Thursday, October 11, 2012

Los Altos Elections - Why the Secrecy?

For those of you following closely, the Los Altos School District is now in another lawsuit over the 2012-13 school year facility offer. This is due to the fact that BCS thinks that they are entitled to displace a high-performing public elementary school with their own semi-private school (which lacks ELL, special needs kids, free and reduced hot lunch, has a geographic preference of the Los Altos Hills -  all while charging a "donation" of $5,000 per student).

With the voting season upon us, we wanted to provide a timely update...

LASDVoices advocates transparency in government and, today, we both received a candidate mailer that was misleading.

Amanda Burke-Aaronson, candidate for Los Altos School Board, is purposely not disclosing that her children attend
Bullis Charter School. She has not spoken of her association with BCS in her candidate statement, website, Facebook page, mailer and in candidate forums.  Given that BCS has filed numerous legal actions against the Los Altos School District (and BCS recently asked for  LASD to pay $1.3 Million in attorney fees) her association with BCS is extremely important.

Why the secret?

For someone seeking election to the Board of Trustees, she is withholding key information from voters.  Is this the same way that she would conduct herself on the LASD school board?

Please help get the message out that Ms. Burke-Aronson is not being forthcoming about her Bullis Charter School association.

We need honest and open leadership in our community especially at this critical juncture in our community.  We need people who will work together openly and transparently.  For that reason, LASDVoices supports the following candidates for Los Altos School Board, Los Altos City Council, and the Santa Clara County Board of Education. 

Los Altos School Board

  - Steve Taglio
  - Pablo Luther

Los Altos City Council
  - Jeannie Bruins
  - Jan Pepper
  - Jerry Sorensen

Santa Clara County Board of Education
  - Dave Cortright
The upcoming election is extremely important and we urge everyone to vote!

Thank you for your continued support,

Michelle and Molly

Thursday, June 28, 2012

We Choose Los Altos School District

By Michelle Sturiale

I wanted to let you know about a newly launched Facebook group that will provide the larger community with a forum to communicate events and activities occurring in  the Los Altos School District (LASD). 

You can find the group at:

We Choose Los Altos School District is a parent-driven Facebook group that promotes the innovative programs offered at all of the public district elementary and middle schools in Los Altos. This site is intended to educate the parent community, as well as neighbors and new families in Los Altos and surrounding communities regarding the amazing programs our teachers, children and parents are doing in our neighborhood schools!

Only individuals with current or former students in the LASD may post on the group. You don't need to be a member to see the posts.

I really believe that this will be a great way for our community at large to learn more about the fabulous things happening at our LASD schools!

Friday, June 8, 2012

An Open Letter to the Bullis Charter School Board

Dear Bullis Charter School Board Members,

I am a Los Altos School District (LASD) parent who has been involved with other parents in trying to envision a better future than the current "zero sum game" that makes some schools winners and some losers in the process of solving the facilities issue and while simultaneously creating animosity throughout the community.

I was the host/moderator of a recent joint Bullis Charter School (BCS)/LASD parents' meeting to begin to take steps down the path of a better future, and I would like to express to you that most community members understand that Bullis Charter School is here to stay and is a valuable part of our community. We would love to boast about both Los Altos' exemplary district schools and its model charter school. The overwhelming majority are ready to work hard for a win/win/win
(district/charter/community at large) solution to the facilities issue. The time for secret negotiations is over. It's time now for a completely open public dialog on the best way to achieve that positive
outcome. Here are three suggestions for action:

