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Facing county pressure, Bullis Charter School moves to prioritize enrolling low-income students

Santa Clara County Board of Education had warned the school could lose its charter if it doesn't address enrollment disparities

Parents pick up their children from Bullis Charter School's North Campus. Photo by Magali Gauthier

Bullis Charter School announced Sept. 16 that it is looking to add a preference for low-income students to its annual enrollment lottery, a move that comes after the Santa Clara County Board of Education warned the school that its charter renewal was at risk if it didn't diversify its student body.

The K-8 school, located in the Los Altos School District, is looking to set aside 10% of its open seats for children who qualify for free or reduced price school meals, typically those whose family's income falls below certain thresholds.

The county board of education is expected to review the proposal at its Oct. 6 meeting. If approved, the change would take effect in time for next school year's enrollment cycle, which begins this November.

The Santa Clara County Board of Education voted in May to issue a "notice of concern" to Bullis Charter School for under-enrolling socioeconomically disadvantaged students, Hispanic students, English learners and those with disabilities compared to the Los Altos School District's student body.

Bullis' charter had been up for renewal this fall, but a recent state law gives the school a two-year extension due to the pandemic. The county board is now slated to review the charter in the fall of 2023, according to county board member Grace Mah, whose district includes Los Altos. The school needs to have an approved charter to operate.

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Mah called this latest move to prioritize low-income students a "big step" toward balancing the charter school's demographics with those of the Los Altos School District.

"This has been something that the board has been interested in for a long time," Mah said, adding that Bullis needs to be accessible for all families.

Bullis board member Sanjeev Dutta said the school has been working with the county since last year on ways to "promote the diversity" of its student body and ensure equal access to its educational offerings.

"(The preference) is another way that we will continue to address the diversity question in our school and be proactive about it," Dutta said.

In 2020, 1.4% of students at the charter school were considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, according to data from the California Department of Education. That's compared with 6% of Los Altos School District students. The state's definition of socioeconomically disadvantaged includes those eligible for free or reduced price meals, as well as those whose parents or guardians did not receive a high school diploma.

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There has long been concern from the community about the enrollment disparities between Bullis and the school district Mah said, adding that she knows some will want to see further action beyond what the 10% preference proposal.

The county board's decision to issue a notice of concern in May was a "very strong" message to the charter school, Mah said, indicating that its renewal could be affected if Bullis didn't institute changes.

Although Mah said she couldn't speak for whether the rest of the board members would now be willing to approve Bullis' charter renewal when it comes up in 2023, she said she personally was pleased with the decision to pursue an enrollment preference for low-income students.

"Of course it's the outcomes that will really matter," Mah said. "How close they get to LASD will be interesting."

The other groups that the county said Bullis is under-enrolling -- Hispanic students, English learners and those with disabilities -- aren't directly addressed in the proposed enrollment preference.

According to Mah, it wouldn't be legal to institute a preference for a particular race and adding one based on disability status could be challenging because many students aren't assessed for a disability until they are enrolled in school.

Dutta wouldn't say whether the school is going to pursue additional enrollment preferences, but said that discussions are ongoing about ways for Bullis to increase diversity.

"I wouldn't say that this is one and done -- definitely not," Dutta said. "We do consider and talk about other things, but I think this just rose to the top in terms of (being) immediately actionable and effective."

The charter school's enrollment preferences have long been a source of debate in the community. The school holds a lottery each year to determine which new students are admitted, which is governed by a set of enrollment preferences

Bullis' current enrollment preferences include those who live within the boundaries of the Los Altos School District, children of staff members and siblings of existing students.

In 2019, the charter school and Los Altos School District sparred over a preference for those living within the attendance boundaries of the former Bullis-Purissima Elementary School -- its closure in 2003 sparked the creation of Bullis Charter School. In January 2020, the charter school dumped the enrollment preference, which the school district said favored wealthier families.

