LASD Seeks Help in Solution For Bullis Charter School

The Los Altos School District board voted to create an ad-hoc committee to engage the cities of Mountain View, Los Altos Hills and Los Altos areas that would help identify a site for a 10th campus, among other items.


The Los Altos School District board is trying to enlist surrounding cities in its search for space for a 10th campus, and seek creative solutions to its facilities problem. 

The school board designated board members Steve Taglio and Bill Cooper Monday night to engage the cities of Los Altos, Mountain View, and the town of Los Altos Hills in an ad-hoc committee. Such a committee would be helpful in identifying available sites within school district borders, which straddle all three communities.

 “I feel very strongly we have the opportunity to do something positive for the community together,” said board member Tamara Logan, partly addressing Los Altos City Council members who were in the audience.

The board still needs to contact the City of Mountain View and the Town of Los Altos Hills to open communications on "items of mutual interest," said LASD board President Mark Goines. That's commonly understood to mean a 10th campus, but could encompass other solutions that relate to the district's ability to comply with the state Court of Appeal's October 20121 order to provide "reasonably equivalent  facilities" to the Bullis Charter School. 

Patch asked for comments from city council members of those cities Tuesday, who welcomed the idea of more communication. 

Mountain View's mayor, when the city council receives a letter from LASD, may very well want to appoint someone to represent the council, said Mountain View City Council member Margaret Abe-Koga.

"A large segment of our community is in the Los Altos School District and it would make sense to have more communication," Abe-Koga said. She chairs the Mountain View City Council’s youth services committee and also serves on the Santa Clara County Cities Association, which talks about issues of mutual concern between all of the cities, including schools.

The "big hurdle," indeed, will be obtaining land to build a new campus, she said. 

Members of the Los Altos Hills Town Council, similarly were receptive to having more communication. Patch queried Mayor Rich Larsen and Council member John Radford, who is the liaison with the town's Education Committee.

"I think I speak for both myself and Rich in saying the we would absolutely welcome an invitation of this kind, especially regarding issues of mutual interest and the well-being of students living in LAH and within the boundaries of LASD," Radford wrote in an email Tuesday.

The board also voted Monday night to send a letter, in particular, to the Los Altos City Council to establish formal communication for collaboration.

Los Altos Mayor Val Carpenter and Council Member Ron Packard made a rare appearance at the school board to express the city's interest in helping to find solutions. Packard said the City Council would be discussing the matter at its Tuesday night meeting.

“Val and I prepared a very similar letter that is inviting a couple council members, probably her and myself, to work with a couple school board members,” Packard said to the board. 

That, alone, may be progress after a bit of a stumble two weeks ago.

During a Los Altos City Council meeting April 10, Council member  that the school board “back off” thinking of eminent domain to take civic center land, and to state "unequivocally" it wouldn't do that. The council members' appearance signaled that a furor that erupted two weeks ago may have been addressed. 

But the school board maintains that it was never considering that.

“In attending the city council meeting (a few weeks ago), there was a lot of concern expressed about the words 'eminent domain," said board member Tammy Logan.

"I have seen things in community discussion but I think it’s clear and needs to be said that it is never something we have talked about in public.”

Packard added that his only concern was that the agenda of an ad-hoc committee did not place one agency against another in an eminent domain solution. Goines said that is not an interest of the board’s.

“That is very calming,” added Packard. 

