In yesterday's War on Workers weekly entry, Laura Clawson had a link to this fascinating story of the Los Altos (CA) school district and their woes with an "extremely litigious charter school." I had heard a little bit about it as Los Altos is near where I live, but the more I read, the more stunned I got. I had to dig a little deeper into this amazingly atrocious but accurate situation.
Los Altos is a fairly wealthy town in Silicon Valley. One unusual thing about governance around here: school districts and city boundaries are rarely the same thing. The Los Altos School District included the even wealthier town of Los Altos Hills, where zoning pretty much requires a minimum site of one acre for each house. That may not sound prohibitive to anyone living outside coastal California, but land in Silicon Valley is so expensive that most homes are built on lots between 5,000 and 8,000 square feet. And that's the houses built 60 years ago!
Houses in Los Altos are unobtainable for under a million. Houses in Los Altos Hills are even pricier. Now watch what happens when the people in the more expensive town organized a charter school when their one and only public school was closed down.
Take a leap over the orange eclaire and see how one of the top school districts in the entire state got completely, and I mean completely screwed by the charter school process.
This article originally appeared in a slightly different format on Burbed, which makes fun of Northern California real estate. On the occasional weekend piece, I get passionately political, which means this piece will be right at home on the DK.
We haven't been shy about sharing our "educational reform" position with you: we distrust the charter school movement. We believe they are a means for private corporations to strip school boards of their resources
and teachers of their benefits
by providing cut-rate education
under the false flag of "school choice." After all, corporations exist to make a profit
. Would you really want your child's education outsourced to the lowest bidder
? Of course not! That's why you'll pay anything to live in the Real Bay Area
Charter Schools' Negative Impact on the Educational System
Charter schools are being implemented
all across the country
, whether parents want them or not.
This is happening because some very wealthy people
, not one of them with any education background, see this as a way to profit
at the expense school boards and teachers unions. Much of the current "school reform" movement
has been taken over by tons of money from foundations from the Walton
(Walmart), Gates (Microsoft) and Broad (construction and insurance) families and, of course, the Koch brothers. These groups have completely derailed real school reform
in favor of their plan
our educational system
All that money crowds out real reform in favor of forcing charter schools, despite their lackluster performanceand despite their ability to cherry-pick students. There are stories everywhere of neighborhood schools forced to close, fire all the teachers and administrators, and then reopen as charters, despite complete opposition from the affected teachers, parents and children. Needless to say, this is most likely to happen where parents are not well-represented in the political system. That is, this process is most likely to happen in poorer neighborhoods rather than wealthy suburbs. Remember Waiting for Superman (which is, of course, pure propaganda)? The Bay Area school in the film was in Redwood City (a city with mixed socio-economic characteristics including a large low-income barrio). And look at all the corporate charter schools that have popped up in Oakland and San Jose.
But That Doesn't Happen in the "Real Bay Area," Right?
So what would you think of a charter school setting up in an RBA wealthy suburb and leeching off the school board? Surprise
! This is the story of a private group that is trying to strip a school board of its assets by providing a really expensive education
for some really wealthy parents' kids. Welcome to the continuing saga of Bullis Charter School
of Los Altos.
This story began when the Los Altos School District closed Bullis Purissima Elementary, the only public school in Los Altos Hills (see intro, that's the really wealthy town), in 2003 due to reduced enrollment. Or they closed it in order to renovate but the economy slowed down, depending on which version of the story you choose to believe. A group of parents in that attendance area were unhappy about this decision, and decided to fight it using the charter school facilities language enabled by Proposition 39. Prop 39 was ostensibly about lowering the voting threshold for school bonds from 2/3 to 55%, but charter language was added to gain support from those school operators. And this language says that "public school facilities should be shared fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools."
And thus the Bullis Charter School was born, ready to demand its fair sharing of public school facilities. Rejected twice by Los Altos School District, the school won a charter via the Santa Clara County Office of Education. Its charter reserved half its spots
for students in the original Bullis-Purissima attendance area, which is the wealthiest part of the school district. Here is BCS' enrollment preference sequence. (We're not linking directly to that page because the site appears to use trackers on their FAQ answers. To verify this language, go to the FAQ
and select "How does the enrollment process work?"
How does the enrollment process work?
California Education Code and our charter with the Santa Clara County Office of Education govern the enrollment procedures. Bullis Charter School accepts registrations for any student residing in California. If the number of students who wish to attend exceeds the school's capacity, then enrollment is determined by a public random drawing.
If a random drawing is necessary, SCCOE authorized enrollment preferences are applied based on the following hierarchy within each grade level:
- Siblings of current BCS students who reside within the Los Altos School District (LASD) have first preference.
- 50% of the available openings for students residing in the former Bullis-Purissima School attendance area as defined by LASD in 2003 have the next priority.
- Other LASD students have the next priority.
- Siblings of current BCS students who reside out-of-district are given priority after that.
- Out-of-district students without BCS siblings receive the final priority.
Now, in order to get those facilities they wanted shared fairly, that means another LASD school will lose them. In order to get more facilities, they need to recruit more students. So they did. And thereby lies the root of many of conflict.
