Bullis Charter School President Ken Moore said his organization would appeal a court ruling that the school cannot compel the Los Altos School District to use its enrollment projections to calculate its 2012-13 facilities offer, and denied the school's petition in two other matters.
In a ruling dated Nov. 21, and received by the parties Monday, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Patricia M. Lucas denied the charter school’s petition for a writ of mandate to compel actions on three matters, including the enrollment projections.
“We are pleased that Judge Lucas recognized the legal authority of the elected Los Altos School Board and its responsibility to balance the needs of all the members of our community," said Mark Goines, president of the Los Altos School Board. "Bullis’ appointed board needs to recognize that as well, and accept the need to balance the interests of all students in facilities allocations."
As with nearly every court action involving the years-long dispute, however, that appears unlikely. Despite the ruling, the matter seems far from settled.
"We believe the lower court got it wrong and I expect we will appeal the decision," said Moore, chairman of the Bullis Charter School board of directors.
Moore said the October 2011 appellate court decision that found the Los Altos School District had not provided "reasonably equivalent" facilities as required by law was still the most important decision guiding all.
"The trial court responsible for implementing that decision has not granted relief on procedural grounds and we will continue to press on to ensure our students are treated equally and fairly," Moore said.
The decision is the second ruling to come down in a week on two separate legal actions initiated by the Bullis Charter School this year. The earlier ruling, also by Judge Lucas, was received before Thanksgiving. It concerned an aspect of BCS' attempt to recover $1.3 million in attorney's fees from the Los Altos School District. Judge Lucas levied a monetary sanction BCS $51,085 for refusing to provide information, in compliance with the Discovery Act, about the type of parties who contributed to the BCS' litigation efforts since 2009 and the top 25 largest donations.
The latest ruling received Monday is the first to deal with the facilities offer since the state Sixth District Court of Appeal ruled Oct. 2011 that district must provide reasonably equivalent accomodations and improve its method of calculating space. The BCS petition had asked the court to rule on three areas:
At the heart of the 2012-13 enrollment projection issue was the question of whether the district had a right to disagree with the charter school on its 7th and 8th grade enrollment projections and use figures other than the charter school's to calculate its facilities offer. BCS contended that when the district and the charter school disagreed, the law said the district had no discretion and the charter school's projections must be used. Judge Lucas found BCS misstated the law and its petition.
In the second matter, Bullis Charter School sought to compel the district to provide BCS exclusive daily use of one-half of the city gym at Egan Jr. High School. The district had included use of the gym in its facilities offer, then said it found circumstances had changed in June 2012, and that the gym could not be shared because 500 Egan Jr. High students needed to use the gym during seven periods each day. Instead, LASD offered 3,900 square feet of multipurpose room space at Egan. Comparable district schools offer multipurpose space to elementary students, the judge noted, and only junior high students got gym space. Seventh and eighth grade Bullis students who would use the Blach Intermediate School were provided gym space, the judge noted. Bullis contended the school district could not change parts of its facilities offer to adjust to changed circumstances. Judge Lucas, however, noted that BCS had not provided any legal authority for that, and wrote hHowever it is established that charter schools are not necessarily entitled to what they want but only to what is reasonably equivalent."
Lucas cited a passage from a 2012 4th District appellate court decision involving Los Angeles International Charter High School and Los Angeles Unified School District that a facilities offer that failed to take into account overcrowding and other adverse impacts on non-charter schools "would tip the balance too far in favor of the charter school."
"There is no support for a holding that a district is utterly without discretion goal of balancing the needs of charter and non-charter schools," the Judge Lucas wrote.
On the third matter, the court turned down the request to compel the Los Altos School District to provide an inventory on furnishings at comparable schools and provide reasonably equivalent furnishing to the charter school. The court noted that the district presented evidence that Bullis generated the claim only after the Aug. 30 court hearing on its 2009-10 case, and that the district had made relevant queries about furniture and furnishings as far back as April 2012 but received no response.
Lucas' ruling had been telegraphed well in advance with a tentative ruling, based that had been available as early as the Oct. 30 hearing.
Moore said the October hearing had been "interesting" because "the judge appeared to have ... listened and understood some things she didn't before. However, the order doesn't reflect that."
Noah Mesel from the Huttlinger Alliance for Education, a group of parents who formed to provide a voice for district parents, saw the ruling as an affirmation that the district was in compliance with Prop. 39, the law that governs space allocation to charter schools.
"This latest ruling by the court says the district is doing what it's supposed to do," he said. "It is not going to impose rules beyond what the law already requires just because BCS does not like the result."
The citation of the Los Angeles appellate court decision that speaks to the need to balance resources for charter and non-charter students, was important Mesel said.
Mesel said he found the court sanction of $51,000 significant, as well. Courts don't often do that, he said, adding that the "extreme" amount signaled how upset the judge was over the charter's school's refusal to cooperate, shown in the meet-and-confer sessions and its argument, "not reasonably asserted."