LASD Tells Bullis Public Meetings Are Best Course

Los Altos School Board President Doug Smith responds to BCS' proposal for dialogue, saying meetings need to be public and the board can't go down the path of closed talks again.


The new president of the Los Altos School Board has responded to an invitation to meet with Bullis Charter School Board members for dialogue with a renewed invitation of his own: Join our public meetings.

In a letter dated Dec. 12, Doug Smith, who became president of the board Dec. 10, in essence told Bullis (BCS) that the district was open to a dialogue on facilities, too, but it wasn’t going to happen behind closed doors.

“I welcome the BCS participation in this process.  In point of fact, if BCS would like to present at the upcoming meetings, please let me know and I’ll do my best to arrange it,” Smith wrote. “We value your input, and we look forward to working together with BCS and with the wider public to ensure continued fair allocation of our very limited public facilities.”

BCS Chairman Ken Moore had written LASD on Dec. 7, suggesting “active dialogue” beginning Dec. 14 between the two boards’ committees charged with the facilities requests and offers.  BCS and LASD are engaged in the annual facilities request process mandated by Prop. 39, one that has specific deadlines for certain actions.

Smith told Patch Thursday that the school district has hewed to new mantra since the disastrous reaction to last spring’s mediated agreement: Do everything in the open.

“If there's one thing I've learned from the mediation process, it’s that trying to do a deal quietly and then sell it to the public is not the way we should be acting,” Smith said in an interview.

Indeed, after weeks of closed-door negotiations with BCS, the LASD board announced the framework for agreement in mutually vetted language at a mutually vetted time on May 7—and then saw it blow up in public meeting after public meeting in the next three weeks. Skeptical parents questioned the secretive manner in which the talks had been held, the trustees’ motives, and the multitudinous impacts, and pointed to exposure to further litigation. Attempts to integrate parents’ input into the agreement didn’t sit well with BCS. In short, the LASD parents felt their children had been “sold out” and BCS leaders felt they weren’t getting enough, Smith wrote.

“We need to have the dialogue in public so that everyone understands what the issues are,” Smith wrote. 

In his letter, Smith also raised concerns about “the tone and content of your messages to BCS parents.” He wrote that the BCS letters to parents “emphasize the continuing legal battle BCS has waged, and deliberately confuse issues and misrepresent facts,” while letters it sent to the district emphasized cooperation and collaboration. 

On Thursday, BCS Board member John Phelps said BCS was “disappointed” that LASD “chose not to respond to our proposal for direct, constructive talks,” meant to be in addition to the formal process.

“With a large group, it’s sometimes difficult to have public constructive dialogue, Phelps said. A small group would optimize that possibility, he said.

Still, Phelps said, “We will continue to engage in every way possible to constructive solution to a permanent site.”

And perhaps there are entry points.

Smith reiterated an earlier request for enrollment data made to BCS during the Nov. 5 public meeting where BCS board member Peter Evans and representative Fred Gallagher made a presentation.

“To the extent that we’ve requested additional information, it is because the District is genuinely trying to understand the BCS request, and balance that request against the needs of the other 4500 students we educate,” he wrote.

"If the documents are forthcoming, we could still consider them as part of our preliminary facilities offer due on February 1, 2013."

Los Altos resident December 15, 2012 at 02:32 AM
Oh well if BCS tried to work with LASD 6 years ago, then they've done their best. Sue on, BCS, sue on.
Philip Aaronson December 15, 2012 at 06:03 PM
Los Altos resident: there have been multiple attempts by BCS to reach a settlement. Most recently there was another mediated offer, except that too fell apart because LASD parents would not accept the terms: http://www.losaltosonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=43184&Itemid=46 In-between BCS has made generous offers to the district to site them at the Bullis-Purissima campus. http://www.losaltosonline.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=17691&Itemid=56 That's just a sampling. But at some point, one might get the idea that the district really isn't interested in reaching a settlement.
Michael Uhler December 15, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Philip, let's stipulate for the moment that your recap of the past is both accurate and complete. The point of the article and my original comment was to create an environment in which the two boards could have a dialog about the future. Do you have any constructive suggestions about how to make that happen, or must we first find blame and have public trials before we can move forward. As a BCS parent, I'd think you'd be motivated to join me in forcing the boards to talk, rather than simply looking at the past.
L.A. Chung December 15, 2012 at 08:13 PM
Los Altos Patch would love to be a forum for open and constructive communication on difficult Los Altos and Los Altos Hills issues. We welcome comments that can foster an atmosphere idea-sharing. Please continue to use us in this manner.
Philip Aaronson December 15, 2012 at 10:02 PM
Michael, my main point was simply that negotiations have occurred successfully before, even with litigation (history is a wonderful thing). As for suggestions as to how the two boards could have a dialog about the future? I have two: 1, have BCS enter into informal talks with Jeffrey Baier, superintendent of schools, and make progress reports public. This is just what happened in 2006, and there's no reason it couldn't happen again (hey, history is useful!). And 2, at this point it might be a really good idea for Doug to call up the Huttlinger Alliance chiefs and ask how to make it acceptable for board members to hold informal talks with BCS (in addition to formal public ones). Since it's the threat of litigation by that organization that seems to be the impediment.


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