Everest raises stakes in looming court battle


Officials from Everest Public (charter) High School are readying a leased office building in Redwood City for its first freshman class, while the Sequoia Union High School District -- its offer of facilities in East Palo Alto having been rejected by Everest -- reports that it is proceeding anyway to prepare the East Palo Alto site as a future home for charter schools.

There is deep disagreement between the two sides on the legality of the East Palo Alto offer. Both have said they expect to meet in court and prevail, but Everest recently raised the stakes for the Sequoia district.

In a May 12 letter to district Superintendent Patrick Gemma, Everest asserts a claim for payment of $2.3 million, basically $939,000 to cover a three-year lease and about $1.4 million in expenses associated with converting an 18,000-square-foot office building at 955 Charter St. in Redwood City into a school.

Everest attorney Paul Minney said in an e-mail that the payout would $2.5 million from about $200,000 in attorney's fees if the district loses in court.

The Sequoia district did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

The district has 45 days to respond to the damage claim, at which point, Mr. Minney said, Everest would begin lawsuit proceedings in San Mateo County Superior Court.

Everest had offered to settle in March, asking the district to spend the $2.3 million at the Charter Street site instead of $4 million in East Palo Alto. The district declined, citing findings of soil and groundwater contaminants by the town of Redwood City. Everest acknowledged the contaminants, but said they will be safely removed.

This is the second time Mr. Minney is involved in legal action against the Sequoia district. In 2003, he won a judgment against the district when district officials contended, in part, that Aurora (charter) High School did not have enough students to warrant the district's providing facilities.

Competing claims

In his May 12 letter, Mr. Minney repeats allegations of illegality made earlier. The offer of portable classroom buildings in East Palo Alto, with options to go off-campus for activities that need specialized facilities, is unreasonable, he said. The portables would be too far from where Everest wanted to locate, unreasonably spread out, and discriminatory against Everest students compared with what their counterparts have in Menlo-Atherton and Sequoia high schools, he said.

The offer at 763 Green St. in East Palo Alto was made in good faith, said district Assistant Superintendent James Lianides in a May 7 letter to Everest founder Diane Tavenner.

The walk to gym facilities at a nearby YMCA is equivalent in distance to a walk across the campus of Sequoia High School, Mr. Lianides said. Additional facilities -- such as art and science rooms and drama facilities -- would be available at M-A, a distance of about 4 miles.

The East Palo Alto campus would have more classroom space than requested and is "conducive to a small-learning environment that is aligned with the design of charter schools," he added.

The site is about 5 miles from Everest's sister school, Summit Preparatory Charter High School in Redwood City, and is "in fact, reasonably near where Everest asked to be located," Mr. Lianides said.


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Posted by Paul Goeld
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on May 22, 2009 at 2:03 pm

So the Sequoia District is going to spend $4.0 million on the EPA location instead of just $2.3 million at the charter's preferred site in Redwood City.

If this isn't a wake up call for the District's trustees, I don't know what they're waiting for. This is going to be a very expensive lesson for them... again.

Too bad.

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Posted by libertarian
a resident of Woodside High School
on May 22, 2009 at 4:58 pm

I agree. Having attended the meeting of the Board of Trustees where they opted to turn down Everest's settlement offer, the Trustees appear to be living in an alternate reality. As best as I could tell, the district argued that a facility of temporary trailer buildings located at a far corner of the district lacking any food facilities was supposed to be reasonable.
The district's expectation that high school freshman should go to a facility four miles away for lunch while simultaneously criticizing Everest for not having a socioeconomically disadvantaged population (as assessed by percentage of students getting free lunches) is revealing.
It is very clear that the from the district's perspective, charter schools represent a competitive threat to be killed rather than an alternative model from which something might be learned. While the district is complaining about having limited resources, they are wasting time, effort, and money on maintaining a monopoly.
The easy answer is to get new trustees as soon as possible. Our trustees are wasting money fighing methods that by all objective measures appear to be successful. Keep in mind we need our kids educated to be competitive with the world, not just local schools. Theexisting system is broken big time and sadly the district deserves to be slapped down on this one.

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Posted by Woodside parent
a resident of Woodside High School
on May 22, 2009 at 5:03 pm

This really stinks. It sounds like the district is actually spending more money to avoid cooperating with Everest. Sounds like sour grapes since they didn't want Everest to be chartered in the first place.
Why is the Superintendent using the district web site (paid for ultimately with our tax dollars) to give his side of the battle? Seems like the site should be for official school business, not as a propagnda site for his various battles.
I agree that the Trustees are not taking their responsibility seriously and should go.

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Posted by Concerned citizen
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on May 22, 2009 at 5:06 pm

I thought the EPA site was going to be an adult school or something. Am I to understand that since Everest has rejected it that it will be vacant? Perhaps the Superintendant can move his offices there since he is happy to move others there.

