With 136 emails received and anxious parents in the audience Wednesday night, the Santa Clara County Board of Education agreed to conduct a meeting in Los Altos to open up badly needed dialogue over charter schools and school districts.
"I ask for your active involvement for a situation that is not good and getting worse," said John Mahlmeister, a parent at Oak School and one of a dozen who signed up to address the board in the public comment period. "We need help."
The county board of education grants and oversees the administration of the charter for Bullis Charter School (BCS); the Los Altos School District (LASD) provides the facilities for the school.
With ongoing lawsuits and appeals, including a pending , tensions have been steadily increasing since the fall, after of BCS' contention that facilities offered by the district were not reasonably equivalent and speculation rose over which existing school LASD students might have to leave to house BCS as it grows. No school has been identified by the district or requested by BCS' board.
Some speakers described a community being riven—parent friendships "ripped apart" and local businesses placed in the position of having to "pick which school they support." Uncertainties were causing some parents to stop giving to the Los Altos Educational Foundation, said one parent.
Santa Clara County Board of Education President Joseph Di Salvo assigned three trustees to hammer out the meeting format, participants and date. They include trustees Leon F. Beauchman of Area 3, Michael Chang, who represents Area 2 that covers Los Altos School District, and Julia Hover-Smoot, vice president of the board, from Area 7.
"The thought I had that what we would do is have a dialogue," said Beauchman, who led the proposal for a small-scale meeting. Beauchman suggested that it include representatives from the Los Altos School Board and the BCS Board and staff, but without large numbers of people at the table because not much meaningful discussion takes place in such formats. "Let's talk about what the issue is."
Hover-Smoot suggested that a format that would allow parents to at least hear the discussion, would be more beneficial. Chang said that having a dialogue was important. The meeting was an opportunity to get ideas to craft something that could benefit the larger community, he said, and to build "a little bit more trust" among the participants.
Many of the approximately 20 parents in the audience at the school board's meeting in San Jose had children attending LASD schools, but there were a few from BCS' board, as well.
"I want to let you know that BCS has not asked or demanded closure of a school, said BCS board member Janet Medlin. "All BCS is asking for is that the LASD comply with the law. If they have to reorganize because of this, great, or that's the way it is, but we didn't cause this."
The county school board, which renewed BCS' charter in October, is in negotiations with the school over the memorandum of understanding. The county Office of Education's self-imposed deadline for reaching agreement on the memorandum is April 30, Weis said, and the statutory deadline is June 30.
Many of the issues raised in school district parents' letters are already being discussed in his office's negotiations with Bullis Charter School, Weis said, adding that he anticipated the school's cooperation. Weis had drafted a letter of response to the emails, and read it during the meeting.
Area 5 Trustee Anna Song asked Weis to go over point, by point, responses to the issues raised in from Michelle Sturiale, a Santa Rita School parent, for the benefit of the large audience.
Weis said that the suggestions to drop geographical preference for Los Altos Hills residents were under negotiations, but that changes would mean material revision of the charter petition. He said that language addressing outreach to low-performing students, appointments or elections to the BCS board were also under discussion. Lastly, Weis said that suggestions that the county encourage BCS seek a multi-year facilities agreement were supported by BCS because the school leadership also thought it would be more beneficial to its operations.
Tamara Logan, appearing as a school district parent, also briefly donned her hat as Los Altos School Board trustee to signal that the LASD board intended to send a formal letter to county board to ask it to meet on other issues, such as how LASD could help the county, as part of building relationships.