  1. Work with the City of Los Altos and LASD to fully vet the opportunities and concerns about the creative joint use of the Hillview site, whether the school portion ends up as BCS or a moved district school. Work with the city of Mountain View to fully vet the idea of using developer school and park fees to assist in purchasing land there for a school site, again, either a district neighborhood school or for BCS. Encourage BCS parents to host informal brainstorming sessions, as official meetings often move at a frustratingly slow pace.
  2. Perhaps working with the SCCOE, help educate the community and allay some of their concerns about how BCS fits into our concept of public education. Please help us understand your school better, so we can all get on board together for our mutual benefit. The community has many important questions about the charter that need to be fully answered before we can all get to that point, as evidenced by the recent petition drive to try to close BCS (which neither myself or LASDVoices was not affiliated with) .
  3. We need an outside audit to prove to folks that the $5000 BCS donation request is to fill in funding gaps and not just to pay for the extended day and the foreign language teacher. We want to know how much of the school's budget comes from private foundations. We would be much more supportive if you would accept just names and addresses for the lottery and then ask for application information afterwards, as I understand is charter best practices. We want to hear that you are open to dropping the Los Altos Hills admissions preference when your charter comes up for renewal. And we would feel much better about investing money in a new school site if the BCS board was elected among our friends and neighbors, the BCS parents.

Thank you for listening. I'm very involved with the district site selection committee and LASDVoices parent group, so if you have ideas for implementing these suggestions, I will work hard to make them happen. I look forward to your response.


Nancy Morimoto

Monday, June 4, 2012

Open Letter to Residents of Los Altos School District

A group of concerned parents across Los Altos School District (LASD), has been working together to help reach a facilities agreement (per Prop 39) with Bullis Charter School (BCS). The attached letter was recently sent to the LASD Board of Trustees about these ongoing negotiations.  We are collectively concerned that critical issues regarding our children's education have been unaddressed in the process. We are confident that the LASD Board believes it is doing everything it can under difficult circumstances and want to support its efforts. However, after many years of litigation and negotiations the Prop 39 facilities process has not resulted in a solution the community supports. To help facilitate a long-term solution for all parties, we have requested no further private negotiations until our designated parent representatives have "a seat at the table” in these important discussions.

Although the LASD-BCS private negotiations appear to have ceased for now, the points raised in the letter are still very important. This letter represents:
  • A commitment to preserve and continue to enhance the district's highly regarded and flourishing public neighborhood schools
  • The belief that Prop 39 requirements should not inadvertently disadvantage LASD school children
  • Support for a collaborative, transparent relationship between LASD, BCS, and the community for the welfare of all public school children—district and charter school alike—living within LASD boundaries
  • An effort to implement a thorough and inclusive process with appropriate time for community feedback and vetting before a solution is final

We truly want to be part of a constructive solution: A solution that has the support and confidence of the community, a solution that continues to make our community a desirable place to raise families, and a solution that continues to provide excellent public school education for our children.

Below is the letter:

June 2, 2012

Mr. Mark Goines, President
Mr. Doug Smith, Vice President
Ms. Tamara Logan Clerk
Mr. Steve Taglio, Member
Mr. Bill Cooper, Member
Los Altos School District Board of Trustees
201 Covington Road Los Altos, CA 94024

Re: Pending Negotiations with Bullis Charter School Board

Dear Trustees:

The Concerned Parents of LASD Families is a group of individuals whose children attend Los Altos School District K-8 schools, and who have been actively involved in trying to solve the issue of how to find space for Bullis Charter School.* We are presenting this letter under the “Concerned Parents” name for ourselves and on behalf of a larger group of LASD parents who are worried that critical issues regarding our children's education continue to remain unrecognized and unaddressed in your settlement negotiations with representatives of BCS. We respectfully request that you and the BCS negotiators permit our designated representative(s) to join the on-going negotiations immediately.

At the outset, we want you to know that we laud the basic premise of a negotiated settlement between LASD and BCS -- parties should endeavor to resolve issues out of court. We also recognize that the Trustees, Mark and Doug in particular, have spent an enormous amount of time and energy over several years working toward a reasonable facilities arrangement for BCS. However, our reading of the proposed settlement draft circulated by the LASD on May 20, the BCS Board's public response to that Draft Settlement, and the draft MOU dated May 31, 2012 circulated yesterday evening convince us that the parties are focused on only a subset of the issues that must be included in any short- or long-term arrangement.

The community at large within LASD has communicated in various forums that many families from across the district do not agree with the draft long-term agreement terms as they stood earlier this week. Emails, meetings, calls, and public statements have all been made to the LASD board members by many community members. Our impression, however, is that several of our most material concerns have not been heard, or at least they have not been addressed in the only draft circulated so far; those omissions lead us to send you this letter.

