Schools - May 12, 2010

Everest drops lawsuit against district

by Dave Boyce

Negotiators for the Sequoia Union High School District and Everest (charter) Public High School have been talking for months about settling a lawsuit, filed by Everest in July 2009, over the legality of the district's offer of a school site in East Palo Alto.

The lawsuit was the cap on an iceberg of bitterness that had formed during a yearlong effort by Everest, a popular alternative to the district's traditional schools, to obtain a charter and find a home in Redwood City.

And now, suddenly, it's over. The district has agreed to provide Everest with facilities in Redwood City that meet the school's wishes for the next four years, Everest representatives have withdrawn the lawsuit, and both sides are paying their own attorney fees.

Why now? "I think it was a case of getting together the right people in the right room at the right time," Olivia Martinez, president of the Sequoia district governing board, told The Almanac. "We sat down and got the thing taken care of."

Not invited to the meetings were the lawyers, who had been doing the negotiating.

Representing the Sequoia district were Ms. Martinez, board member Alan Sarver, and Jim Lianides, who takes over as superintendent in July.

The Everest team, Ms. Martinez said, had Everest Executive Director Jon Deane, Diane Tavenner, the chief executive of Everest's parent corporation the Summit Institute, and three Summit Institute board members.

"It was a face-to-face discussion, without the attorneys, that (led to) the breakthrough," Ms. Martinez said. The teams also had in common fresh eyes and a shared responsibility of serving district children, Ms. Martinez said. "Everybody was tired of the contentiousness," she added.

Ms. Tavenner, in an interview, credited "many people in both organizations," but called Ms. Martinez "a huge factor for making this happen."

"It was a great example of two sides working together to get a positive result," Mr. Deane said in an interview.

Sequoia board member Chris Thomsen credited Ms. Martinez and Mr. Sarver. "They took the lead and did wonderful work on behalf of the board and the district," he said.

Home in Redwood City

The running battle between Everest and the district had gone from board room to board room as Everest was denied a charter by the Sequoia district and the county Board of Education, but given one by the state board.

Then the struggle began over where to locate the school. The district, by law, was required to provide facilities but would not give any ground on Everest's preferences.

Everest rejected a site in East Palo Alto and found a Redwood City building that the district claimed had dangerous toxicity problems. Everest then stole a march on the district by arranging a two-year lease at another Redwood City site, an unoccupied office building on Main Street in Redwood City.

The Sequoia district has agreed to several stipulations, all of which appear to keep Everest in Redwood City:

• The district will pay $220,000 to Everest — $30,000 for tenant improvements at Main Street, and about $190,000 to rent the building for the 2010-11 school year.

• The district will house Everest for the next three school years in a new 17-classroom, 32,000-square-foot, green building being built between Fourth and Fifth avenues in Redwood City.

• The district and Summit Institute will "work collaboratively" to plan for Everest's future after 2014, district spokeswoman Bettylu Smith said. Ms. Tavenner said she expects this to result in a location in Redwood City that would house both Everest and Summit Preparatory Charter High School, Everest's sister school.

"It's very exciting for the kids and the families and the long-term security of the schools," Ms. Tavenner said.


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