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Facing county pressure, Bullis Charter School moves to prioritize enrolling low-income students

Santa Clara County Board of Education had warned the school could lose its charter if it doesn't address enrollment disparities

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Sep 17, 2021, 1:55 pm

Bullis Charter School announced Sept. 16 that it is looking to add a preference for low-income students to its annual enrollment lottery, a move that comes after the Santa Clara County Board of Education warned the school that its charter renewal was at risk if it didn't diversify its student body.

The K-8 school, located in the Los Altos School District, is looking to set aside 10% of its open seats for children who qualify for free or reduced price school meals, typically those whose family's income falls below certain thresholds.

The county board of education is expected to review the proposal at its Oct. 6 meeting. If approved, the change would take effect in time for next school year's enrollment cycle, which begins this November.

The Santa Clara County Board of Education voted in May to issue a "notice of concern" to Bullis Charter School for under-enrolling socioeconomically disadvantaged students, Hispanic students, English learners and those with disabilities compared to the Los Altos School District's student body.

Bullis' charter had been up for renewal this fall, but a recent state law gives the school a two-year extension due to the pandemic. The county board is now slated to review the charter in the fall of 2023, according to county board member Grace Mah, whose district includes Los Altos. The school needs to have an approved charter to operate.

Mah called this latest move to prioritize low-income students a "big step" toward balancing the charter school's demographics with those of the Los Altos School District.

"This has been something that the board has been interested in for a long time," Mah said, adding that Bullis needs to be accessible for all families.

Bullis board member Sanjeev Dutta said the school has been working with the county since last year on ways to "promote the diversity" of its student body and ensure equal access to its educational offerings.

"(The preference) is another way that we will continue to address the diversity question in our school and be proactive about it," Dutta said.

In 2020, 1.4% of students at the charter school were considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, according to data from the California Department of Education. That's compared with 6% of Los Altos School District students. The state's definition of socioeconomically disadvantaged includes those eligible for free or reduced price meals, as well as those whose parents or guardians did not receive a high school diploma.

There has long been concern from the community about the enrollment disparities between Bullis and the school district Mah said, adding that she knows some will want to see further action beyond what the 10% preference proposal.

The county board's decision to issue a notice of concern in May was a "very strong" message to the charter school, Mah said, indicating that its renewal could be affected if Bullis didn't institute changes.

Although Mah said she couldn't speak for whether the rest of the board members would now be willing to approve Bullis' charter renewal when it comes up in 2023, she said she personally was pleased with the decision to pursue an enrollment preference for low-income students.

"Of course it's the outcomes that will really matter," Mah said. "How close they get to LASD will be interesting."

The other groups that the county said Bullis is under-enrolling -- Hispanic students, English learners and those with disabilities -- aren't directly addressed in the proposed enrollment preference.

According to Mah, it wouldn't be legal to institute a preference for a particular race and adding one based on disability status could be challenging because many students aren't assessed for a disability until they are enrolled in school.

Dutta wouldn't say whether the school is going to pursue additional enrollment preferences, but said that discussions are ongoing about ways for Bullis to increase diversity.

"I wouldn't say that this is one and done -- definitely not," Dutta said. "We do consider and talk about other things, but I think this just rose to the top in terms of (being) immediately actionable and effective."

The charter school's enrollment preferences have long been a source of debate in the community. The school holds a lottery each year to determine which new students are admitted, which is governed by a set of enrollment preferences

Bullis' current enrollment preferences include those who live within the boundaries of the Los Altos School District, children of staff members and siblings of existing students.

In 2019, the charter school and Los Altos School District sparred over a preference for those living within the attendance boundaries of the former Bullis-Purissima Elementary School -- its closure in 2003 sparked the creation of Bullis Charter School. In January 2020, the charter school dumped the enrollment preference, which the school district said favored wealthier families.

Comments

Community Minded
Registered user
another community
on Sep 17, 2021 at 2:16 pm
Community Minded, another community
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2021 at 2:16 pm

Good first step! To make it meaningful, BCS will need to make clear that they are truly a FREE school, with no monetary requirements, and will also need to make clear that financial support for school trips, etc, will be covered.