Our initial reading of the May 31 MOU leads us to believe it proposes a plan that imposes significant detrimental effects on Egan students. While the May 31 MOU purports to be a 2-year solution, the MOU itself fails to address what would happen if LASD is unable to identify and make progress on acquiring and building a tenth campus within the next two years. There are also a number of specific facilities allocation points expressed so generally, it’s unclear whether LASD is proposing to give BCS exclusive use of existing Egan classroom space or intends to add more portables to the BCS footprint.

There can be no doubt that any settlement – short- or long-term – must address the basic BCS facilities issue on which numerous formal and informal public meetings have focused. However, the consensus of the families who have looked closely at documents made public to date is that there are a number of critical elements to any settlement that do not appear anywhere in the documents circulated by LASD. Nevertheless, those missing elements implicate fundamental rights of LASD students. It is not clear from any of the public discussions held since the tentative framework of a settlement was announced by the LASD in early May that the parties have given any meaningful consideration to:

  • With respect to both the May 31 MOU and the Draft Settlement, the detrimental effects on members of Egan Junior High School's student body of encroaching on Egan’s already overburdened facilities (which include several "portable" classrooms);
  • The inequality created by any provision of the Draft Settlement or the May 31 MOU granting BCS 6th graders access to science or other facilities not also available to LASD 6th graders;
  • The negative impact upon special needs children – again, both in the case of the May 31 MOU and if one of Los Altos' existing elementary schools is "closed" in order to make it available to BCS;
  • The discriminatory impact of any settlement terms upon low-income families, English-language learners and other students who are members of one or more protected classes;
  • The expectation that all children in the school district in grades K-8 be educated in facilities that are reasonably equivalent to those provided to similarly situated students;
  • The economic impact on LASD families of committing fully-used LASD facilities to BCS**
  • The arbitrary and capricious manner in which the four elementary schools identified in the draft settlement, Almond, Covington, Gardner Bullis and Santa Rita were selected -- not, we understand by the democratically elected trustees of LASD but rather by the self-elected Board of BCS and their legal counsel.
The LASD parents who participated in drafting this letter and the community they represent are convinced that the negotiators at the table have not and will not adequately represent the interested of families whose interests are infringed. For that reason, we ask that you and BCS' representatives cease further negotiations until our representatives are permitted to participate as active negotiators on behalf of the affected but unrepresented members of the LASD community. Any settlement agreement that does not fully address the matters outlined in this letter is likely to cause harm to the affected LASD families.

We truly want to be part of a constructive solution, and understand that the LASD board believes it is doing what it can under the existing circumstances. However, the current public comment process is not resulting in solutions that the community supports. This is due, in part, to the understandable limitations of trying to discuss difficult, complex issues that have a significant emotional dimension in a large public forum. If the families are not given a meaningful opportunity to participate more directly in the initial formulation of LASD proposals before they are circulated for public comment, then a fundamental flaw exists in the process for constructing a solution that the community ultimately will endorse. The families whose interests are described here therefore request a “seat at the table.” If not, we reserve our right to pursue all appropriate legal remedies necessary to protect our children from the potential harms described in this letter.

We hope that you agree to include us directly in the on-going negotiations. We look forward to hearing from you promptly.

Very truly yours,
The Concerned Parents of LASD Families

*While members of our group are available to meet in person with you, and have spoken with one or more of you in the past, both individually and in small groups, we hesitate to sign individuals’ names to this letter because, through no fault of LASD, many of the parents involved in this discussion as well as their children have been subject to harassment as a result of the adults’ public stands on issues. If this letter were released by LASD, either in the course of the public debate on the LASD-BCS facilities dispute or in response to a California Public Records Act request, any of the families who would otherwise be individual signatories could be subject to further intimidation.