- Mountain View Patch Editor Claudia Cruz contributed to this report

David Cortright April 24, 2012 at 10:00 PM
I am so glad to see Val Carpenter and Ron Packard representing a positive and collaborative attitude in helping LASD to solve this divisive issue. It is a breath of fresh air compared to where things were 2 weeks ago. I still believe that the property that is currently occupied by Target in conjunction with the old DMV location is the ideal site for Bullis Charter School's permanent home. It puts them in the area of the district with the highest growth, and will enable them to better recruit minority, low-SES, ELL, and academically low-achieving students.
A step in the right direction April 24, 2012 at 11:31 PM
Another possibility might be the CVS site on the corner of El Camino and San Antonio. I would be thrilled to see the different agencies (2 cities and a school board) working together on this complicated issue that affects all of us in the broader community. BCS is one issue, but the other is that we have a school's worth of kids living north of El Camino, and for the sake of their safety and area traffic, we could use a school in that growing area.
Ron Haley April 25, 2012 at 06:33 PM
There is no need for a 10th site. First, the LASD demographer forecast substantial declining enrollment in LASD at least through 2020. Even if we ignore that, there are other solutions. Egan and Blach are mammoth sites - 20+ acres. The surrounding districts, Cupertino, Mountain View and Palo Alto all run K-5/6-8 programs, unlike LASD which runs K-6/7-8. Converting to K-5 would reduce the Elementary school population by about 14%, or one schools worth of students. This, together with the space already available in the current 7 elementary campuses provides enough space for two additional campuses. Such a move would require some development at Egan and Blach. However, this development could be covered with a bond more like $20 million, rather than the $100 LASD is currently talking about. This option also preserves the Los Altos community center. Perhaps we should put both options on the ballot and see which one the community supports.community supports.
Joan J. Strong April 25, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Good to know, Ron, that at least we have agreement in principle that a school bond is necessary in the Fall. We can talk about the details ($100m? $50m? $20m?) later...
Ron Haley April 25, 2012 at 10:52 PM
It's needed, as long as one ignores the demographer report :)
Bill April 26, 2012 at 12:05 AM
Those are just predictions based on historical patterns. Human nature cannot be predicted with a dramatic change as this 10th school. Parents may go private, they may come back from private schools etc.......and correct me if I'm wrong but hasn't the BCS contention, based on the wait list, be that it "draws" students? How does one compensate for that shift? (were it true) ...you see..there is no clear way to predict what will happen, so better to have the bond rather than "hope" there is precisely enough space for each and every child.....
Bill April 26, 2012 at 12:14 AM
Ron....a very simple question..... If the current fight is over defining "reasonable equivalent"...Why when BCS first opened were the facilities that LASD offered accepted by BCS Board and considered adequate and equivalent then as opposed to now???
Ron Haley April 26, 2012 at 01:18 AM
Bill, BCS "draws" from LASD, so it's a zero sum game. The demographer is hired by LASD, has a PhD, and based on comments from Randy K's budget document, has be very accurate in determining enrollment. The Santa Clara county birth rate declined 12.9% from 2007 to 2010. This translates to lower enrollment, as do the State changes in age qualifications for kindergarten acceptance. The LASD board is doing what it always does - ignores the facts and propagates untruths.
Joan J. Strong April 26, 2012 at 02:21 AM
Once again Ron you show how you are against retired people selling their homes and cashing in for a better retirement. The real estate downturn, you see, has caused a massive "pent-up supply" of retiring baby boomers putting off their retirement, waiting for a better price for their home (with only a slice of equity, +/- 20% can be +/- 100% of the money you pull out of your house). In short, old people are going to be selling like crazy in the coming years as these IPOs etc. convince people that there will never be a better time to sell. Are these 3/4/5 bedroom houses going to be filled with more old people who don't need the room? I doubt it. We're a family-oriented community and guess what? FAMILIES want to come live here. That's going to mean a lot more kids regardless of the birth rates.
Safety First April 26, 2012 at 11:25 PM