Bullis Charter School & Los Altos School District: A Miserable Marriage
BCS is demanding their own school site for 450 students
because they don't want to share a school site with an existing one. They find the current offer to have K-6 at one school and 7-8 at a different school unacceptable and claim the Prop 39 language says their charter cannot have split sites because their program is a K-8 inclusive one. Instead they want their own 10 acre site.
The result: a school land grab in LASD, and it has gotten UGLY. Simply check out some of the reportage on this issue and be sure to read the comments sections to see what we mean. BCS Supporters just want what's best for their kids.Â They want equal funding, as they say they receive less per student. And supporters of the school call detractors "envious" and imply they know who detractors are who post under pseudonyms. There are insinuations that BCS students are being harassed by non-BCS students. One BCS supporter (hi there, Ron!) openly taunts detractors.
Said BCS detractors refer to the "billionaires
" who organized BCS and treat it like their "own private school" and are "Bullis bullies" to the other district families. There are demands that the admission lottery needs an outside auditor. There are demands that the donations and budget
be audited as well. There are claims that Special Education students have been forced out of BCS
. There are claims that applications to BCS asked for information illegally
, such as whether the student had an IEP (e.g. for Special Ed). There are claims that parents unwilling to pay the âvoluntaryâ $5000 per student âdonationâ haveÂ had their names posted on a "Wall of Shame." There are complaints of online harassment
. There are allegations that all the organized opposition
to a 2011 LASD parcel tax came from BCS parents. There are observations that BCS doesn't negotiate
, it threatens.
In 2007, there was a formal finding that BCS filed special education reimbursement expenses that appeared invalid. The school district, in their court filing, called BCS a "semi-private school" that should not be given Prop 39 facilities. The local PTA has taken a public stand on the issue against the "local boutique charter." The Los Altos City Council got dragged in over eminent domain. (Remember, city governance is completely unrelated to the school board.) LASD parents have formed a formal group opposing BCS's designs on a school site. There are suggestions that County Board of Ed members may have voted to renew Bullis' charter for another 5 years because of campaign contributions.
There have been lawsuits
. Many lawsuits
. BCS has sued
LASD several times. There have been motions and countermotions
and attempts to submit amicus briefs
to the current suit.
The bottom line, according to Ken Moore, chairman of the Bullis board, is that the district continues to ignore the law. BCS is simply trying to get what it is due and the district is obstructing them any way it can.
The district's lawyers aren't so sure, however. After Bullis filed its "motion to compel," the LASD legal team fired back arguing that the district had already agreed to more than enough. "BCS's request to order the closure of a district school has no support in the law," LASD officials said in a July 24 press release.
Mesel and his cohorts' seven community members working to defend the district agree that LASD should not give up an entire campus. And according to Mesel, plenty of others living within the LASD boundaries share his view as evidenced by the about 200 signatures of support he says the Huttlinger Alliance for Education has gathered.
What's Happening Now & Who's Talking About It?
The current situation
is that LASD is proposing a school bond to build a new elementary school so BCS can have its own site, but they expect the bond measure to fail
. Not many school districts in the RBA are building new facilities these days, because they aren't making any more land. (Note: recurring joke on Burbed.) However, if the bond fails twice, this is where it gets really nasty. If that happens, BCS can take over an existing neighborhood school
, and students in that attendance area will be dispersed to other elementary schools. And BCS has made it very clear to LASD where they want that school to be: in Los Altos Hills, preferably at the old Bullis-Purissima school.
But the original cause for the creation of BCS, namely the closure of Bullis-Purissima, is no longer the case. The school has since reopened as Gardner Bullis. That means the whole point of the charter school is moot, but at this stage nobody wants to back down.
And with so many highly educated people involved, there are many places to talk about these issues. One of the LASD board members comments on his own blog.Â This LA-wide blog seems to prefer BCS to the district. There is a blog supporting the school district over BCS. There's also a Facebook group for LASD parentsthat specifically prohibits any mention of BCS! (Wonder what the backstory to that rule is!) And here's a Facebook group that talks plenty about BCS. Look at the number of comments to each entry! News stories regularly appear in both the Los Altos Town Crier and the Los Altos Patch, with the aforementioned spirited discussions. And you know by "spirited" I actually mean vicious.
And how's this site
for a non-confrontational title? (It does have some rather interesting additional background
on the issue, such as the wrinkle that many BCS founders were actually in the Palo Alto
school district and lost access to LASD with the school closure.)
Why We Care: Because there's Real Estate Involved!
Oh, and there's a real estate angle. Of course there is. It wouldn't be a Burbed article if we couldn't tie it to real estate, and this isn't just schools-set-housing-values. You see, it turns out that BCS loaned the principal of the school $250,000
to remodel a house
(or maybe not remodel it) that she already owned. The problem is, since the house was purchased before the loan was made, that may not have been exactly legal for a 501(c)3 nonprofit benefit corporation to do. And someone has already filed a complaint
with the State Attorney General over this.
There is an August 15th court date coming up in this never-ending saga. Stay tuned.
Mon Aug 06, 2012 at 11:56 AM PT: Wow, Community Spotlight! I am flattered beyond belief! Thank you, all! There are still a lot of typos in the piece injected when I moved it from the original blog post, but I'll need some uninterrupted time to prune it a little more. And thank you to everyone posting on the very complex subject of charter schools. I know they aren't all terrible... But the process is destroying education as we know it.