Bullis Charter School

Bullis Charter School Q&A

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Questions and Answers About Bullis Charter School

What about all of the applicants Bullis Charter gets? Doesn't that prove they are great?

Bullis Charter School does not operate like a public school and is free to engage in any sort of "marketing" to promote itself it pleases. (Unsuspecting parents often see "public school" and drop their usual guard reserved for any other sort of commercial product, which BCS basically is).

As anybody who has ever marketed any product will tell you, just getting "leads" is very easy if that's all you care about. A realtor, for instance, could advertise free beer at an open house. Many people will come--but this does not mean they are qualified buyers.

Many parents "apply" to Bullis Charter but after finding out more about them and seeing the excellent public alternatives (which are free, and top-ranked), they choose the local public schools instead. Many (most?) of the BCS applications they brag about are from families who are not in our District.

Applications mean nothing. If any of our public schools here in Los Altos and Hills had a lottery system allowing somebody from out of our district to attend a school here, they too would get thousands of applications.

In the face of this vigorous commercial-grade onslaught of hard-sell marketing from Bullis Charter School, our local public school District is... a public school district. They do not (and should not) engage in the "commercial marketplace"--and thus BCS basically "competes" against a foe that does not compete with them at all.

None of this stops Bullis Charter from using their application numbers as a ploy to convince people they are better. Might makes right, apparently. It's like an athlete who wins by cheating, and then brags that we won because he trained harder. Bullis Charter pretends to "compete" (and "win") against an opponent that is not even playing the game they are playing.

It is only now that parents are learning that the Charter laws imply the need for a "competitive response" (like this Site for instance) in order to save their local public schools. For the first time ever, Bullis Charter School is being answered: we'll see what their enrollment numbers look like when the playing field is finally leveled.

Will Bullis Charter School Keep Growing?

The Board of Directors at Bullis Charter School have promised to grow their school to 900 students and beyond. They do this even while continuing to market their school as a "small school". Such as the blatant cynicism of the BCS leadership.

Bullis Charter School, however, is an unsustainable model and cannot possibly grow past only a small part of our District's population.

Bullis Charter (per their Foundation website dated approximately 2/2012) currently receives about $2800 less in public funding than our District (and some estimates put that number at more like $2400). As we will discuss below, the "gap" in funding is more than made up by the District's obligations to pay for special-needs children and other legally mandated, democratically decided things (in short, Bullis Charter School costs our school District money).

Thus the school depends on getting $5000 per student in donations to pay for its programs, which are deeply baked into the school's value proposition--the school would be clearly inferior to surrounding schools without this extra money.

Since the school's donations are the "honor system", parents who do not pay the $5000/child or more are essentially "deadbeats" who force the rest of the parents to pay more.

This sort of system only works to a certain point until it comes crashing down: parents not paying will cause other parents, finding the system unfair, to not pay, and then more parents will not pay, and so on. This model works fine in a coffee shop with a tray full of pennies and it works fine in a millionaires-only school where $5000 is "like pennies"--but the minute BCS "diversifies" beyond the elite super-rich, this "honor system" will break down.

This is why BCS is so aggressive in procuring it's $5000/child per year: they know the whole system could come crashing down all at once.

The BCS financial model is absolutely not scalable beyond a handful of very rich parents. Bullis Charter's constant "threats" to grow their student enrollment are idle ones. If they do continue to grow their school they will "wipe out" financially.

What about Bullis Charter's high test scores? Isn't that proof it's better than our public schools?

Within the context of the surrounding schools, Bullis Charter's test scores are terrible. Bullis Charter had API scores only 1-2% higher than surrounding public schools in the last several years--a statistical dead-heat. This is terrible performance because Bullis Charter effectively locks out kids who might score lower by charging a "tuition" of $5000/year per student, so generally more advantaged kids go to Bullis Charter (this effect has been called "creaming" by education experts).

Surrounding public schools--being public schools after all--must take in all students. Even with this enormous advantage, Bullis Charter can only muster scores virtually tied with that of surrounding schools. If Bullis Charter ever did what many think Charter laws say they should do and take in less advantaged students, then their test scores would obviously plummet.

