Schools

Los Altos School District Lawsuit? Discuss BCS Growth or Else

Written by lalahpolitico

Xavier De La Torre, County Superintendent of Schools

UPDATE FROM THE EDITOR: Nov. 3, 2012
The Editor received this reasonable letter from LASD board member Doug Smith. I reproduce it here.

Norma
A community member forwarded to me a link to your repost of my email exchange with the county board.  I’d like to make two observations:

Whether it is clear to other readers or not, I was cautioning the county board and trying to keep them out of hot water.  You may note that my first reply to them was sent specifically to Joe and Xavier.  I chose to send it only to two of them as a way to de-escalate the situation and share my concerns in a low key manner. I don’t know whether Xavier realized that in copying the entire board in his reply, it would end up in their board packet, but so be it.  Once he had done, that,I thought it would be best to copy the entire board on my next message.

The second comment is more of a mild request.  If you quote my emails in the future, I would be grateful if you could indicate “emphasis added” or something similar when you add bold to my remarks.  As you know, email is an imperfect media.  I would hate to have community members think I’d sent a message to the SCCBOE with a bold sentence cautioning them that they may be sued.  If I received such an email, I might interpret the bold as a threat, which is certainly not my intent in this case.  I understand that you likely add bold to the messages to help the reader find the parts you deemed most important, (and I’m pleased that you chose for reprint the entire exchange), but it would be best if folks get the full impression of what I was trying to convey.

Thanks for your consideration.
Best wishes,
DJS

 


 

ORIGINAL POST OF Nov. 2, 2012

Yet another Los Altos School District lawsuit could be possible if SCCBoE refuses to discuss Bullis Charter School growth plans in the manner the LASD board and collaborating parents are clamoring for.

On Oct. 18 Jeff Fixler began a email conversation to  ask SCCBoE to add an agenda item to an SCCBoE Meeting – namely, Bullis Charter School’s plans for growth.

County Superintendent De La Torre replied that the county will monitor the growth and take action if is larger than permissible. Fixler replied with two news articles suggesting that the growth probably will be larger than permissible.

On Oct. 29 , SCCBoE Board member Julia Hover-Smith replied to continuing entreaties, saying that since the growth is below the threshold of 25%, such an agenda item about BCS growth plans will be “neither useful nor relevant.”

Los Altos School District board member Doug Smith jumped into the thread and escalates back to SCCoE’s new superindentent, Xavier De La Torre. Doug Smith said SCCBoE is opening itself up to litigation from non-BCS parents in the LASD district because the Brown Act requires them to agendize, even if the board does not agree with it. Then Xavier De La Torre replied that the SCCBoE Board is happy to receive public input during the regular public comment period of any of its meetings, or even to set up a special meeting between himself and Los Altos School District parents to air their concerns.

Los Altos School District board member Doug Smith found those suggestions unsatisfactory. In his reply he warned, “ I believe you open yourselves to further litigation from members of our community that you have failed to exercise adequate oversight of the school you have authorized.”

Torre related that SSBoE is adding lawyers and up to 6 people to monitor charter schools in a brand new county division. “I am working with my team to create a division within the County Superintendent’s Office that will supervise, monitor, and address legal compliance issues involving all county-sponsored charter schools, including Bullis Charter School. As you can imagine, this is a significant investment of resources that will likely include in-house, legal counsel and a team of four (4) to six (6) individuals charged solely with supporting and guiding county-sponsored, charter schools.”

Doug Smith wonders if the staffing for the charter school monitoring division is going to be large enough.

LALAHPOLITICO COMMENT: I read the below exchange and wonder how you, dear reader, read it. Doug Smith…looking like a hero of parents fighting rich people who want to steal their school… or looking like a litigation happy pugilist? Xavier De La Torre, looking like an unwitting tool of Charter Association Big Money? Doug Smith, looking like a passionate defender of public school children and their parents, financed by CTA Union Dues?


Doug Smith Los Altos School District Board is the lead board member on school district lawsuits

 

These emails have been EITHER 1) posted on FB LASDVoices, a wide open Facebook group OR  2) are addressed/copied to all SCCBoE members and are public information.

Nov. 3 UPDATE FROM THE EDITOR: The emphasis below is mine; it is for those readers who skim.  For example, bold type is NOT Doug Smith “yelling” in his emails. I apologize for not mentioning that before.

