Rosse, who is spearheading the application process, told board members that she hopes the board will authorize the charter once it's submitted, and that there will be a "collaborative" relationship with the district in the future. Early outreach by Bullis staffers found that families are likely to give the new charter school a warm reception, she said.

"We are doing this because we feel confident that the parents residing in this school district want this school, as evidenced by the popular support and interest in this community," she said.

But does the district really have much of a choice? Under California's existing charter school law, the cards are indisputably stacked in favor of Bullis Charter School, said David Huff, an attorney hired by the district who spoke at the meeting. He said charter school law is still in its infancy and many components of it have been challenged in court, but the overarching theme is that the petition process -- along with requirements for districts to provide "reasonably equivalent" facilities under Proposition 39 -- show a bias in favor of charter schools.

"This body of law, as well as Proposition 39, are weighted to the charter schools," Huff said. "They were drafted by charter school advocates and passed in a way that, while they certainly have checks and balances that give the school district some power in this process, the law is favored for the benefit of the charter schools."

Under the state's education code, the district has to move at breakneck speed to respond to the charter request, holding a public hearing within 30 days of receiving the petition and either granting or denying the petition within 60 days. The petition has more than a dozen components, and must include a clear plan for the academic model of the school, proof of teacher and parent interest, and a sound financial plan for keeping the school afloat.

While school districts are asked to consider the level of support from teachers, employees and parents during the review period, there's really no teeth to it. Public sentiment is not a valid criteria for denial, Huff said.

"It doesn't really have any meaning at all, and it's unfortunate, frankly," he said. "Even though you're required to consider the level of your community support, the statute doesn't allow you to use that for one of your bases to reject the petition."

Earlier in the meeting, Mountain View Educators Association president Sean Dechter urged trustees not to support the charter petition when it comes before them, stating that it would hurt the district's schools financially and lower enrollment -- potentially eliminating teaching positions in the district. He also cautioned the district about potential legal battles, pointing to the history of litigation between Bullis and the Los Altos School District, where it operates a K-8 school.

If the school board decides to deny the charter petition, Bullis has other options. It could instead seek a charter with the county, similar to the arrangement between the existing Bullis Charter School in Los Altos and Santa Clara County's Office of Education. If that fails, Bullis has a third option to go before the California State Board of Education. All three options could land a school within the district's boundaries and put the onus on Mountain View Whisman to provide facilities.

Striking out does occasionally happen, as was the case earlier this month with a proposal put forward by Rocketship Public Schools to open a school in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. Concerns raised by the Contra Costa County Board of Education included declines in charter school enrollment, questionable staffing proposals and little knowledge of the local education landscape in the East Bay. At least one of those aspects -- the enrollment drops -- is unlikely to be a factor in Bullis' application.

Huff didn't mince words explaining the situation: There has been a "very active" effort by charter school advocates to endorse and support candidates throughout the state who support the charter school movement, creating a situation where a charter school petition is likely to get approved by one of the three public agencies. By denying the charter, he said, the district would run the risk of losing the oversight role as the chartering agency, and wouldn't be in a good position to inform the community about the charter school's operation in the district.

"In general, most school districts that reject a charter school petition, that is thereafter approved by another authorizer -- either the county or the state -- end up regretting that decision," he said. "Losing that oversight responsibility is often times determined to be, in hindsight, something they wish they didn't do."

After the meeting, Anderson-Rosse told the Voice that "every district is different," and that she is confident the new school being proposed in the Mountain View Whisman School District will satisfy a need in the district rather than hinder district-run schools or displace teachers. Not only could the new school act as a much-needed release valve for the sizable enrollment increases projected in the coming years, but it could also serve the roughly 200 families in Mountain View currently on the waiting list to get into Bullis Charter School in Los Altos.

The charter school has held a half-dozen community outreach events over the last month informing Mountain View parents of the upcoming charter petition and soliciting feedback. The plan is to start small for the 2019-20 school year, with 168 students in kindergarten through second grade.

Plans for the new Mountain View school are entirely separate from the ongoing debate over where the existing Bullis Charter School will be housed within the Los Altos School District, including whether it would be a good fit in the San Antonio area of Mountain View.


14 people like this
Posted by ex-Hooli person
a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 27, 2018 at 1:20 pm

My naive take on this is that the Bullis folks saw "Waiting for Superman" and decided that their lives' work was to provide better options to disadvantaged kids stuck in low-performing schools. Meanwhile, my sentiments about MV Whisman School District are starkly influenced by its campaign to eliminate school choice, the startling antics of its board, and the steely authoritarianism of its leadership team.