Why is this important? Because the only objective reason for a school like Bullis Charter to exist are higher test scores. Charters in California which were started in the proper spirit of the law--in disadvantaged areas--boast test scores drastically higher surrounding schools.

Although test scores are by no means "perfect" measurements of a school's overall quality, it's all we've got. Otherwise a Charter could make up any and every imaginable method of declaring itself "better". Remember, this is a public school that takes taxpayer money. This is not a realm for "experiments" which only a small part of the population may be willing to risk. Clearly if BCS were a private school nobody would care about their test scores.

But no parent would send their child to a school with lower test scores that also costs $5000/year per child and is also deeply questioned by the local community. As such, test scores are the key to Bullis Charter's existence and they are hanging by a thread. It's logical to assume, then, that Bullis Charter would never alter its policies and take in less advantaged kids--to do so would be tantamount to shutting the school down.

Isn't Bullis Charter "better" and "innovative" whereas our public schools here are "(name calling ommitted)"?

A key pillar of Bullis Charter and a justification for its existence is the idea that it is somehow "better" than our local public schools here, which are the highest rated in California.

Since Bullis Charter's test scores are virtually identical to surrounding schools, they instead need to rely on marketing "spin" and meaningless jargon to boost themselves and they resort to name-calling and equally meaningless insults to our top-ranked public schools in an attempt take parents attention away from the fact that our public schools here are among the best in the USA.

Remember that this school was not started on the premise of innovation at all and the original Charter application for BCS stated its programs would be exactly the same as normal LASD schools (this was apparently later changed in order to "look better" for the Chartering authorities).

There is nothing innovative about going to the highest-ranking school district in the State, creaming the most advantaged students and effectively blocking the less advantaged ones, and achieving great test scores. Studies show that by the biggest driver of test scores in a school is not the teachers or its programs or policies, but rather the income level of parents. It's in this sense that Bullis Charter is merely "shooting fish in a barrel" and certainly not innovating in any way.

Imagine if a group of philanthropists who spent a lot of time and money to "fight poverty in Los Altos Hills" and then showed how successful they were by showing there was no poverty there. This is exactly what Bullis Charter does: it inhabits a place where there is already tremendous success and then brags about its success as if it actually accomplished something.

Bullis Charter was not started to "innovate"--it was started because a local public school was temporarily closed and a group of super-rich residents got angry and they wanted to replace what had been there. They wanted their public school re-opened, that's all (and now it is re-opened as Gardner Bullis School).

Isn't this about "school choice"?

Public schools are paid for by taxpayers--by all of us. Nobody has a "choice" to start their private business in the lobby of the Post Office. You don't have a "choice" to throw kids out of their existing public school so you can try your own experiment in education (and no, the voters in California never voted for such a thing despite what loopholes lawyers might find in the laws).

The only publicly agreed-upon metric of ranking schools is standardized test scores. This is not a perfect system, but it's all we have. Everything else is just somebody's "opinion" of what makes a school better. People should by all means have their opinions, but they should not be allowed to use public money--and disrupt the lives of thousands of children--to try them out.

Real choice should be created from private schools, which is the way we do things here in Silicon Valley: private entrepreneurs and their backers risk their own money to try something new, not grab some public-owned resources using a loophole in a law. Charters were approved by the voters of California to fix problem schools, and our District--one of the highest rated in the USA--does not even remotely qualify.

Shouldn't the Bullis Charter students be given a campus? Aren't they victims?

Bullis Charter students definitely are victims--of a being used as pawns in a revenge plot by a small group of vengeful super-rich. As good and kind citizens we should try to help them as much as we can by pressuring the super-rich founders to clean up their own mess by getting them to take the school private and/or buy them a campus.

Getting Bullis Charter School on a more sound legal and moral footing will help Bullis Charter students immensely. This may mean shutting the school down in the long run, but there are many options here. Nobody wants to see students disrupted from their current school if at all possible (a sensitivity not shared by Bullis Charter supporters who seem to have no problem with the district closing public schools and scattering kids around like they mean nothing).

Remember that the Bullis Charter Founders could buy or lease their students a new campus any time they felt like it, but they chose to have a war with the district instead of helping their students.

