Almanac

Schools - April 7, 2010

High school district refines initial offer to Everest

by Dave Boyce

The new and "final" offer of high school district facilities to Everest (charter) Public High School for the 2010-11 school year is a refinement and upgrade to the Sequoia Union High School District's first offer and includes an openness to discuss alternatives.

The new proposal, delivered by Assistant Superintendent James Lianides to the governing board on March 31, would still have Everest's 200 freshmen and sophomores on the campus of Woodside High School rather than Everest's preference for the campus of Sequoia High School in Redwood City, and the tenancy would still be for one year only.

But Everest would have more room — the equivalent of nine and a half classrooms instead of the first offer's eight — would not need to set up its own library and media center, and would not have to provide its own physical education equipment.

Everest rejected the board's first offer on March 1 and has until May 1 to respond to this one, with a two-week window to propose an alternative.

Everest, in its first year of a two-year lease in an office building in Redwood City, is entitled to facilities because the Sequoia district, in its recent construction bond campaigns, employed a provision allowing passage with less than the two-thirds majority normally required for tax increases.

The Summit Institute, Everest's parent corporation, is suing the Sequoia district over an allegedly illegal offer of facilities in East Palo Alto last year.

The Woodside campus offer includes three classrooms plus offices in the B wing, three classrooms in the E wing, and labs in the C and H wings.

As for the library, gyms and other non-classroom spaces, a formula would allow Everest use of each of these facilities for about 30 minutes a day. In aligning schedules, Everest may end up with the first 30 minutes of the day or an hour every other day, Mr. Lianides said.

"This particular offer reflects the work of staff to provide a (legally) compliant offer," Mr. Lianides said. "It meets the letter and spirit of the law (and) is really attempting to provide reasonably equivalent facilities."

Alternatives

The Sequoia board debated then unanimously agreed to a proposal by member Chris Thomsen to discuss with Everest alternatives to moving to Woodside — such as staying put — if the discussion occurs within two weeks.

These legally required first-of-the-month offers and counter-offers is a "back-and-forth that is very limited," Mr. Thomsen noted. "The law allows two parties to reach an alternative agreement if both parties are agreeable."

Mr. Lianides told The Almanac that he sent this proposal to Everest via U.S. mail as a cover letter with a package made up of another letter and the offer itself. They were expected to arrive on April 2 or 5.

This package, without the alternatives-discussion language but with other board-proposed edits, was e-mailed to Everest chief negotiator Diane Tavenner on March 31. The "alternatives" language was unavailable in electronic form, Mr. Lianides said.

Sequoia attorney David Levy said in an interview that the first letter was more of a formal document, and that a second letter was "a cleaner way of doing it."

Ms. Tavenner would likely hear about it anyway because Everest Executive Director Jon Deane attended the board meeting, Mr. Lianides and board President Olivia Martinez told The Almanac.

Discussing alternatives lets the camel's nose under the tent, board member Lorraine Rumley warned. "As soon as (Everest officials) read that, they're not going to go past the first paragraph," she said.

But as it stands, Ms. Martinez said, the offer has "a very high impact" on Woodside High.

Everest knew what it was getting into when it asked for campus space, member Don Gibson said.

Asked to comment, Mr. Deane noted that the offer is "unclear" on several details but that the "chance to continue the dialog is a good sign."

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