Some things are not as important as others. At the top of my list of vitally important issues: the economy, the number of unemployed or underemployed Americans, the war in Afghanistan, plutonium in the hands of terrorists, the future of predator warfare between nations, and the quality of America’s public education.
But last Wednesday night there was nothing more important to me than to chair the decision-making process on whether or not to extend the Bullis K-8 Charter by five years. I wished to do so with wisdom and care. I for one love the collaborative, experiential learning environment that emphasizes individual student learning goals, which Bullis implements with deftness.
We had already gone through a grueling week of e-mail exchanges, phone calls and media queries—even Bloomberg News Group expressed interest in the Bullis renewal issue. As president of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, I was hoping for a process that would lead to a win-win for all concerned about Bullis and the Los Altos Elementary School District.
Depending on who you listen to, the four-hour debate was far too contentious and protracted. On this blog, my board colleague, Trustee Craig Mann, wrote, “Last night’s Board meeting of the SCCOE Board of Education was disgusting in that one could witness the so-called ‘adults’ in varying states of dysfunction, ignorance and or incompetence.”
In Sunday’s edition of the Mercury News, the Internal Affairs column wrote: “Last week the county school board majority was either outsmarted by Bullis, confused by state law or ill-prepared to enforce its conditions on the school.”
I vehemently disagree with both sources and I wish to set the record straight from my perspective, knowing full well there are a variety of vantage pointes and views.
For seven years, the Los Altos community has been divided over Bullis’ authorization to exist. The SCCOE Board authorized the charter. Since that time, the community has been feuding in unhealthy ways over the existence of Bullis and its demands for comparable space for far too long. It was my intention to listen to all views, take as much time as needed to eventually sort out the key issues of dispute, get them in writing for the two sides to address proactively and then move forward for the sake of the children and community.
The LASD trustees and the others representing segments of the LASD stakeholders who addressed the SCCOE Board that evening did not want the charter for Bullis revoked. In fact, they said they respect the learning community of Bullis in many specific ways. What they were hoping for is the county board to hold Bullis more accountable for:
• Serving a broader segment of the Los Altos community of children through expanded outreach requiring their enrollment demographics matching more closely with the average number of Latino students (7.5 percent for LASD and 3.7 percent for Bullis. The SCCOE staff report agreed and said Bullis needed to cure their deficiency in serving underserved students).
• Enrolling a larger percentage of special need students at Bullis comparable to the percentages in LASD.
• Requiring Bullis to come up with a process to elect a more representative Board of Directors from the parent community.
• Looking at ways to bring litigation, perceived to be unnecessary and costly, to an end through the proposed use of binding arbitration between Bullis and LASD.
• Ending the special attendance boundary area for Los Altos Hills.
There were other issues contested during the debate, including asking each Bullis parent to voluntarily contribute —some believe with untoward pressure—$5,000 to cover the total cost of educating one child at Bullis.
After 90 minutes of listening and asking clarifying questions, a motion was placed by board member Leon Beauchman and seconded by board member Mann that reauthorization without restriction be approved for Bullis’ five-year charter extension. At that time, from my perspective, Bullis had only three votes for unrestricted renewal. The remainder of the board, including me, wished for these issues to be satisfactorily addressed.
After an additional 90 minutes of debate and listening carefully to what was said and implied, it was suggested by the majority of board members to ask Bullis to defer the decision until a more formal draft of concerns could be written. Then the request for reauthorization would be brought back to the SCCOE Board in November. According to advice from county counsel, this delay of 28 days would require Bullis to mutually agree. It was at this time I asked Bullis board Chairman Ken Moore to come to the podium and consent or deny the request of the majority of the county board.
He deferred to his legal counsel, who came up to the microphone to state that his board was not prepared to agree to an extension at this time. According to the information I had, Bullis needed to agreed to an extension or we needed to take a vote at the meeting, otherwise the reauthorization would fail. From what I heard, the latter was not what the vast majority in the room or the board wanted. In a Los Altos Patch online poll, 64% of 789 votes wanted the charter renewed. I called the question at that time and the motion on the floor passed by a 5-2 vote, with members Song and Mah voting against reauthorization without restriction.
It was a messy process. However, it was democratic. It is still my hope that in the contract, which needs to be drafted between the SCCOE and Bullis and signed by both parties, all of the concerns raised will be adequately addressed for the future of the Los Altos community.
I also take responsibility for not getting us further along to resolution of these contentious issues last Wednesday, and wish to apologize to the Magnolia Charter School community for delaying their annual report to the board to a future meeting.