Is our School District (LASD) "breaking the law"? Does the law say BCS gets a campus?

One of the most common talking points handed down from the BCS orthodoxy--if not the most common talking point-- is that our District is somehow "breaking the law". Although this is a serious charge, and many BCS supporters who know absolutely nothing about the Charter laws feel perfectly fine in repeating it.

However it is simply not true.

First of all, anybody who tells you the "law is simple" in this area is being dishonest, full stop. These are people clearly taking on faith what the BCS talking points said is true without researching the matter themselves (which admittedly is an arduous task as the Charter laws are not simple or straight-forward).

Moreover, unlike much of the typical BCS supporter rhetoric, the Charter laws and Prop 39 to not eliminate the authority of school districts. A District's duties to a Charter school are analogous to a foster parent's duties to a foster child. Clearly there are guidelines on how a parent must treat a child, but broad leeway must necessarily be given to the parents lest judges be forced to rule on the details of every single imaginable life event.

There are probably a lot of foster kids who are jealous of their sibling's fancier or more convenient bedrooms, but this has nothing to do with the law.

If a foster child is healthy and gets straight-As in school, it's hard to argue that the child's living facilities are sub-standard. So too is it impossible for BCS to argue that their school--which achieves the extremely high standardized test scores similar to surrounding schools--has been adversely effected by sub-standard facilities. Like a foster child who may complain to the authorities that their room is not as "cool" as their sibling's, Charter laws do not and cannot govern the details and in fact only offer guidelines.

The recent case lost by our District in appeal was a technicality. It basically said to the District, "you measured wrong" when following the guidelines, and the Court clarified its guidelines. The exact details of the number of square feet and so forth are based on nuances of a vague law.

Again, anybody who thinks this is "simple" and "obvious" have clearly not read the laws and are taking on faith arguments from BCS--which obviously have an extreme bias against public schools.

How can you be so sure this is about "revenge and spite"? Might it be because the Bullis Charter founders wanted to help kids?

Any rational person with the means of these founders would have started a new private school, or simply sent their kids to an existing private school. They could have created a private school with the help and support of many of the Silicon Valley elite. They could have created something unique, something great--starting it just like many of our greatest companies were started. They could have purchased the campus that was closed (with a realistic offer that is), and they could have proceeded to hire the best principal, the best teachers, and would not have been encumbered by... this whole mess.

They instead chose to get into a nasty fight with the District. They hired expensive lawyers to "come up with something" to "get them".

Think about it: if your goal was helping kids, why would you get into a war with the local school district? Why would you start a school on arguably shaky legal ground--a school that could arguably be closed at any point in the future? All this when you have the means to easily avoid all of this by starting a private school?

With a deeper understanding of the history of the school, you learn that the whole thing was very "personal" and the human emotions of anger and spite had everything to do with the starting of this school. The founders of BCS were angry at what they saw but made absolutely no attempt to understand the reality behind what they were seeing--that the District had no choice but to do what it did at the time. Regardless, they were angry, and then proceded to take out their anger on all of us, or use unsuspecting parents and innocent children as tools for their hidden agenda.

Why do people call Bullis Charter's $5000 suggested donation, "tuition"?

To best understand this situation, know this: without it's $5000/child per year donation from each and every parent BCS would go out of business.

There are many first-hand reports of parents being severely pressured by Bullis Charter personnel when they fail to pay their $5000 per year. The "marketing presentation" by the school always makes it clear that this is not a "donation" in the usual sense, but something that all parents are expected to provide. In a case like this, not much "exact language" is required for perspective parents to "get the message"--pay the $5000 or your children can expect to be an outcast at this school.

The school makes it very clear that if some parents don't pay, other parents need to make up the difference. The introduces a "code red" methodology of getting parents to apply pressure to other parents as well.

(A common BCS counter-argument to their "tuition problem" at BCS is that our District also takes donations through it's foundation and the suggested donation is $1000--so it's the same thing. First of all, it's worth thinking about the sort of people who consider $1000 and $5000 "the same", but no matter. On average, LAEF gets about $550 per parent overall, and only 40 parents in our area are able to donate the $5000 BCS requires.