What am I missing?

10 people like this
Posted by Gary
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 27, 2018 at 2:19 pm

Gary is a registered user.

No one should confuse the right of charter school founders to seek to establish a charter school wherever they like and the power of a City to hand over or not hand over money to a school district conditionally or not. Apples and oranges.

3 people like this
Posted by Kate
a resident of The Crossings
on Sep 27, 2018 at 3:10 pm

Just curious, for kids who qualified for FRPM in the Los Altos School District and wanted to take advantage of this new BCS in MVWSD, where would they go for 6th grade (since this newly proposed BCS in MVWSD only goes through 5th)?

8 people like this
Posted by Julie
a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 27, 2018 at 3:29 pm

Where would the school be located? Would we have to close a neighborhood school?

What kind of oversight would MVWSDBoard and Superintendent have over the charter school?

26 people like this
Posted by SRB
a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Sep 27, 2018 at 6:34 pm

SRB is a registered user.

"There has been a "very active" effort by charter school advocates to endorse and support candidates throughout the state who support the charter school movement"

Look no further than our local Assembly Member Marc Berman who in 2016 benefited from $585,613 worth of "Independent" expenditures from EdVoice (a Charter School aligned PAC).

Their investment seems to have paid off. Berman recently opposed AB 1478 - a common sense legislation that would have required charter school boards to follow the same conflict of interest laws and disclosure regulations as our local school districts.

14 people like this
Posted by Lynn
a resident of another community
on Sep 27, 2018 at 8:19 pm

Charter school law provides safeguards so school boards and teachers' unions won't squash reasonable petitions without due cause. Charter schools can bring innovation and success to underserved students in ways that most larger districts have been unable to. Do we want to better serve our poorest performing students or protect our teachers' unions? I choose to prioritize our students.

5 people like this
Posted by Wheeler brings BCS#2
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2018 at 8:56 pm

Interesting that in the recent candidates forum, Wheeler would not talk straight about BCS#2. Just recommended that you all listen to the lawyer talk to the school board. Really? And she did not want to talk straight about achievement gap, in her own district, but instead diverted to its seems - weasel wording a reply about the Los Altos and Mountain View average achievement differences.

Two of the candidates - seemed to answer the question in a straight forward manner. And the forth - gave essentially a different 'non-answer'. Will the Mountain View district go into battle mode with BCS#2? Two candidates seem to be clearly saying "no battles" and two seemed to be weaseling out of an answer.
I seem to remember reading that battles between BCS#1 and Los Altos district cost millions of public school money. Does Mountain View district really have those 'millions for war'?

15 people like this
Posted by SchoolChoice
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 27, 2018 at 10:07 pm

I am 100% in favor of charter schools. The Mountain View School District is horrible in terms of giving parents choice. In fact, they just took away the ability to parents to send their kids to any other school other than their district one. No choice at all. Meanwhile, the test schools are terrible and the teachers are the highest paid in the nation.

3 people like this
Posted by Jen
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 28, 2018 at 1:16 pm

Our teachers might be the highest paid (source?), but the insane cost of living here means their effective income is much lower than other counties and states. That Mountain View teachers can't afford to live in Mountain View tells you everything you need to know about their wages. That said, I would like to better understand the Bullis plan.

21 people like this
Posted by MVwoman
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 28, 2018 at 1:54 pm

The average pay for a grade school teacher in California is $61,590/year. This number is diminished by the sizable amount teachers spend (of their own money) for enrichment items in their classrooms. So.... before you make statements that are not backed up with FACTS, realize that people are going to check your statements and realize you are either misleading or plain wrong. If you are paid less than $62,000 a year, do you think that is sufficient for this area?
I have no argument with Charter Schools, as long as they are transparent in their decisions and reason for existence. I don't want local public schools to financially suffer so Charters can exist. I personally know two families who were told that Bullis couldn't "teach effectively to their child" and suggested they return to the public schools to access services - so at least Bullis IS selective about spending money on services for CERTAIN students (severe ADHD and autism spectrum).
Yes... a Charter has a right to come to Mountain View, but let's make sure it's not an excuse to isolate those children who are more needy emotionally or academically, for the express purpose to keep them out of the higher achieving Bullis.
I very much appreciate what our public school teachers are accomplishing - often under difficult and under-financed situations. They are stars in my book!

