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Letter: Los Altos Needs a 10th School Site for Enrollment Growth

A 10th site will allow some balance of equity ... It is the most viable and will maintain what we hold most dear about our schools.

 

Editor: 

As a community of proud parents and active volunteers we have been facing a very difficult situation of balancing the facility needs of all 5000 LASD and BCS children across the district while keeping their needs as a whole in the forefront.

Our problem is not simple. It is a complex balance of prioritizing the education of all our children, the constraints of the education code, finite resources, and a growing student population.

Los Altos School District is a highly ranked district, one of the best in the state, and its student population is growing. There is growing demand and it is the district's obligation to meet that demand. A long-term solution must be found.  

Bullis Charter School is also a highly ranked charter school, one of the best in the state, and its population is growing. There is demand and it is within the power of the BCS board how to address that demand. Likewise, a long-term solution must be found, one such that we do not have to constantly revisit this topic and instead put all focus on the priority of educating our children.

District-wide growth is happening at a rate of 90 students per year (10 year average), if not more over shorter periods. Almost a quarter of that growth rate is occurring from around the San Antonio Visioning Area. With the recent apartment and condo construction, especially those marketed for young up and coming families, that growth will increase. Demographer estimates range as high as up to 100 to 200 new students once the units are filled. At the same time, the rest of the district will continue to experience an overall growth as a generation of early home owners cash in on their retirement (~20% of the single family residences are property valued at < $200k).  I and others have seen this yearly growth first hand, regardless of where we live within the district.

Recent proposals by the district board, BCS board, and well-meaning parents to close down a school and redistribute will not meet our long-term needs. Nor will increasing site density. These proposals are divisive and also threaten our successful school model of small neighborhood schools, throwing us quickly into large schools with nowhere to grow. Our schools are already close to capacity and the last time we had this many students in the district, we had 10 school sites. We can't ignore the fact that something must be done to accommodate all this growth. With our help, it's up to the two boards to solve next year's facility dilemma while being able to feed into a longer term solution.

It is my belief that a 10th site option is the most viable and will maintain what we hold most dear about our schools: small classes, community focal point, a place where our children are not lost into a crowd of anonymity, .... all things that contribute to making our schools among the best.   Scientific literature agrees on the importance of small schools:http://www.usd497.org/Consolidation/documents/Leithwood&Jantzi.pdf

Finding a new site within the boundary of LASD is no easy solution, especially one that can hold a school of 900 students, the size BCS wishes to have. Land is scarce and very costly.  Hillview, or other land owned by Los Altos, Los Altos Hills or Mt. View or any of the cities serving LASD would be ideal and the best solution for the students and the cities. 

We need the cities that are responsible for bringing in so many families to support our high-performing school district, especially if we want our schools to continue to improve and evolve.  

In, or if necessary, even out-of-district options, will permit BCS to flourish, unconstrained by the few options within our district boundary, and allow a choice of facility tailored to their own priorities and requirements.

There are a number of ways to reduce the cost to the district, for any 10th site option. For example, perhaps LASD and BCS can pool their resources by having the district purchase/lease the land and BCS contributing to future development. It is not unheard of for high-performing charter schools to partially, if not fully, self-fund facility costs, sometimes with commercial real estate (e.g. Livermore Valley Charter School, http://www.costar.com/News/Article/Charter-School-Buys-12-Acres-in-Livermore/142747). This is an opportunity for their school to build their facilities in a way they desire without considerable financial impact (in fact LVCS has not increased their annual requested donation level, http://www.lvcs.org/ccef/faq).

A 10th site will allow some balance of equity and much needed resources to return to our Egan and Blach Jr High students while giving the district more flexibility to tackle our long term growth.  Most importantly, a 10th site will improve our quality of education as we grow, strengthen our district, and our community. 

I ask of both LASD and Charter parents to keep all students in consideration, not just your local school and regardless of your preference for a solution.

Thank You,

Davida Ewan with a LASD student

Joan J. Strong January 25, 2013 at 06:47 PM
Even the BCS leadership has finally gotten the message that closing an existing school is out of the question. It's time to move on and think of other solutions. I have said that we need two new campuses, one for a neighborhood school in NEC, and one for a "special use" campus at Hillview. As of right now it's impossible to plan BCS facilities since the BCS board has vowed to double the size of the school in the next 3-4 years. We don't know whether this will happen, or whether the school will shrink, and so forth. We also don't know where all of these students will be coming from. If many are coming from NEC it might be appropriate to put a (or the) BCS campus there, or share one, etc. As such, the most appropriate solution for BCS is campus sharing for the next 3-4 years until the school's growth stabilizes. If you want to change this, please go talk to the BCS board of directors.
L.A. Chung January 26, 2013 at 05:58 PM
@Nancy Darling: I believe the Grant Park site has been brought up, glancingly, a couple of times. It's not a full school site anymore, since a good portion of the land -- looks like about a third to half-- was sold off and homes were built on the what is now called Grant Park Lane.
mtnview_parent January 26, 2013 at 10:15 PM
A very well written letter to the editor, thanks for exposing your ideas. I also see an important comment from "momatlosaltos". If I understand correctly, she point out that a 10th site would probably need a reshuffling, so then why not just re-shuffle and not get a 10th site. I believe like the author of the letter that a 10th site is needed because of the enrollment growth, not as a short term solution for locating BCS. The number of students will soon reach 5000, and we can expect that number to climb even higher within the next 5 years. Therefore, solving a short term problem for year 2013-2014 by reshuffling the students for BCS will not solve the enrollment growth problem. Most likely, we will need to keep re-shuffling the students every 2-3 years. So, the solution to give Covington to BCS may well solve the problem of BCS, but it aggravates the problem of LASD. Therefore, it is not a balanced solution. What we really need is a win-win solution for LASD and BCS.
mtnview_parent January 26, 2013 at 10:28 PM
I just took a quick look on redfin for "fun", and I found a 18.3 acre of land in los altos Hills, just off 280. MLS #81208681 The price tag is 20 Million, which I think is very reasonable. The mayor of Los Altos (which I find is quite visionary) wants a school in Los Altos Hills, and another in NEC. If they want BCS back in Los Altos Hills, this is an excellent opportunity. Okay I didn't visit the site, so I may be wrong. But we should not dismiss the idea of getting new school sites because we think there are no land available.
Joan J. Strong January 28, 2013 at 03:40 AM
Unfortunately the "mayor of Los Altos"* seems to be working off of very old information. BCS will see less than 20% of its attendance from the Hills next year. The rest of BCS attendance comes from all over the place. That location in particular has been looked at, but most assume it will be very difficult from a car traffic standpoint. For a school the size of BCS, they will need locations which are very car-friendly since it's by definition a commuter school. It makes very little sense to put BCS in LAH and it would actually be better off in Mountain View at this point. (* I presume you are talking about the FORMER mayor Val Carpenter, not our CURRENT mayor Jarret Fishpaw).

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