Thursday, September 8, 2011

BCS Charter Renewal

Attached is a letter I sent to the Santa Clara County School Board regarding the renewal of the BCS charter. In it, I've made some suggestions for how I believe BCS might better reach out to groups that they are currently underserving.

As always, this reflects my personal views, and isn't a statement about District policy. Feel free, though, to send comment to me at my district email address.


Board Members and Superintendent Weiss:

Unfortunately I am unable to attend this evening's Board meeting due to business travel, but I am sending this letter to reflect my opinions on the renewal of the BCS charter.

BCS has an impressive track record, and recently achieved very high scores on the STAR test. They are to be congratulated for that achievement, but it comes with something of an asterisk.

As you consider this application from Bullis Charter School for renewal, I would respectfully request that you consider placing some conditions on BCS as part of that renewal. Many of these are contemplated in legislation pending before the California Assembly. Rather than "sneaking by" before the legislation is passed, let's step up ahead of Sacramento, and require equality today. Don't wait to be told that we have to treat students equally- do it because it is the right thing to do.

I would like to request that, as a condition of their charter, BCS be required to implement a plan to achieve parity with the local district in the recruiting and educating English Language Learners, Economically Disadvantaged Students, and Special Needs Students.

English Language Learners
BCS should be required to actively recruit from the full spectrum of language learners that are present in our community. Approximately 8% of LASD students speak a language other than English at home. LASD not only provides recruiting materials in multiple languages, but we also provide translations throughout the year for both written documents and parent-faculty discussions. By doing so, we ensure our ELL families are fully included in the education of their students, and that those students have the best possible opportunity to thrive in our district.

In the several BCS recruitment nights I've attended, I have observed no materials in languages other than English. I have seen no signs or other indications that interpreters are available for the first meeting, let alone throughout the year. This passive discrimination is unlawful in public schools, BCS (and all charter schools) should be required to comply with the law and ensure they are serving all students in our area.

Economically Disadvantaged Students
Charter schools are meant to serve all public schools, yet BCS has created a program which caters to wealthy families. Their recruiting night features discussions of expensive overseas trips and a hard sell from their fundraising group. I believe these actions are designed to ensure that only families of substantial financial means apply to their program

At the BCS recruiting nights, I have personally listened to the presentation from the Bullis Boosters Club. The BBC explains that they need at least $5000 per student in additional contributions from parents to offer their program. They make statements like "I wouldn't feel right enrolling my child if I wasn't able to contribute at that level."

One need only examine the BCS student data to realize that their free/reduced lunch population is distinctly absent compared with that of the Los Altos School District. To create a financial barrier to entry is akin to charging tuition, something expressly forbidden in the Charter School Act.

(To see this financial pressure more clearly, simply conult the BCS Foundation website

We understand that for some of our families, a tax deductible donation of $5,000 per student is simply not feasible. We ask that families openly discuss their situation with a Foundation member as early as possible and donate as much as they are able towards covering the funding gap, recognizing that other school families will need to make up the difference. A broad participation is what makes our funding model sustainable!

They present the $5000 donation as closing some funding gap compared to LASD. However, LASD spends approximately $8500 per student compared to the BCS spend of $13,400. The math speaks for itself.

Special Needs Students
Finally, BCS should be required to create and operate a meaningful program for special needs students. Any public school district can explain the cost of special needs students. LASD serves students who may require upwards of $150,000 per year to educate. Parents in our community are very bright and well informed. They research schools carefully, and many have chosen our district because of the program we provide. The few students they do serve are, to my understanding, very mildly impacted by their disabilities. Parents of students with severe disabilities are discouraged from applying. By not having a meaningful program for special needs students, BCS effectively shirks their responsibility to the community, leaving LASD to bear the financial cost of this type of program.

BCS may assert that their program does serve the needs of these various student groups, but the statistics would show otherwise. Compared to the LASD, they have virtually no students with severe disabilities. Their ELL population is nearly non-existent. Their STAR test data further reveals that they have no students who are economically disadvantaged. If charter schools are about serving the needs of all students, then let's require that charter schools do exactly that- serve the needs of the school population.

Let's not wait for a law to require us to treat students equally.



Douglas J. Smith
Board of Trustees, Los Altos School District