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Bullis Appeal May Have Far-Reaching Impact in State

Court ruling comes just as charter schools must meet a deadline to submit their annual facilities space request on Tuesday.

Late Thursday afternoon, the news rippled rapidly across Los Altos, parts of Mountain View, Los Altos Hills—and even beyond, to the legions of specialists who advise charter schools and school districts: that upheld the school district in a dispute with over facilities space.

Stunningly, the state appeals court had found against the (LASD) in how it measured school facilities to determine what was “reasonably equivalent” to provide Bullis, in fulfillment of Proposition 39 regulations. Four other lower court cases had upheld the district.

“We're certainly looking at all our options,” said a disappointed Bill Cooper, president of the LASD board. “But it would be premature to put a definitive stake in the ground.”

And it wasn’t just Bullis Charter School nor Los Altos School district officials who would be thinking about this turn of events over the weekend, contemplating what was next.

The published decision was clearly intended to have impact far beyond Los Altos.

“I have to read this decision over the weekend …it's something I have to be aware of, said Ed Sklar, an attorney with Lozano Smith in Walnut Creek, who represents school districts complying with Prop. 39.

In fact, Tuesday is the deadline for charter schools across the state to submit their requests for facilities for the 2012-2013 school year to their host districts, so the court’s ruling will likely become part of the discussion of Prop. 39 requests very soon, Sklar said.

“We will be looking to this decision to see if there's any further instruction to give to clients,” he added.

Representatives of the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA), which had submitted a 35-page friend-of-the-court brief in support of the Bullis appeal were also expecting to use the decision in its work.

“It will be very helpful in our statewide efforts,” said Julie Ashby Umansky, vice president for legal advocacy at the CCSA.We're really pleased by it.

Prop. 39 was passed by voters in 2000. It provides that charter schools are offered  facilities with “conditions reasonably equivalent” to what students would receive if they were attending other public schools in the district, and that facilities must be shared with all students of the district.

Prop. 39 compliance is also the main topic that lands charter schools in court against school districts. At any given time, there might be about five or six cases involving Prop. 39 up and down the state, Umansky said.

The court, in publishing its ruling, and addressing at length the way the Los Altos School District measured facilities space and where it was found lacking, was attempting to bring guidance to the contentious topic, and in particular what “reasonable equivalence” means.

Despite the number of Prop. 39 cases that get filed, none have given guidance to “reasonable equivalence,” Umansky said. It has been a big issue with charter schools, who are seeking facilities space from the very districts with which they are competing, she said. The CCSA's experience, she said, is that districts often show a pattern of responses that serve to undercount facilties space, spread out charter facilties all over a district, and essentially result in unfair allocation of space for students.

“I was very impressed with the clarity with which the justices covered all of the issues," said Bullis Charter School president Ken Moore, calling the ruling “tremendous.” Moore added that it was the first time, through four lawsuits, that a court had taken the time to look at the actual calculations of space available in a district, rather than take the district's assessment of space on face value.

There is some disagreement about the broader impact of the ruling beyond Los Altos.

 “I read it expecting lots of clarity,” said Stephanie Farland, who was the senior policy consultant for the California School Boards Association for a dozen years, primarily involving charter schools. Farland now is a consultant assisting "charter school authorizers," such as school districts and county boards of education, in submitting charter school petitions, applying for renewals, and annual reviews.

“It just seemed like it provided more confusion." Because there is a 2005  appeals court decision in Kern County (Ridgecrest Charter School v. Sierra Sands Unified School District) that accepted that school district's assessment of facilities space without challenge, she's a bit unsure which would have precedence.

One thing is sure: As the weeks go on, the decision will be finely examined by any charter school in the state that is unhappy with its space allotment and any school district that must respond with an offer.

The districts must make their preliminary offer to charter schools by Feb. 1, so the coming weeks will bring much discussion.

While only the Los Altos School District Board trustees know what the next step is, Moore is hoping that the 2012-2013 request for facilities space is met with an adequate offer.

“I expect LASD to rectify its non-compliance and look forward to where we're given reasonably equivalent school site in time for the next school year,” he said.

Editor's note: Both the Sixth District Cout of Appeal ruling and the friend-of-the-court brief filed by the California Charter Schools Association are provided as a pdf attachment, above and to the right.

Harold Barton November 13, 2011 at 11:55 PM
Here we go again: I don't want my children ripped from the school we spent years making great, so I must need therapy... 1. GB was the "lowest performing school". That's quite a soundbite--it reminds me of, "stop the $793 tax!" from a few months ago: another disingenuous BCS "spin" on the facts. So I guess GB is our very own inner-city ghetto school, full of drop-outs and drug dealers. Uh huh. The FACT is that GB's "lowest score" is practically a rounding error, and it alone still ranks as one of the very best schools in the state. Why the spin? Prop 39 was meant to assist blighted areas that have REAL problems with their schools--so it's necessary that BCS supporters paint our own schools this way. 2. GB is a PUBLIC school and there are boundaries for it drawn up by the district in keeping with a tight-knit community. If attendance is too low, LASD should make minor adjustments to the boundaries to balance things out (for incoming kinders onward, so as not to disrupt). Now the PAUSD transfer thing might be an issue--unrelated to this one--but it's just ABSURD coming from a supporter of a school that is open to "ANY CHILD IN THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA". Local residents can look forward to THOUSANDS of kids (and their parent's cars) coming to whatever neighborhood BCS plunders next. 3. You haven't been reading MY posts--I discussed this. BCS has a "lock-in" strategy just like Waldorf. You can't realistically join after 2nd grade. This is on purpose.
Christy Lin November 14, 2011 at 01:39 AM
Mr. Barton, BCS takes in 10 or 15 4th graders every year (i'm not sure of the exact number but I know it's pretty big) when class size increases. My neighbors joined at this point two years back... their 1st grader went at the same time. I'll say again.. you've built a great school... just swap the campuses... you'll only have to drive a little bit further. If the school is so great, and the community so strong, why is driving such an issue... the vast majority of GB kids cannot walk to school anyways.
Andrew November 14, 2011 at 03:39 AM
Harold, I love how you disregard any questions or logic. It's a shame that people have wasted their time and effort informing someone who doesn't care to listen, but continues to focus on hyperbole, misinformation and name calling. I'm logging off of this conversation because it makes no sense discussing logic with someone who is clearly . You can fill in the blank. PS I assume you are the ghostwriter behind the 'Alfred binetti' letter, the made up person who had similar 'opinions' as you, but didn't have the guts to make his false allegations in person-hence my login name.
Harold Barton November 14, 2011 at 07:38 AM
All I know is that my children's school is under attack. It will be closed unless we do something to stop it. It will be closed by people who are really angry that that their school was closed a long long time ago. Yes, it's totally insane, but that's what we have to deal with in our town. I wonder, if you did a spot poll, how many parents would say, "oh I don't mind that" when you told them that their local public school will soon be CLOSED. The BCS people would tell you "none at all" or just one crazy person like me since "normal" people couldn't care less about such a thing. That's why there's only one of us. Harold Barton is the same person as Alfred Binnetti who is the same person as hundreds of other parents. Actually I have pseudonyms for several thousand parents and Los Altos residents who all purport to be against a private take-over of our school system. They are all me. In reality, all of the LASD parents are absolutely going to LOVE that their school will be closed and that they now need to drive across town to a more crowded campus. They won't mind that the school they worked so hard to perfect will now be demolished by a bunch of well-connected rich people and their lawyers. Keep thinking that. Don't worry. See you in court. See you in the papers. Look forward to the WHOLE WORLD getting to see what you are doing to one of the best school districts in the country.
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