Everybody knows what a public school is, as this idea has been around in the USA for over two centuries. Nobody will avoid one of our top-ranked public schools because they feel they cannot afford it. Public schools are free. Finally, although LAEF supplements our District's education, the additional funds--amounting to less than 5% of the District budget--are not transformational. Our donations could go to zero and we'd still have viable schools).

Realistically, therefore, most people view Bullis Charter as a "discount private school".

Is this site supported by LASD?

This site is supported by parents who are being threatened by Bullis Charter. Period.

The makers of this site have absolutely no official affiliation with LASD, LAEF, or any district school, any of its employees, relatives of employees, girlfriends, boyfriends, bowling partners, or whatever. Nobody working on this site works in any capacity as an elected or appointed member of any organization associated with any school, including the PTA of any school.

Faced with criticism of their school and devoid of any viable arguments to support themselves, BCS supporters typically lash out with personal attacks in various forms. One form is to insinuate that this site is a "plot" by teacher's unions, the District, etc. etc.

This is just a smear--an attempt by Bullis Charter supporters to take people's attention away from the facts of this situation, which are not in Bullis Charter's favor.

Is this site pro-Union?

We have no opinion on unions. We could care less about unions.

The standard, knee-jerk response to any criticism of any Charter school in the USA is that you must be a shill for the "teacher's union". This is standard Charter School boiler-plate.

One typical BCS automated repsonse is to quote Albert Shanker, the founder of two national Teacher's Unions (to which neither of our schools here in Los Altos belong). What they don't tell you is that Albert Shanker died fifteen years ago and no more represents Teachers in the USA than Mussolini represents Italians.

And their favorite quote by Mr. Shanker? Yep, a lie. It was apparently fabricated by anti-union forces some 27 years ago.

So there you go: BCS supporters have to resort to history dating back to the last century--and lies from a quarter century ago--to even build a straw-man.

And if you are truly anti-union, it's worth noting that there is nothing whatsoever to stop BCS from becoming an all-union organization as some Charters across the country are already moving towards. Whereas a publicly elected Board may give citizens a voice in stopping (or curtailing) a union, a privately held corporation like BCS gives you no voice whatsoever.

On a related note, it's also worth noting the folly of thinking that Charter Schools will somehow save taxpayer dollars by "ending the corruption". The fact is that private corporations lobby our government for handouts just as well if not better than unions sometimes do. Replacing the "teacher lobby" with the "charter lobby" will accomplish nothing. Proposition 39 was an excellent example of the "charter lobby" raising your taxes by making a deal with the California Teachers Association to pass a law making it easier to pass local bonds.

(To be clear, the makers of this site advocate more spending on schools in our area as this is consistent with a strong commitment to education, the very genesis of our wealth in our high-tech community).

Isn't Bullis Charter much more efficient than LASD schools? What about those teacher retirement benefits, etc.?

First of all, you should deeply question why a group of super-rich suddenly care about "cost controls" for local expenses like this when this amounts to infinitesimal fractions of their overall tax burden.

Second, Bullis Charter operates in a "dream world" where there none of the problems that face real public schools, such as a diverse student body and employees that need retirement benefits.

It's also worth taking particular note of the Bullis Charter School "solution" to our pension burden here: to excuse themselves from paying it. Whether you agree with the promises that were made to teachers years before, the here-and-now fact is that we must pay for this and cannot default on this obligation any more than we can default on Social Security or the national debt.

In the entitled world of Bullis Charter supporters, however, they fancy themselves exempt from all of the things that normal public school parents are forced to pay. They would rather the poorer areas of Los Altos get stuck with these bills since they obviously deserve it for being poor and not having the resources to hire the world's best lawyers to get them out of paying.

In the broader sense, it's important to understand that choice costs money. In the free market we have many times more grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants, and so on than their "absolute capacity" would dictate we need at any given time.

Thus the only "complete" solution to allow "choice" in our area is to build more school campuses so there is "room for choice". While in the normal private market this is typical, in a publicly-funded scenario this is antithetical. (However, the "government competing with itself" as the Charter concept dictates makes no sense either).

