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Sequoia district asks judge to throw out parts of Everest charter school lawsuit

Original post made on Sep 15, 2009

High school district attorneys, in answer to a lawsuit from Everest Public High School, allege portions of the suit are irrelevant and improper and are asking the court to dismiss substantial portions of it. Everest calls the moves "absurd."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, September 15, 2009, 10:32 AM

Comments (18)

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 15, 2009 at 11:29 am

Hmm... the district continues to spend money on the suit. It has now apparently hired outside counsel. I'm curious what the total amount the district will spend on this. Add it to the amount of additional construction spent on Green Street. Throw in tough economic times.
So let me understand the district's position: We can do whatever we want and your recourse is to sue us, but you can't ask for anything. I'm no lawyer, but when you have a situation where someone (plaintiff) feels they are being wronged by someone else (defendant), the question always comes up as to what is the consequence. Say for an auto company producing a defective car, there is an ability to sue, and if there is a judgement that there was harme caused, the damages serve as a disincentive for such behavior in the future. In this case, Summit/Everest believes it has been wronged by an illegal action (the court will need to decide if that is true). It would hardly discourage future behavior if the way things are set up is that the district is sued with no real consequences. To follow SUHSD's logic, they are free to do whatever they want and there is no personal or institutional consequences. Frankly this is reminicent of big Tobacco and their approach to suits: take advantage of size and try to outlast them. This is continued arrogance from SUHSD and I hope they lose big time just to bring them down to earth a little.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 15, 2009 at 1:05 pm

I've said this before - this is going to be a VERY expensive spanking for the SUHSD.

Truly horrific decision-making and a huge waste of scarce dollars. The district should have settled this long ago.

Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Look on the bright side--since its obvious that what our tax dollars are paying legal fees for is Gemma's ego, at the end of the day if you calculate it on cost per pound of ego, it will only be pennies a pound.

Posted by Observer, a resident of another community
on Sep 15, 2009 at 3:11 pm

Are the Sequoia district filings publicly available?

Posted by a concerned taxpayer, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 15, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Seems that Ms. Tavenner thinks that she can get anything she wants whether it is getting the location she wants for her school, getting attorney fees, getting the SUHSD do her bidding, etc. She speaks for the Everest attorney now even. I didn't know she had legal training as well.

Posted by Hmm, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 15, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Guess what? We are all paying for the district's circus. Yes, they should have settled this matter long ago, at a fraction of the cost.

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 15, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Concerned taxpayer:

My undestanding of the charter school law (no I'm not an attorney) as it exists in California is that Prop 39 is designed to assure that school districts provide charter schools reasonable facilities. The standard could be comparable to what the district provides in general. (Remember we got rid of "separate but equal" a long time ago). So Prop 39 requires school districts to make reasonable efforts to provide facilities near to the schools desired location. I suppose that is a subjective matter, but from what I've seen and read, SUHSD's efforts can hardly be considered reasonable. They settled, aparently rather quickly, on the Green Street location (hardly reasonably close in the context of the district's geography) and decided to stand by it.
If we look beyond SUHSD, it is noted that passive-aggressive actions by anti-charter school districts are common; It's a way to get rid of competition. In this way, while complaining that charters are taking away resources from the district, the district actually can markedly make the life of a charter school much more difficult. Now much as you have expressed this in terms of Ms. Tavenner, I would submit that a central location is certainly in the interests of the school (Everest) and its students (who are from all over the district) and actually much more consistent with Mr. Gemma's often stated concern for ALL the students of the district. I would also argue that in representing Summit/Everest, Ms. Tavenner has an obligation to locate the school where it best serves the students, made that preference clear to SUHSD, and received a bad faith offer. Her opinion (and my agreeing with it)doesn't make her right. She and Summit have one position as do Gemma and SUHSD. The courts will decide at all of our expense and I challenge Mr. Gemma to explain how setting up this fight in the best interest of ALL the students in the district.

Posted by Simple Simon, a resident of Oak Knoll School
on Sep 15, 2009 at 10:44 pm

I too would like to see the District filing, Mr Boyce, is there a link you could publish? From reading this article, the District's argument sounds like an attempt to deflect away from the central issue. Sort of like when I ask my teenager why he came home two hours after our agreed upon curfew and he says I let his sister use the computer more than him.

Of course only the courts can decide this matter. But there is a chance that District made a serious tactical error in their unilateral decision to assign Everest the six portables on the residential plot in East Palo Alto. If the Court decides in favor of Everest, there could be some serious consequences and this case could have ramifications that extend beyond Everest and SUHSD.

As far as using the media for a soapbox, just look at the District web site and the crafted canned "candid" conversations with Pat Gemma. The District has been fighting a verbal battle using tax payer's money in the public forum of the District web site for a year.

Remember, "those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones"

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 16, 2009 at 8:15 am

Concerned Taxpayer:

Unfortunately (for you), the law requires the district to provide the charter school facilities "near to where the charter school wishes to locate" - not wherever the district chooses.

If you don't like it, write your own proposition and change the law. I've cut and pasted the relevant legal text below. You don't have to be a lawyer to read or understand it.

Section 6(b) of the Proposition 39: "Each school district shall make available, to each charter school operating in the school district, facilities sufficient for the charter school to accommodate all of the charter school�s in-district students in conditions reasonably equivalent to those in which the students would be accommodated if they were attending other public schools of the district. Facilities provided shall be contiguous, furnished, and equipped, and shall remain the property of the school district. The school district shall make reasonable efforts to provide the charter school with facilities near to where the charter school wishes to locate, and shall not move the charter school unnecessarily."