From: Jeffrey Fixler [mailto:jfixler@gmail.com]

Sent: Thursday, October 18, 2012 8:03 PM

To: Leon Beauchman; Michael Chang; Joseph DiSalvo [External]; Julia Hover-Smoot; Grace Mah; Anna Song; Xavier De La Torre

Cc: bcooper@lasdschools.orgdsmith@lasdschools.orgmgoines@lasdschools.org;staglio@lasdschools.orgtlogan@lasdschools.org

Subject: Agenda Request: Bullis Charter School growth

To Santa Clara County Board of Education,

I am an involved parent within the Los Altos School District with an interest not only in the well being of LASD but also of the Bullis Charter School.   We are all the same family in my opinion.   Regrettably, our district has been entangled in a facilities legal battle with the charter school, in part brought about by poorly written California laws on charter school requirements and facilities (Proposition 39).   Therefore, I make a point to attend both LASD and BCS board meetings intent on understanding the differences and getting involved to help improve our District.

At recent BCS board meetings the board began a study of growth strategies, all looking at dramatic year-to-year increase in student population that will take them from their current 500+ to over 900, even possibly up to 1200, over multiple sites.   The reality of the origin of this desire to increase sadly does not have anything to do with expanding and showcasing the viability of their chartered educational model into areas of need.   No, it has to do primarily with addressing siblings who are currently wait-listed and to address the BCS board’s perception of a need for choice in one of the top ranked school districts.  SCCBOE member Grace Mah was in attendance at these meetings to hear this admission.   One BCS board member had a truly out-of-the-box suggestion to expand their charter to the neighboring Mountain View-Whisman School District, only to be quickly rejected by the rest of the board in favor of the above priorities.  What a shame because MVWSD, while still an excellent school district, has so much more diversity and areas of need than LASD.  What better way to truly demonstrate scalability of what is supposed to be a novel educational concept!

Since BCS is determined to remain within LASD, it’s local sponsoring district for facilities, yet pursue an aggressive growth strategy some serious questions need to be addressed.   LASDs facility options are finite, this is a relatively small area of land within the county, and all of our schools are equally top ranked.   Therefore, it is very difficult to balance the facility needs of BCS while not unduly affecting the facilities and quality of education of our other schools.  What are permissible growth rates?  Is there a need to materially revise the current charter?  Or is there a need to apply for a separate charter as they intend on operating two identical K-8 sites.   These questions must be asked in a public forum, with dialog, to the chartering authority.   That is you.

Thus, I request that the SCCBOE place the topic of Bullis Charter School growth on an upcoming agenda, ideally before the Proposition 39 request for facilities are due.

 

Thank You,

Jeff Fixler

LASD Parent


—————-

On Fri, Oct 19, 2012 at 10:59 AM, Xavier De La Torre ‪<Xavier_DeLaTorre@sccoe.org>wrote:

Good morning,

If BCS intends to pursue what you have described, they would certainly be required to either submit a material revision to their original charter or submit a petition for a new charter.  Either way, the process would require that a public hearing be held to solicit input from all parties interested and/or effected by the proposal.  We will monitor this situation closely on behalf of the community and the county.

Xavier De La Torre, Ed.D.

County Superintendent of Schools


————————————

From: Jeffrey Fixler ‪<jfixler@gmail.com>

Date: Fri, Oct 19, 2012 at 2:23 PM

Subject: Re: Agenda Request: Bullis Charter School growth

To: Xavier De La Torre <Xavier_DeLaTorre@sccoe.org>

Mr De La Torre,

Thank you for your reply and the information.  For your reference, a news article about BCS growth plans and a reporter’s summary transcript of the recent board meeting at which they discussed growth options is linked below.   The transcript doesn’t contain the various growth models, but buried in there is their vote to study a growth that begins with the addition of two kindergarten classes and one additional each of 1st to 3rd grade for the ’13/’14 school year.  That would be a dramatic first year increase, and if not all at once then eventually, with a significantly larger facility need than they currently have.   Given the timing and nature of this increased growth rate it would be beneficial if the County Board has the capacity to solicit public inputs before or around the initial Proposition 39 facility request on Nov 1, rather than later.   We remain hopeful that SCCBOE can play an active role in discussions between BCS and LASD, with the goal of ending these never ceasing lawsuits over facilities.