Santa Rita Mom
Registered user
The Crossings
on Sep 17, 2021 at 4:25 pm
Santa Rita Mom, The Crossings
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2021 at 4:25 pm

And it only took 18 years for the county to begin to address these issues. In the mean time, people have been bringing up these same issues from nearly the beginning of the existence of BCS.

Maybe they could start equalizing numbers by having their administration stop sending kids with learning disabilities back to district schools - perhaps by having a special ed department and some trained teachers. I also don't see why a school that makes a big point of teaching student Mandarin has such difficulty with attracting ELL students - simply add teachers that speak more than Mandarin.

Should they reach their goal of adding more diversity to their student population, I wonder how their API numbers will look compared to that of the district, which has been teaching all those "other" kids all along.


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Sep 17, 2021 at 6:30 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2021 at 6:30 pm

Better late than never. Sounds promising but if we've learned anything from the past 18 years is that we will need to see it in writing with the fine print about priority for each group.....



Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 17, 2021 at 7:22 pm
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2021 at 7:22 pm

Dear MV readers / MVWSD:Bullis comparison. - If you have worried over the last decade - as Stevenson school ("choice" or magnet) has increasingly become even more exclusive and Segregated: write [email protected]  Your Trustees can alter this trajectory - STARTING with a simple adjustment like this proposed for/by Bullis!

It is NOT HARD!  It is easy!  It takes guts, it takes purpose, it takes a MVWSD Majority (3) to just 'set this de-Segregation direction' by having a Meeting Discussion Agenda Item, WITHOUT FURTHER DELAY.

The SED Stevenson Segregation is stark.  In 2019-20 there were 4 poor English Learner students at ST, and there were 210 at Castro, and over 100 at Mistral.  The percentages SED at ST have been running 5X less than the district-wide average (worst in the MVWSD).

Your community-representing Board knows this!  If you want them to continue this public policy (SED allowed so low at Stevenson / Stevenson "Exceptionalism") then just sit on your hands - they are not scheduled to even discuss this until January 2022 - after enrollment starts for '22-'23.  That is far beyond the time when it will make any difference for another year of Stevenson Segregation.

If you would like MVWSD change, you AT LEAST have to ask the [email protected] to direct the administration to Make That Change (like Bullis) ASAP.

S. Nelson
 is a retired MVWSD Trustee and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer teacher


Neilson Buchanan
Registered user
another community
on Sep 17, 2021 at 8:55 pm
Neilson Buchanan, another community
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2021 at 8:55 pm

This is important journalism; the community is paying attention. The numbers speak for themselves. If any organization can respond, then Bullis has the leadership and resources to shift directions and sail with more favorable wind and calmer seas.


Mar
Registered user
The Crossings
on Sep 18, 2021 at 12:31 pm
Mar, The Crossings
Registered user
on Sep 18, 2021 at 12:31 pm

Wow - had no idea that BCS got a stay of execution until 2023. Smart move on their part to begin the 10% prioritization this fall - gives them 2 years to come up with some stats for the renewal. By then, BCS will be 20 years old. Can you believe that? For 20 years, they have battled LASD and assuming they will find enough "candidates" to get to 10%, they will keep going. My neighbors go and they have a 4th and 3rd grader - they will be out of BCS by then. In the meantime, they know they are getting the best education that they don't need to buy!


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Sep 18, 2021 at 4:07 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Sep 18, 2021 at 4:07 pm

The context for this matters too. LASD total enrollment is down last year by 800 students compared to 3 years before. Bullis is up by 200 students. Bullis served a quarter of Los Altos public elementary students last year. This year things look to have continued along the same path. With this preference Bullis can enroll even more students.

