The Los Altos School District is postponing a major decision on where to permanently place Bullis Charter School, citing a need to pause the public process until schools are reopened in the fall.
The decision on where to put the charter school has been an ongoing challenge for more than a decade, made even more difficult as the school's enrollment swells beyond 1,000 students. A possible solution is closing Egan Junior High and giving the campus to Bullis, which has been deeply controversial and sparked a major opposition campaign last year.
While district officials were originally hoping to make a final decision last month, it was overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic, which prompted an emergency switch to remote learning and, more recently, a concerted effect to safely reopen schools in August.
"While we can't let the process stall indefinitely, at a minimum, we and staff are going to need to focus just on getting school reopened for the next couple of months," said school board president Bryan Johnson.
Bullis Charter School is currently housed in portable classrooms located on a portion of the Egan and Blach Intermediate School campuses, an arrangement largely seen as a temporary compromise. School board members have long sought to consolidate the school in permanent facilities, finally resolving what have been difficult and occasionally antagonistic debates over equitable facilities for Bullis.
The school board had winnowed down the options to 13, but declined to discuss them in detail or weigh in on the list at its March 12 school board meeting. Among the options, the charter school could end up being placed at a school planned to be built in Mountain View's San Antonio shopping center.
Residents surveyed during a series of workshops last year found high support for moving Bullis to Mountain View.
Though the topic was sure to pack school board meetings to the brim with parents and community members in the past, no such meetings would be allowed under the state and local public health orders. Even still, Johnson said it may be better to re-launch the debate over online meetings than further put off a decision. He noted that participation in recent school board meetings over Zoom often exceeds 100 attendees.
"If we can get to a steady state where the community and our staff have the bandwidth to think about the long-term plan, I think we have to consider moving forward even if we're doing our meetings remotely," Johnson said. "I think this is just too important to just sort of postpone indefinitely."
To buy more time for the decision and focus on the pandemic, the district's school board and Bullis Charter School's board of directors agreed last month to a facilities agreement that essentially extends the status quo. The charter school can enroll up to 1,111 students, and can occupy portables at both Egan and Blach through the 2022-23 school year. In a statement, Bullis Board Chair Francis La Poll said students, teachers and families are all facing the challenges of the pandemic together, and that it's important for the two agencies to show they can "cooperate in good faith" as it relates to facilities.
It's unclear whether the protracted debate over facilities will further push out the opening date of the district's new school in the San Antonio shopping center, which will be located at the corner of California Street and Showers Drive. District administrators were already projecting the school would not begin construction until 2023, and that the school would likely not be open until 2025.
Whichever school ultimately ends up at the Mountain View site, it's going to cost a whole lot of money to build a campus there. Estimates from March show building a school for Bullis Charter School would cost $109 million, consuming the majority of the district's $150 million Measure N bond.
Other cheaper options, at least relatively speaking, include closing Egan and relocating the junior high to Mountain View ($90.5 million) and two scenarios that would close Covington and create a new district school in Mountain View ($83.5 million to $85 million).