And here's the link: Web Link

Everest has every right to select their site provided it is reasonable. Remember that their first choice was within Sequoia High School but this was REJECTED BY THE DISTRICT. But let's see what the courts say.

Just one thing, however. If the courts do rule against the district (and, if they do, the district will almost certainly end up paying the charter's legal fees and damages), I just hope you will have the intellectual honest to admit the district was wrong.

It's unfortunate for the rest of us that Mr. Gemma's mismanagement and miscalculaton will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lawyers instead of our children.

Posted by taxpayer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 16, 2009 at 8:33 am

As a taxpayer and parent of a future SUHSD student, I am shocked at the way that the district is wasting our money. This lawsuit may cost a million dollars, and for what?

A number of people have filed to run for the board. I have started contacting them to determine their position on charter schools, on the lawsuit, and on Pat Gemma's sometimes irrational behavior. Anyone who repeats the current party line does not deserve election to the board.

Posted by Suspicious, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 16, 2009 at 11:16 am

Thanks for the post to the Prop 39 page. I get it now, the magic number is 80:
(4) Facilities requests based upon projections of fewer than 80 units of average daily classroom attendance for the year may be denied by the school district.

(5) The term "operating," as used in this section, shall mean either currently providing public education to in-district students, or having identified at least 80 in-district students who are meaningfully interested in enrolling in the charter school for the following year.

Here is a possible motivation, by moving the location to EPA, the District hopes it could reduce the enrollment from 100 to below 80, then reject the Charter due to under-enrollment. If this is indeed the game SUHSD is playing, then it was a risky move.

Posted by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on Sep 16, 2009 at 11:59 am

David Boyce is a registered user.

Please note that The Almanac is working on finding public online copies of the Sequoia district's responses filed Aug. 31 with the San Mateo County Superior Court.

The court is closed today, Sept. 16, the third Wednesday of the month, by order of the governor, according to the Civil Division's outgoing voicemail message.

At the court's web site, the online record for this case lists the documents by name, but the column reserved for links to them is empty.

We will keep this thread up to date on the search for a location for these documents.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 16, 2009 at 1:18 pm

But there are between 105 and 110 students enrolled at Everest according to their filing.

Posted by a concerned taxpayer, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 16, 2009 at 8:31 pm

To Anonymous from Woodside:

When you say, "It's unfortunate for the rest of us that Mr. Gemma's mismanagement and miscalculaton will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on lawyers instead of our children."

You aren't speak for me or most of the people I know so please don't refer to us as "us".

When I say that Ms. Tavenner now thinks she is a lawyer by calling the answer by the SUHSD "absurd" and can speak on that subject instead of the Summit attorney, my understanding of the law is that Gemma can't be sued individually. That is also my understanding of the response by the SUHSD from what I have read. Sounds like a reasonable response by the SUHSD to me from what I know and it is not "absurd".

Posted by Concerned Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 17, 2009 at 12:04 am

Concerned taxpayer (Atherton):
I took the posting to be an expression that it is unfortunate for all of us (us meaning taxpayers, people who are concerned about educating our children, etc.) that anyone is spending money on lawyers rather than on students.
Based on your response, I take it you are pleased with the district's position and will continue to be pleased with it should it lose, and you will consider the legal fees well spent when there are budget shortfalls.
As far as Ms. Tavenner, giving an opinion about a legal case does not necessarily mean one thinks they are a lawyer. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that Mr. Gemma in his role as Superintendent has certainly strongly expressed his opinions about all aspects of this situation and likley played a major role in the SUHSDs decisions. Whether there is personal liability (sort of like malpractice) is not clear to me and if the law supports SUHSDs position here, then he'll be removed. It strikes me that SUHSD must be a bit less certain then their public stance since they have decided to invest in outside counsel. Now that's absurd and it is a a waste for all of us.

Posted by anonymous, a resident of Woodside School
on Sep 17, 2009 at 9:02 am

Thanks, Concerned Parent (Menlo Park) for your reply to Concerned Taxpayer (Atherton). I couldn't have said it better myself! We'll see how Concerned Taxpayer reacts when the district ends up paying a couple of million dollars to Everest in costs, attorney fees and damages instead of education.

It's hard to read the Everest complaint and not think the district is going to get slammed. They simply don't comply with the provisions of Prop 39 (and some of the trustees have admitted as much in open board session).

Regarding Mr. Gemma, he is not being sued as an individual. The actual text of the Everest complaint states: "Patrick Gemma is named herein solely in his official capacity as Superintendent." You can find the complaint at the San Mateo County Superior Court web site, if you wish.

Posted by taxpayer, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Sep 17, 2009 at 10:54 am

Web Link

Posted by David Boyce, Almanac staff writer
on Sep 21, 2009 at 3:57 pm

David Boyce is a registered user.

In a conversation with a Civil Division employee of the San Mateo County Superior Court, I was told that demurrers, which in this case ask to have portions of Everest's complaint thrown out, are not significant enough to be scanned and placed on the court's web site.

Had the Sequoia district gone further and countersued, those documents would have been scanned.

The public has access to the documents, but only in person at the offices of the court. Copies are 50 cents per page.

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

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