Los Altos School District board members agreed last week that they won't contest Bullis Charter School's enrollment growth projections for next year, leaving a burning question as to how the district will find accommodations for the charter school's 1,105-student campus.
Bullis officials submitted a facilities request under California's Proposition 39 law earlier this month, revealing plans to grow from its current enrollment of 915 students to 1,105 in the 2019-20 school year. Under the state law, the district is on the hook for providing "reasonably equivalent" facilities for all of the students who reside within the district, which in this case is 1,058 kids, from kindergarten to eighth grade.
While this is typically the time school districts and charter schools would butt heads over enrollment projections -- if it happens at all -- Los Altos School District trustees and district administrators didn't show an interest in contesting the 1,058-student number. Assistant Superintendent Randy Kenyon told board members at the Nov. 13 school board meeting that he believes the district can accept the projections without any objections, and that he and other district staffers need to trust that the addresses of interested families are genuine. Board member Steve Taglio added that he wouldn't question what appear to be solid numbers.
Bullis Charter School is currently housed in portable classrooms at Blach and Egan junior high schools, with roughly two-thirds of the students at Egan. The in-district enrollment, however, is expected to jump by 26 percent in the coming school year, from 838 students today to 1,058 students in fall 2019, and it's unclear where extra classrooms would go. Board member Bryan Johnson said he knew charter school officials planned to expand the school, but was disappointed to see they wanted to increase the size so quickly.
"The issue I have is their needs always seem to drive what we then have to do, rather than a more collaborative effort," he said. "Maybe less growth all in one year would've gone a long way to reduce the amount of disruption that is likely if we have to find a third campus to house some of these (students) because Egan and Blach are both pretty full."
The facilities request, which charter school officials cautioned is just an initial offer and part of a larger process, asks for the "exclusive use" of all 20 acres of Egan in order to house Bullis on a single site. It went on to state that charter school students on the campus outnumber Egan's enrollment, and that displacing the incoming eighth-grade Egan students would "disrupt the education of far less public school students" than displacing Bullis from the site.
The request calls for an additional seven classrooms, which would include two kindergarten classrooms, in order to accommodate the growth. The estimates are that the charter school would need 48 "teaching stations" -- or classrooms -- at the very minimum in order to be roughly equal to what students would get at a district school. It goes on to say that any fewer would be a "indication that the facilities are not reasonably equivalent" under Proposition 39 law, which has been the sticking point of lawsuits between the charter school and the school district in the past.
Estimates show that the largest number of Bullis students, 163, are expected to come from the Santa Rita Elementary School attendance boundary, followed closely behind by Covington Elementary (162) and Almond Elementary (133). The new school is also estimated to draw 122 students from the Gardner Bullis Elementary School, which is significantly smaller than the other schools, but is in an area where families previously had enrollment priority in the charter school.
Despite attempts to hedge the request as a starting point, the school district immediately responded with a press release stating that Bullis sought to close Egan, in effect evicting 600 junior high school students from the campus while denying future enrollment at the site. While the statement did not announce outright opposition to the proposal, it did state that the district has to look out for all students in the district.
"While BCS's demand for exclusive use of Egan would favor BCS students, LASD must equally consider the needs of all public school students when responding to Proposition 39 requests," according to the press release.
Almond parent Peipei Yu, who started a petition called "Save Egan and Our Los Altos Community" that drew nearly 5,000 supporters, told board members at the Nov. 13 meeting that many people in the community were shocked to hear the request was asking for so much, even if it is part of the process. She suggested the best path forward is to bring both parties together and find some type of common ground, walking back some of the harsh language she used in the online petition.
"This petition is very strongly worded ... but I want you guys to know a lot of families, I believe, want collaboration," she said. "A lot of families want a compromise on both sides."
Oak Elementary School PTA president Tara Williamson took a similar consensus-building approach, and said the school district and the charter school's leadership have an opportunity to work together on housing the more than 1,000 students -- and preferably quickly. She said it might be time to brush off some old ideas about site-sharing between neighborhood schools and Bullis Charter School, and to get "creative" when it comes to handling the traffic problems that would undoubtedly follow.
District officials are still negotiating a land purchase in the San Antonio area of Mountain View that could house a 10th school site, which would likely be part of the solution. The only problem is that the land still hasn't been purchased, and estimates put an opening date sometime in 2022.
Although the preference may be for collaboration, board president Vladimir Ivanovic argued that the charter school's growth plans were done without any sense of cooperation, setting the stage for an antagonistic process.
"BCS has taken unilateral actions to increase their enrollment numbers without consulting with anybody, and that's a concern to me," Ivanovic said. "It does not speak to collaboration and cooperation."