4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 28, 2018 at 2:05 pm

Ok, in California the average pay is $61,590/year. But why this number is relevant? You should give the average pay for MVWSD, because we are talking about our district.
Here is the link: Web Link
The range is from $63,980 to $114,705.

19 people like this
Posted by MVwoman
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 28, 2018 at 2:16 pm

@Parent - the pay is not my major concern (except I don't feel it's sufficient for the area, considering the educational level of teachers). And as the AVERAGE pay in the state is under $62,000/year, you can bet the higher end you mention here, is not the norm.
My main concern in my comment, was the selective weeding out of students that would be more expensive to teach (ADHD and autism spectrum in the case of the two students I know) and also using that to keep Bullis achievement scores high.
To me - schools funded by taxpayers, should accept students without discriminating against emotional or educational special needs.

18 people like this
Posted by Bullis Parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2018 at 4:55 pm

I’ve been a parent at BCS for 9 years, and I can tell you firsthand that BCS serves special needs kids. My daughter had an IEP, and I have no doubt that the program BCS provided her wasorders of magnitude superior to the one that would have been provided by our neighborhood LASD school. BCS has a community group for parents of kids with special needs. Perhaps the commenters here should first check in with these parents instead of ones who have left the BCS program. It’s illegal for BCS to turn away any student because of special needs. If they did this and it had any basis, you can be sure those parents would have sued BCS. Like any school, sometimes it’s not a fit for a family, and you have some people who are all sour grapes - that is just life, not discrimation.

Don’t discount a program that has been tremendously successful for thousands of students. BCS is currently at 880 students and growing. The waitlist is over 1000 kids. They must be doing something right to achieve these numbers. Parents in this area are highly discerning about educational options. They wouldn’t be sending their kids to a program if it was run unethically or not delivering high quality programming for students.

6 people like this
Posted by Ellen
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 28, 2018 at 7:12 pm

@ bullisparent
That's great to hear, and might make this voter reconsider. So special needs kids got in, with no other considerations, and you didn't even donate money? Please confirm that.

5 people like this
Posted by Say What
a resident of another community
on Sep 28, 2018 at 9:56 pm

IEP = Individualized Educational Program
LEP = Limited English Proficiency

This proposed charter school gives an enrollment preference to LOW INCOME kids,
which means as part of the RANDOM (i.e. unbiased) lottery for admission, some number of openings are reserved for LOW INCOME status. It's not affected by kids with LEP status or IEP status. It's affected by LOW INCOME status.

In the entire country, states vary, but generally 10% to 13% of kids in each state have an IEP operating about their education.

Charter schools offer varied programs with bonus areas like Mandarin Language classes, or STEAM elements added to the state's base expectations for learning. Also they offer extra time and activities to supplement to social emotional well being of the students. The general thought is that LOW INCOME kids miss out on some support that other students get from their home environment.

Now regarding IEP kids, general the idea about the moderately to severely impacted kids is only a portion of those with IEP's. Say 80% of IEP cases are mild to moderate in scope, and they are served in with the regular classroom experience. But 20% of those on IEP's require what is called Special Day Classes, in that they have an entire special classroom experience that is viewed as essential to their optimum performance. By definition they don't spend more than a fraction of their time, if any, in the regular classroom setting. In most districts, the classes the need are not offered at every school. Some are even placed in outside schools that specialize in their situation, not even part of the district, but the district must pay. So it's disingenuous to say that a charter school doesn't serve SDC kids, because SDC is treated differently from the get go.

6 people like this
Posted by @ Ellen
a resident of another community
on Sep 30, 2018 at 8:51 pm

BCS is a public school with no tuition requirements. It is open to any and all students - Free and Reduced lunch, English learners and Special Needs. Because it is a charter and school of choice, it attracts a certain type of family - usually people who prioritize a different education model over the convenience of a neighborhood school. It also requires parents to fill out a registration sheet to qualify for the lottery (proof of residence, birth certificate, etc) and therefore on parents need to be organized enough to know when open enrollment process begins and ends. Other than that, it's come one, come all.

6 people like this
Posted by Seth
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Oct 19, 2018 at 8:02 pm

Get ready Mountain View! This charter school is going to take our money, our land/school and sue the school district up the wazoo!