Here are the links:

http://www.losaltosonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=44543&Itemid=46

http://losaltos.patch.com/articles/live-blog-bullis-charter-school-board-meeting-oct-8-2012

 

Thank you again,

Jeff Fixler


————————————–

 

From: juliaghs@aol.com
Date: October 29, 2012 1:39:48 PM PDT
To: j.fixler@gmail.com
Cc: joseph_disalvo@sccoe.org, grace_mah@sccoe.org, leon_beauchman@sccoe.org, anna_song@sccoe.org, michael_chang@sccoe.org, xavier_delatorre@sccoe.org, lucretia_peebles@sccoe.org, michelle.sturiale@gmail.com, deborah.tolomeo@gmail.com, davecortright@yahoo.com, doug@smith4lasd.com
Subject: Agendizing Bullis Charter school growth plans

Dear Jeff,

Thank you for your email regarding your desire to agendize the issue of Bullis Charter School’s plans for growth. I have already responded to this issue to several other people (I see that you have had that response forwarded to you) and have laid out the facts supporting my opinion that agendizing this matter will be neither useful nor relevant.

I do not agree with your statements that the Santa Clara County Board is “implicitly condoning” the “excessive growth” of the school. The law in the state of California is clear — we are not permitted to inhibit growth by a charter school. Growth above 25% per annum may result in a material revision of a charter, but that threshhold is not currently anticipated.

I do not agree that agendizing this matter will aid you in “understanding the position of our board”. We are bound by the laws of the State of California and those laws ARE the position of this board. Agendizing the matter will confuse the public and create more and greater discord than already exists.

Your statement that we are making an exception for Bullis is untrue and unsupported by the facts. Your statement that Bullis has the intent to “grow large, quick and without oversight” is inflammatory, intended to deceive and also unsupported by the facts.

Sincerely,

Julia Hover-Smoot


————————————–

From: Doug Smith [mailto:doug@smith4lasd.com] 
Sent: Monday, October 29, 2012 3:01 PM
To: Joseph DiSalvo; Xavier De La Torre
Subject: Fwd: Agendizing Bullis Charter school growth plans

Gentlemen

I generally try to stay on the sidelines when my constituents send communications to the SCCBOE. In this case, though, I will share a couple of observations:

1). Julia’s assertion that the isn’t any supporting facts for the concept that BCS is growing rapidly is completely untrue. Tonight BCS will vote to approve their facilities request to LASD, and they are expected to project a growth of over 22% in this year alone. I would love to see that sort of “non-growth” in my retirement account.

2). You have before you a legitimate request from a member of the public to agendize an item for discussion. Under the Brown Act, my board has always leaned towards agendizing and allowing the discussion to happen. I believe that of you do not agendize this request, you run the risk of a Brown Act complaint. A public board can’t refuse to agendize something just because some members feel disagree with the views of the public. The issue falls squarely within your jurisdiction, and it is relevant to the operation of your organization. I “get it”- there are members of the SCCBOE that are tired of hearing about this issue, but the public continues to have a right to address its grievances to its government.

In the worst case scenario, SCCBOE is opening itself up to litigation from non-BCS parents in my district. I’ve heard many complaints that folks feel SCCOE isn’t adequately supervising it’s charter schools. You may be aware that LASD has filed a cross motion against BCS complaining of illegal discrimination and other issues with their school. When that issue gets to trial, SCCBOE doesn’t want in a position of having stone-walled members of the LASD community as they tried to raise concerns.

I would strongly encourage you to agendize this issue quickly, so that the community’s input can be heard.

Please let me know if there is something I can do to help.

Best wishes,

DJS

Sent from my iPad

Please excuse typos, tone, and grammar

Begin forwarded message:

 


————————————–

On Mon, Oct 29, 2012 at 4:52 PM, Xavier De La Torre ‪<Xavier_DeLaTorre@sccoe.org>‬ wrote:

Good evening,

First, I appreciate you taking the time to reach out and share your perspective. One cannot quarrel with your assertion that Bullis Charter School, a county-sponsored charter school, seeks to increase capacity to serve more students. However, Mrs. Julia Hover-Smoot is also correct relative to the laws governing charter schools in California and their right to exist and grow annually at a nominal or at an accelerated rate. For our immediate purpose, nominal may be defined as an annual increase of no greater than 25% from one year to the next, while an accelerated rate may be growth at a rate greater than 25% of enrollment from one year to the next. In the later case, a material revision would be required and appropriate. However, if what you describe is true, it appears that their current plan of 22% falls below the aforementioned threshold that would trigger the material revision followed by a required audience with the Board of Education to consider their proposition.