What a fantastic Plan! I think safety should be a primary concern. I know the B o T 's said that they were thinking of safety when they decided to offer BCS two different campuses on opposite sides of town, it really is much safer that way. Locating the new school at this very popular intersection is sure to make it much safer for the kids, no more crossing El Camino! Seems like a true No Brainer to me! If a school goes here though maybe some of the kids living in town houses and apartments in Los Altos might want to cross El Camino to go to the brand new school. You know if would be better if they didn't have to feel bad any more, mixing with the rich kids and all. Plus it's large 2 acre size will give the kids tons of room to roam around in. Only about 1/5 the size of LASD schools, but well those kids live in Los Altos, you understand, we are just trying to do what's best for the poor huddled masses living north of El Camino. Any anyway that mean charter school keeps making us look bad, if we put all of the North of El Camino Kids at their own school it will be much better for us. There are actually families in my daughters class who don't have a computer! They really need to have their own school.
David April 28, 2012 at 12:08 AM
I think any impartial observer would say that the LASD offers of facilities have gotten progressively worse over the years. The initial charter school was very small and didn't have a very great need nor a very big fraction of LASD students.... The district had plenty of time to plan ahead for the obvious, The latest offer was the closest to meeting reasonable tests except for the left field idea of splitting one school across 2 sites. There is no reasonable equivalence need to supply "full" Jr High facilities to a small K-8 school... that was imagined and has never been required in the state.
David April 28, 2012 at 12:24 AM
There are hidden issues in picking any North of El Camino site though that is sure to be an area of growth. There would be a big hit to the sales tax base of whichever city to convert retail land to school use. The Target site has undeveloped land next to it that belongs to a family trust of a former Mtn View city council member. It is surrounded by retail shopping centers and heavy heavy traffic which is not a top pick either. Similarly the existing shopping center on El Camino Real with CVS and the forthcoming market and all the other stores is very expensive land. The shopping center corner that is the most run down is probably the one with the Luther Burbank Savings, but again, it is very expensive land. It does have residential areas with low traffic adjacent, so that's a plus. That whole area would have an adjacent student population with demographics of a lot more ELL and low income students than the LASD average. Iit might raise some questions to create a school in that area. The current LASD attendance areas split north of El Caminio area into 3 sections each assigned to a different LASD school to keep each school closer to the average LASD demographics. Each of the 3 areas is a mixture of demographics . I tend to think for this and other reasons it would be better for the LASD to maximize its existing school sites rather than to add another. Some are very underutilized.
Joan J. Strong April 28, 2012 at 01:32 AM
David R, we all know that "underutilized" means, "close a school". That's a non-starter. It also might mean, "BCS still needs to share a campus with one or more other schools" but that seems to be a non-starter for them. Yes, we can stuff more kids into fewer schools. We can keep on doing that until we have 1000 students on each campus. Why could close many schools. Why not? I'll tell you why. Our community has a very strong commitment to education. We are immensely fortunate here and we can make an investment in a new campus for a relative trifle and make up the difference in the increase in our property values many times over. These numbers seem large until you start dividing by 40k parcels and $50B in aggregate property values. A new school will cost, over a 15 year period, roughly $150 per year per parcel? If you do the math, the loss of sales tax isn't that big of a deal. Remember that there's going to be a giant shiny new retail complex across the street. Unless that land is developed as retail with new retail, it will be left for dead anyhow. As for the ELL issue, the Charter laws *specifically* call out populations like this, so our Charter would be a perfect fit... Ditto for the location: the Charter is by definition a *not* a neighborhood school but rather a commuter school...
David April 28, 2012 at 05:26 AM
There are a dozen or more ways to approach this without purchase of additional land for $50Million. One idea is to build a true elementary school on the spot where Bullis Charter is now. Build it with 2 floor levels to maximize the land. Use the 7 acres of land from Egan that is split off for Bullis now but with 2 levels for a real building, the consumption of acreage for building could be nearly halved. Make stop light at Jordan avenue on San Antonio and a new dedicated entrance to the new elementary school there. Layout the property more efficiently. No having the students arrive at the elementary school on Portola will make those neighbors much happier. The space will be commensurate with other Los Altos elementary schools housing 600 students. There just is no good place to situate this addition elementary school. The Egan split off is better than most, and won't take retail stores out of business and lose their sales tax revenue for Mtn View or Los Altos. No ones home will need to be taken by eminent domain. It could be a good solid school with good facilities and it is in an ok location. It would make a good elementary school even if not used for the Charter School.
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