This particular issue also illustrates the conflict within our community that has had everyone stuck for many years. On one hand some citizens who may not necessarily support BCS will say, "just let them have their choice, it can't hurt" and essentially hand the District an unfunded mandate. On the other side there is BCS, who deeply hate public schools and want to take control of our district.

What about the fact that Gardner Bullis School takes in students from Palo Alto's school district?

Again, you should deeply question why a group of super-rich suddenly care about "cost controls" for tiny local expenses like this.

Gardner Bullis School is located in Los Altos Hills which is adjacent to the Palo Alto School District boundary. Thus there are many homes in Los Altos Hills that are far away from their top-ranking PAUSD school yet very close to Gardner Bullis. So LASD offers, as a courtesy, enrollment options for that small area. This helps preserve our community and keeps kids who live close to one another, close.

A parent familiar with the details of this situation writes, "...through the MOU between PAUSD and LASD for the inter-district transfer students in Los Altos Hills $5000 flows from PAUSD to LASD for each student. This amount was determined based on average cost to educate per student and subtracted out the average donation amounts by parents (under the assumption parents would make the same size donations, just to LAEF and Gardner Bullis instead of PiE and Nixon)".

So in short, this is a non-issue and Bullis Charter supporters know it. It's just more excuses to justify a school that has no justification to exist.

Isn't a Charter like Bullis Charter a step towards free-markets and school privatization?

Bullis Charter and Boutique Charter Schools in general will damage the cause of a free-market approach to schools more than any entrenched teacher's union ever could. By creating another government "boondoggle" in which schools are hopelessly mixed with public funding and private control, they will displace true free-market alternatives in private schools. There are currently thousands of Charter School nightmares, complete with corruption, terrible results, wasted money, and miserable children cropping up all over the country. There is nothing magical about putting a private enterprise in charge when they are placed in a "head I win tails the taxpayer loses" situation. This pattern always ends the same way: badly.

When the Charter nightmare is finally in full bloom, and every community in the USA has a "horror story" like ours, this whole fiasco will be blamed on the "free market".

Many of the original thinkers behind the Charter movement are reversing themselves as they see the consequences of this mixture of public funds and private control. This was never a free-market approach in any true sense.

Silicon Valley was built on the principle of entrepreneurs and their backers risking their own money to try something new. Most of them fail--but some go on to become great. This sort of experimentation should never be done with public money. The spirit of Silicon Valley is Apple, Google, and Facebook--not Solyndra.

Private schools are the answer to school privatization, not private control over public money. If you are for less taxes, replacing the "teacher lobby" with the "Charter school lobby" will achieve nothing.

What's wrong with being super-rich? Being a billionaire? Is this class warfare?

Absolutely not. This is yet another Bullis Charter supporter smear.

We have absolutely no problem with rich people. In fact, many LASD parents are arguably "rich people", and a majority are certainly more affluent than most. We're in an affluent area after all.

The reason we so often point out the means of the founders of Bullis Charter is that it's relevant to the context. If you read that "people use Food Stamps" then that might be fine. If you then found out that those people are rich, then that completely changes everything.

If the founders of Bullis Charter had no choice but to use public money to finance their school, this would imply very different motives. But they easily have the means to go about their task completely differently. That makes all of the difference--it means that they are not constrained by money. This completely changes the meaning of everything they do.

There's nothing wrong with being rich, but using your money to bring the power of the government to hurt people--to pay a lot of lawyers to sue people--is pretty slimy.

Are all BCS families "billionaires" or even "millionaires"?

Certainly not all BCS families, but its absolutely fair to characterize parents who donate an amount that only 40 out of 4500 in our District donate in our already-wealthy area as quite wealthy. It is also the case that many, many parents at BCS absolutely are ".1 percenters".

Some of the founders of BCS were in fact billionaires (per the statement below, that's all we'll say about them, however Bloomberg was more direct about this subject).

