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.