Notwithstanding, I understand your interest in seeing a greater presence and level of involvement by the Santa Clara County Office of Education – I agree with you. While the approval of charter schools falls under the legal authority of the district, county, and in some cases, the State Board of Education, the County Office of Education and the county superintendent understand the obligation to provide oversight and monitoring to insure that all charter schools operate with fidelity relative to their charter petition. As the new county superintendent in support of the Board of Education, I am working with my team to create a division within the County Superintendent’s Office that will supervise, monitor, and address legal compliance issues involving all county-sponsored charter schools, including Bullis Charter School. As you can imagine, this is a significant investment of resources that will likely include in-house, legal counsel and a team of four (4) to six (6) individuals charged solely with supporting and guiding county-sponsored, charter schools.

Finally, I cannot speak to your interpretation of the Brown Act but I don’t believe that there is anything that would preclude you or the LASD public from sharing your concerns at any regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Education during the public comment period. Perhaps you can arrange a meeting of concerned members of the LASD community who I might meet with to hear their perspective on the issue? I would be happy to attend such a meeting and, if appropriate, contribute to the conversation.

Respectfully,

Xavier De La Torre, Ed.D
County Superintendent of Schools

 

Xavier De La Torre, Ed.D.
County Superintendent of Schools
Santa Clara County Office of Education
1290 Ridder Park Drive
San Jose, CA 95131-2304
(408) 453-6511

Xavier_DeLaTorre@sccoe.org

 

facebook.com/sccoe      twitter.com/sccoe

 


————————————–

From: Doug Smith <doug@smith4lasd.com>

Date: November 1, 2012 2:43:25 AM PDT

To: Xavier De La Torre <Xavier_DeLaTorre@sccoe.org>

Cc: Anna Song <Asongdist5@aol.com>, “Darcie Green [External]” <darcie.green@gmail.com>, “Grace Mah [External]” <gmahbox-sccoe@yahoo.com>, “Joseph DiSalvo [External]” <josephsds1@aol.com>, “Julia Hover-Smoot [External]” <juliaghs@aol.com>, “Leon Beauchman [External]” <LeonBeauchman@att.net>, “Michael Chang [External]” <michaelchang22@gmail.com>

Subject: Re: Agendizing Bullis Charter school growth plans

Thanks for your message.

I am very much aware that governing boards are not to impede the growth of a charter school, and I am definitely familiar with the regulations provided by the education code with regard to encouraging growth of charter schools. However, as the governing body, the SCCBOE also has a responsibility to ensure that growth is done in an appropriate manner. The SCCOE seems to have taken the position that the freedoms created to encourage the growth of charter schools in general therefore exempt them from the constitutional requirements of public schools. That is not the intent of the legislature (nor, if it were their intent, would it be within the power of the legislature to do so.)

 

If the SCCBOE does not take steps to encourage BCS to grow in an manner that is consistent with the broader constitutional mandates of serving all students equally, SCCBOE will have failed in their responsibility to supervise BCS. You have before you a legitimate request from a constituent to place an item on your agenda. California Ed Code Section 35145.5 stated explicitly “It is the intent of the Legislature that members of the public be able to place matters directly related to school district business on the agenda of school district governing board meetings.” (In my previous messages I incorrectly attributed this to the Brown Act). Suggesting that the public can address these concerns during the public input sections is inadequate. LASD has recently brought a cross-complaint against BCS to have the courts address whether they are, in fact, a public school. If SCCBOE stands by and does nothing in the face of direct requests from the public to agendize this issue, I believe you open yourselves to further litigation from members of our community that you have failed to exercise adequate oversight of the school you have authorized. It should *never* take the threat of legal action to have a governing board hear the concerns of it’s constituents.

 

In a message from a community member, I’ve already seen complaints that the BCS projection of “15% expansion” is misleading, that they are actually growing at a greater pace. You may not be able to take a direct action to limit BCS growth, but can definitely listen to the community concerns. Perhaps your next action might not be to directly limit the growth, but rather to determine that the supervisory office Dr. De La Torre mentioned is in fact not large enough. What you learn form this public input may direct you to do other things, like lobby the State legislture for clarity that SCCBOE should actually push the next BCS renewal back to LASD. There are many possible outcomes to this process. Failing to listen to the public, though, should not be a path chosen by the County board.

 

Regards,

DJS

 


About the author

lalahpolitico

Norma Schroder is an economics & market researcher by trade and ardent independent journalist, photographer and videographer by avocation. Enthralled by the growth of the tech industry over the decades, she became fascinated with the business of local politics only in the past couple of years.