Also, it should be noted that this Site makes use of the term "billionaires" as a short hand for "very, very rich people". There is no context on this site where the difference between somebody worth "more than a billion" and "only 200 million" would make any difference whatsoever to conclusions reached here. The most material fact about the wealth of BCS founders and key leaders is that: a) they could easily have created a private school with their massive collective wealth; b) none of them are even remotely in need of government assistance; c) they are of a level of wealth that many would assume they would be donors to our local public schools instead of drains on them; and d) local taxes are infinitesimal portions of their overall tax burden and their complaints about these sorts of expenses are disingenuous.

What about these founders of Bullis Charter? Who are they? How do we talk to them?

This battle is nothing personal. That they are very rich is relevant to the context, but their personal lives are not.

Why do you say that Bullis Charter wants to "close public schools"? Isn't it the District that closes schools?

Through its lawsuits, Bullis Charter effectively tells the District what to do--it's calling the shots, essentially.

Bullis Charter has continually sued the District (LASD) alleging that the facilities given to it are not acceptable. They have implied through their official facilities requests that they want at least one complete, stand-alone campus. They have singled-out Gardner Bullis and Covington in their legal requests.

So it's simple physics: when Bullis Charter requests a school campus like Gardner, Covington and others, they necessarily must want the existing public school at that campus to cease to exist. They point out that a long time ago their kids had to suffer through their school closing so why shouldn't we? It's only fair, right? That's the sort of psychotic logic we're up against here.

So yes, technically the District actually must create the plan to close an existing school, but it is Bullis Charter who is effectively forcing it to do so using the courts.

Is Bullis Charter a "public school"?


Most people consider something "public" when it is under democratically elected control. Bullis Charter is owned by a secretive Board (details are sketchy) which is accountable to nobody. It is no more "public" than Chevron or Walmart.

Bullis Charter School is a corporation which obtains around half of its revenue from private sources. Most people would consider that the definition of a "private school".

Bullis Charter is a "private business that makes generous use of public funds", but they are not "public" in the sense that anybody uses the term. Yes, they are subject to some regulations governing their operations--just like Chevron and Walmart are. As the recent rubber-stamping of the schools charter renewal and MOU shows, they operate on their own in every practical sense.

Does Bullis Charter School support special-needs kids?

The short answer is, BCS calls out exactly 0% of their budget for special-needs kids, so clearly they don't spend much (if any) money on the problem.

The longer answer shows just how cynical BCS can be when it comes to lying in order to make themselves look better.

In short, BCS says "yes, we take special needs kids". What they in fact mean is that they will provide a mechanism to hand these kids off to the County, where a parent might expect to be able to attend a school in some other town.

So in short, a special-needs education at BCS consists of giving BCS $5000/year so your child can be shipped off to some other school that students in any other school in the county might attend. This is along side of our own most excellent local options in our neighborhood public schools.

One can surmise, therefore, that the reason BCS apparently spends near zero dollars on special-needs is that virtually nobody would take them up on this "deal".

This issue is very important because it speaks to the financial model for BCS. The reason why BCS has so much more money than our District to spend on typical students is that they leave this very expensive problem for our District (and us parents) to deal with.

Why did the County give Bullis Charter School its Charter even after the local District said no?

The Santa Clara County Board of Education (SCCBOE) gave Bullis Charter their right to exist after LASD denied them. We're not sure why they would do this. It seems counter-productive to use a tool meant for "problem schools" and use it on one of the highest-rated school districts in the country. It seems like you could only lose by making a move that would disrupt and otherwise detract from a school district like ours.

In light of that, it makes you wonder what they were thinking.

A local blogger (and non-parent) named David Cortright has written extensively on his dealings with the SCCBOE and some of their (very thin) rationale for subjecting the citizens of Los Altos and Hills to this war. (There are many entries in this blog about Bullis Charter so take a look at the other postings in the same blog).

What will happen if Bullis Charter is not stopped?

Local schools will close.

The District may be forced to pay a bunch of billionaires a lot of money.

Teachers will be laid off and class sizes will swell.

Many more "charters" will come to our town to plunder our amazing schools and ride on the coattails of our hard work in creating great schools here.

Our community will be torn apart and our property values will plummet as our schools will no longer be a differentiator--charters will invite the entire State to enjoy our local campuses.

Parents will pull their support for their schools and local PTAs and other school charity organizations--why invest in something that can simply be taken over by a private entity at any time?