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Daily Kos: How to Destroy a Top Notch School District: Open a Charter School!

August 7, 2012

I encourage everyone to read the below article about how to destroy a top-notch school district…open an charter school!  I have written in the past about Bullis Charter School in Northern California and how I viewed what was going on as a travesty and a way for the wealthy in that area to game the system.

Public education is being slowly and steadily chipped away at, and the deep-pocketed interests in the “reform” movement are, at this time, and in my opinion…winning!  More and more charter schools are opening and the rights of teachers and teacher unions is being eroded away.  We really need a drastic turnaround.  There are many good links below…enjoy!

Daily Kos: How to Destroy a Top Notch School District: Open a Charter School!

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.

A Los Altos town marker: stone plinth with wooden Los Altos signs in white script


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.

Editorial cartoon: Everybody Wins!  3 people pointing to, left to right, new community centers, new charter schools, and new debt.

We haven’t been shy about sharing our “educational €œreform” 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 benefitsby 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

Anti-charter school protest

Charter schools are being implemented allacross 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 profitat the expense school boards and teachers unions.  Much of the current “school reform”€ movementhas 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 to corporatize our educational system.All that money crowds out real reform in favor of forcing charter schools, despite theirlackluster performanceand despite their ability to cherry-pick students.  There are storieseverywhere of neighborhood schools forced to closefire 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 happenwhere 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-incomebarrio).  And look at all the corporate charter schools that have popped up in Oaklandand San Jose.

But That Doesn’t Happen in the “Real Bay Area,” Right?

Bullis Charter School logo

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.”

Santa Clara County Office of Education logoAnd 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:

  1. Siblings of current BCS students who reside within the Los Altos School District (LASD) have first preference.   
  2. 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.   
  3. Other LASD students have the next priority.   
  4. Siblings of current BCS students who reside out-of-district are given priority after that.   
  5. 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

Bullis Charter School walkathon

 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.  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.

Los Altos School District logo

Said BCS detractors refer to the “billionaires“€ who organized BCS and treat it like their “own private school” and are “€œBullis 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 “voluntary” $5000 per student “donation” have 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 thatBCS 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 “€œlocal 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 torenew 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?

4 1950s type women's heads, with central caption: We're not gossiping, we're networking

 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.  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.

Bullis Charter Scam website masthead

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.


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