**We also note that as of the date of this letter, the parties have no idea of the actual time and cost required either to reconfigure the Egan campus for the next two years or, when the time comes, to identify, purchase and develop an eighth elementary school campus.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Stop the Anonymous Web Lurking

By Michelle Sturiale, LASD parent

As some of you may know, I am a Los Altos School District (LASD) parent that has been extremely involved in the Bullis Charter School (BCS) issue where there is a real live threat due to charter law that our district might have to close a high performing public school and hand that school over to BCS free and clear.  I have taken a very public stand, both as a parent and as a PTA president that I do not want this to happen. However, there is a very strange phenomenon occurring in our peaceful, quaint town that I would like to bring to light in this blog post.

On Wednesday night I spent the entire evening away from my family (as did many other LASD and BCS parents) to attend a five hour Santa Clara County Office of Education Board meeting. (For those of you that do not know, this board is the chartering agency to BCS and until recently, this board was completely unaware of the angst that is occurring in Los Altos due to BCS potentially forcing a school closure.)  Many people were brave enough to speak in front of an audience; it takes a lot of courage to speak publicly on this touchy subject especially at large county board meeting, and I would like to personally commend everyone that did speak and that has spoken in the past. Additionally, I would like to hope that as this process continues, more people will feel comfortable getting up to speak.

However, I am appalled by the behavior of online anonymous commenters on many web sites such as Facebook, and our local papers – the Town Crier and the Patch. These posters choose to use their anonymity to make negative comments on public remarks made at the county meetings and other public meetings.  As I was literally speaking to the county board on Wednesday, anonymous online posters from BCS were bashing me and accusing me of things I have not done.  I think it is time that the most active and vocal anonymous posters on these forums take off their anonymous masks and face the public with their legal names. As we all are aware, the Internet makes it very easy for us to emotional disconnect from our audience, making it much easier to attack someone online.  This is nothing short of internet bullying.

Unfortunately, I am now under the impression that all BCS families feel exactly the way the few vocal BSC parents do and to me, silence equals acceptance.  All of us must call out the bad behavior on both sides of the issue and it starts with stopping the anonymous posts.  Many on the county board have said that both sides of this touchy issue need to stand down and focus on the healing.  I tend to agree with them on that point; although we may not agree with each other, we need to be respectful.  

I have always shied away from confrontation (that’s how I was raised in Minnesota). This polarizing  issue is so important to me that I chose to make public statements about my beliefs even though I knew I was opening myself up to harsh criticism. I have (or had) friends at BCS, and I have always tried to have a respectful conversation about these issues while holding our local and county leaders responsible for the problem.  I have never pointed fingers at parents or children of BCS, and have never asked for the charter to be revoked or for BCS to be shut down.  I am simply using democracy to stand up for what I believe is in -- a high performing LASD school to not be closed and to accommodate the unchecked, ungoverned needs of BCS.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Legal Judgement Update

by Linda Baxley

Below is the actual judgement that was received today regarding the lawsuit between BCS and LASD. Here are the highlights: 

The Honorable Patricia Lucas issued her order on Friday, March 23, regarding BCS and LASD's litigation over the District's 2009-2010 Facilities Offer to BCS.  The order is attached.  As previously reported, LASD's attorney argued that the Court should adopt BCS's Proposed Amended Judgment with three changes.  The Order, as issued included two of these three changes: 

1.  As issued, the Order (page 2, paragraph 2) has deleted BCS's proposed reference to the need for the District to provide "a 10-acre site" in favor of "facilities that are reasonably equivalent to the sites enjoyed by the comparison schools," making clear that the District is not obligated to provide BCS with a single 10 acre facility.

 2.  As issued, the Order (page 3, paragraph 2), has specifically defined the Egan site in terms of what was offered to BCS at Egan in 2009-2010, and struck BCS's proposed language that could have had direct implications on whatever the District's final 2012-2013 offer will be.

 3.  As issued, the Order included a continuing jurisdiction provision.  Assuming the truth of the comments made at the January 2012 LASD Board meeting that LASD followed the law and applied the Court of Appeal's methodology, the inclusion of this provision, in combination with the Court's above modifications to BCS's proposed amended judgment, should not pose an issue for the District.