Meanwhile the revenue in LASD just keeps going up and up. It has 20% fewer students than it did 4 years ago, and revenues are way higher. At this point the main school district spends more per student than the charter school. Increasing the low SES students at BCS will get them a larger funding from LASD, but LASD can certainly afford it. Even still LASD is funded by more than double the amount per student that goes to BCS. With so few students it's going to get to be embarrassing for LASD to have so much money, especially when you compare it to MVWSD where there are 7 or 8 times the proportion of low SES students. If BCS has 10% low SES then LASD's low SES will go even lower and LASD will have 1/10th the low SES students as will MVWSD. Hmmmmmm.

At 6% of enrollment, LASD has 200 low SES students. If BCS gets 10%, it will serve 100 of them. That will leave BCS potentially with more low SES students TOTAL than LASD, but BCS is only 25% of the district population. Double hmmmm.


Steven Nelson
Registered user
Cuesta Park
on Sep 20, 2021 at 10:11 am
Steven Nelson, Cuesta Park
Registered user
on Sep 20, 2021 at 10:11 am

@Long Resident. I haven't double-checked your math but my 'number sense' says that's about right. I wouldn't have used the 2020 school Census Day numbers for the comparison (like the reporter did) because that is skewed by the Pandemic close-down. A 2019 school Census Day comparison would have been 'more normal'.

"Community Funded" districts like LASD and MVWSD (and MVLA) have this odd wealthy-preference in access to public school funding. WE GET TO KEEP IT ALL! (local property tax) no matter how low our student attendance numbers are (ADA) and no matter how much public tax money we have per student. At a certain point I think the California courts will come back and say 'this is ridiculous,' we decided against this type of automatic unequal funding in the 1970s! (Serrano v. Priest) [Wikipedia article, also see Ed100.com lessions 8.3, 8.5]
Web Link


SRB
Registered user
St. Francis Acres
on Sep 20, 2021 at 12:43 pm
SRB, St. Francis Acres
Registered user
on Sep 20, 2021 at 12:43 pm

@Mountain View Voice - How many kids a year does 10% of open seats represent (assuming siblings of existing students get first dibs)? How many years until Bullis reaches parity with LASD for % of enrolled students? Also, when is that proposal discussed in public (couldn't find anything in Bullis Board Agendas)?


Community Minded
Registered user
another community
on Sep 20, 2021 at 2:19 pm
Community Minded, another community
Registered user
on Sep 20, 2021 at 2:19 pm

I hear a lot of chickens being counted before they hatch — it’s way too soon to be thinking about what to do if BCS has 50% of the SES students. Let’s see any improvement at all, first.

As for money, BCS always wants more, but it does get what the charter law states it should receive, and it is free to choose whether to continue as a charter school with that amount. If BCS does not like the charter deal, it could instead convert to a private school and charge whatever it wants, or cease operations and have its students attend excellent LASD schools, or any number of local private schools.

While BCS often clamors for more money from LASD, BCS never talks about how subsidies from LASD lower BCS’s costs of providing education to its student body. LASD educates more than its proportional share of special education students (who are more expensive to serve), and serves all of the most expensive disabilities, while BCS takes the students who are least expensive to serve. LASD pays for all facilities and capital maintenance for itself and BCS; BCS only pays for its pro rata share of operational maintenance. LASD must carry extra capacity because it must serve every child who shows up, at any point in the year (and year after year, through enrollment dips and rises), whereas BCS can just set an arbitrary maximum school limit. BCS admits a significant number of out-of-district students that LASD must pay for, but whose home districts do not reimburse LASD — this means LASD taxpayers are funding students from other districts.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Sep 20, 2021 at 3:37 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Sep 20, 2021 at 3:37 pm

I've never heard BCS ask LASD for more money. What they do mention is the fact that with 25% of the enrollment, they are given something like 10% of the school land. They have minimal playgrounds and crowded together classrooms, which affects the interest in the school from low income families. These families live in fairly crowded areas in many cases. They like to see their kids in these spacious park like areas where you have 12 acres at one school, with massive playgrounds (like essentially 3 separate playgrounds for ONE school), even an urban forest, and then only 500 students. The classrooms seems deluxe and wonderful and BCS's classrooms seem like portable temporary huts.

Special ed costs are not 50% of LASD's expenses.


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