LOS ALTOS -- Signaling a possible end to years of acrimony and multimillion-dollar court battles, Bullis Charter School and the Los Altos School District tentatively have agreed to abandon lawsuits and peaceably locate the charter school on two shared campuses.
The draft agreement was nurtured by both sides' desire to pass a bond measure in November to fund more schoolrooms. The Los Altos district faces relentless growth -- enrollment has increased 25 percent in 10 years, with no place to put new students. And short of building its own facility, Bullis must rely on voter goodwill to realize its goal of having its own stand-alone campus.
Votes on the tentative agreement, drawn up in mediation, is set for July 28 by both the Los Altos school board and the Bullis board. Approval would mean Bullis would drop four lawsuits, most filed over what facilities the district has offered Bullis in previous years, and the district would drop one suit. An agreement also would provide Bullis with specifics -- down to numbers of portable classrooms and days its students may use the playground, gym, tennis courts and fields -- for five years.
Bullis is public school chartered by the Santa Clara County Board of Education, but California law requires the Los Altos district to provide facilities, charging only for a fair share of the cost of maintenance.
"I think it's wonderful," said Randy Kenyon, a Los Altos assistant superintendent. The five-year agreement would put an end to the time-consuming, and often rancorous, annual negotiation over space.
In the past school year alone, the district spent $1.7 million on Bullis-related legal fees, Kenyon said, and had budgeted a like amount annually for next year.
"This," Kenyon said, "is a huge potential savings for the district."
John Phelps, Bullis's new board chairman, said, "I'm excited for the kids." He lamented that in previous years, "that the adults got in the way of kids having the best possible education."
While the two sides previously tried negotiating, talks broke down.
"It was a very, very difficult negotiation," Los Altos board President Doug Smith said. "An agreement like this never encompasses everything you'd like to include, but I'm hopeful we can get community support and provide a way to move forward."
Since he joined the board five years ago, Smith said, every board meeting has included Bullis on the agenda.
The tentative agreement also calls for the charter and district to work together to place a bond measure on the November ballot that would finance additional facilities for students. The amount could approach $150 million.
The district is in talks with the city of Los Altos to potentially buy or lease land for another elementary school. Rosita Park is one possibility.
The draft deal also calls for phasing out over five years the preference that Bullis gives in enrollment to Los Altos Hills residents.
Dave Cortright, who ran for county school board to challenge Bullis, said he wished the preferences would be eliminated immediately, But, like others, he applauded the agreement. "I don't think anyone could have asked for anything better than this," he said.
Dropping the suits is significant. "That's something the community at large has been clamoring for for some time," said Joe Seither, a board member with the Huttlinger Alliance, a community group formed out of concern over Bullis, including its apparent exclusion of special-education and underprivileged students.
Phelps acknowledged community pressure to resolve the conflict. "The length of time and diversion of resources had gotten to the point where it was increasingly critical to solve this," he said. "I'm hopeful that this will give all public students access to appropriate facilities."