To the Bullis charter parent who said her child has an IEP and that any parent of a child with an IEP can go there....that's not entirely true. First, how "severe" is your child's IEP? A parent with a child with a IEP that has many "requirements" who not dare apply to the supposed PUBLIC charter school.

Of course, they say they are a public charter school but parents have to donate money and volunteer their time. You really think lower socio-economic parents can take time off of work to volunteer? I wonder where they are going to get all the money to fund this will be us, the taxpayers.

We want full transparency and access to their financial records. They pick and choose what they want to disclose. This is not what a true PUBLIC school does.

5 people like this
Posted by Local Parent
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Oct 20, 2018 at 12:23 am

Does anyone know that the proposed percentage set aside for FRLP children is? what percentage of the signed early supporters have FRLP eligile kids? Stevenson has a very difficult time recruiting FRLP kids, I'm curious how Bullis intends to do so.

1 person likes this
Posted by HodgePodge
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2018 at 2:46 am

So many questions in these last two comments which already have answers. First on this IEP issue. In MVWSD those children with severe IEP's are restricted to a specific program. Most of the schools don't have such classes. So why should a charter be any different? Though the budget split is different, the vast majority of special ed students do not have severe IEP's.

MVWSD has a lot of funding beyond the LCFF amounts. The charter school only gets the base LCFF amount from public funding. So a charter will hardly take all the money.

The Bullis group has spent 5 years or so operating summer programs for disadvantaged kids from MVWSD and they have thereby established some interest in the new charter school. Let's hope that MVWSD doesn't go out of its way to dissuade low income or ELL kids from participating in the charter. This is what happened in LASD. The district actively sought to frustrate efforts to recruit such kids, and of course there are only 8% as many low income kids in LASD as there are in MVWSD.

This new charter truly is a worthwhile change. It is not looking to have that great of a budget to serve these kids. It is talking about having a longer school year, longer days, and after school programs included along with focused programs for disadvantaged kids. It might actually provide some useful data to MVWSD with ways it could reduce the achievement gap in its traditional schools.

4 people like this
Posted by J
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2018 at 10:43 am

Not true. My child has a severe IEP and is accommodated at his regular school. He could not be accommodated at BCS though. They are not equipped for special needs of this sort and I would bet you if he was in the lottery his number would “magically” drop to the bottom.

Like this comment
Posted by spite your own kid?
a resident of Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Oct 20, 2018 at 2:07 pm

@J Would you really try to enroll your kid in a program that could not accommodate his education disabilities? Not all schools in MVWSD (regular schools) can accolade all particular types of special education students. I have not ever heard any other parent insist that a particular school or school site, must absolutely accommodate their particular student.

What I have seen is parents shop around and negotiate for schools that can met their child's needs - and other kids who have similar types of learning or physical disabilities. Can a small school (startup charter, <200) accommodate special needs that a >2,000 district (K-3) might have on one campus?

J - your logic really makes no sense to me. You would not win in a high school debate contest!

1 person likes this
Posted by IEP
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2018 at 2:20 pm

MVWSD for several years operated a special-ed only school site at the Slater school, in the back, behind what is mostly leased to Google. No one without a severe IEP would go to this school. Now they pick a couple schools and serve the SDC students there, bit it's not the same as saying they can go to the school to which they are assigned by residential address.

3 people like this
Posted by @spite your own kid
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2018 at 8:33 pm

I’m not sure the reason for the personal attack, and thanks, I’m not interested in debate anyway.
No, I would never advocate for a particular school site. What I’m saying (if you can follow) is that BCS cannot accommodate most special needs kids HOWEVER most/many of the “regular” school campuses can. At least in Los Altos- I’ve been in Mountain View and know that things are pretty bad there.
I am a very good advocate for my child and have the best of the best, thank you for asking :). My comment wasn’t to open a can of worms. I do hope you get your child good help.

Like this comment
Posted by LASD Special Needs
a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2018 at 8:57 pm

LASD only has SDC classes at 4 schools, out of 9 total. They may have more schools with SDC than does MVWSD, but the reality is that it is normal for SEVERE IEP's to be educated only at certain locations. LASD also refers several severe cases out of district for education. For that matter they accept in a few severe cases to serve in some of their schools which do have SDC services. Special Day Classes are used by only under 20% of the total LASD special education program. I can't believe someone says that charter schools don't accommodate most special education IEP's with services on site. This is simply not true.

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