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Posted by a concerned taxpayer
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 23, 2009 at 8:05 am

This is pure blackmail by Everest against the SUHSD. Why can't the people connected with Everest see that they are hurting a lot of needy kids by demanding all this money to benefit a small number of kids? Taxpayers should wake up and stop this madness.

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Posted by Ashamed of this community
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on May 23, 2009 at 12:34 pm

These comments are simply disgusting. Are you people really in a position to criticize a district that has done so much for our community throughout the years? Check out the new API data released by CDE this week:
Web Link

All of the schools are excellent. From what experience and research are people saying things are broken? Heck, Woodside HS has a similar school ranking of a 10, the ONLY school in the district, and nobody can tell me that their population, the range of students they serve, from the students with severe disabilities like Autism and Emotional Disturbance to AP students going on to MIT and Cal and UCLA, is easy.

Stop beating up on the good guys. Sure, wouldn't it be great to create tiny little maternal schools like Summit and Everest, but the Trustees have to be responsible with their funds. It is expensive to open new schools, and the charter school law is flawed. I think spending this much fighting this will pay off in the long run, as who knows which charter school is next? For crying out loud, you are all so harsh on the district that has more charter schools than any other in the entire Bay Area!

What an irresponsible time to wage a war against the SUHSD and demand facilities and then sue and then have the audacity to criticize the way in which the district fights it? This issue is bigger than Everest for them. They need to set precedent, as it is clear that that Summit institute plans on reproducing like a virus. I think you are all missing something here.

Also, I love it how nobody raises any questions when students from East Palo Alto have to commute from their homes to Carlmont and Sequoia everyday. Then again, they don't have helicopter parents who will spend their time attacking an extraordinary school district, do they?

Check out what else is going on in the district at schools like Woodside HS for example in terms of green innovation:

Web Link

It seems like comprehensive schools like Woodside have it going on. What is broken in this district other than your insular perception?

Why not spend some time at these comprehensive schools before you criticize from your ivory tower homes?

If Everest prevails, few students will benefit and many will suffer. Get over yourselves.

Go Patrick Gemma and go SUHSD Board of Trustees. You are doing a fantastic job!!!!!!! Don't let these uninformed and egocentric perspectives get you down. Congrats on the API SImilar School Rankings!!! Very impressive!

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Posted by Leasing vs. Owning
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 23, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Real estate is more expensive in Redwood City than EPA, no? Seems like a smart move on the part of the district. Why pay $2.3 to lease for three years in RWC when you can own in EPA for $4M and get yourself a long-term investment?

Sounds to me as though the Trustees are making a wise decision. The charter school families don't want to commute to EPA? Why? EPA commutes to Belmont and RWC. So it is acceptable for kids of color to commute, but not charter students?

If you don't want to commute to EPA, then go to one of the four award-winning high schools in RWC, Woodside, Carlmont, or Atherton. These schools have more to offer anyway and are a better preparation for larger competitive universities. I saw the article about Woodside's Green academy. Now that is innovation. These charter school kids should be home-schooled if these over-protective parents can't handle letting go. I have yet to see any data that suggests the big high schools are failing students who want to learn. Sure, kids drop out, but they drop out for reasons well beyond the scope of a high school, and yet they still have many, many success stories with the disadvantaged students. The graduation rates of the big schools are tremendous!

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Posted by M-A parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 23, 2009 at 4:32 pm

I have spent quite a bit of time at Summit and at M-A, and have also donated quite a bit of money to M-A. Both schools are excellent in their own way. It's great that our kids have a choice, and very unfortunate that Pat Gemma is so outraged by another charter -- one that is clearly demanded by families -- that he is willing to waste scarce resources on legal battles.

>>>The charter school families don't want to commute to EPA? Why? <<<

Because few of their students come from EPA. EPA already had two charter high schools that re undersubscribed.

>>>EPA commutes to Belmont and RWC.<<<

Seriously? Then I must be imagining all those kids I see walking to M-A from EPA every day.

>>>So it is acceptable for kids of color to commute, but not charter students?<<<

Ah, the bigotry card. Go back and read Pat Gemma's comments about the "kids of color" being unable to handle advanced work and tell me who the true bigot is? Summit assumes that all students can do AP work, and the students meet those expectations...instead of dropping out, as happens way too often at the comprehensives.

Ashamed, you reveal your misogyny with comments about "maternal schools." If you're trying to say that it is wrong to have a school in which the staff/faculty care about students, then I have to disagree! Also, note the internal contradiction in your arguments. You can't say that the charters hurt the comprehensives, and then turn around and point out that the comprehensives are ranked highly. Obviously, Summit isn't hurting the ability of the comprehensives to provide a topnotch education, nor will Everest.

One-size education does not fit all, and the dropout rate at the comprehensives is shameful. It's time to stop fighting the charters and instead consider how to improve the comprehensives so that they can achieve the same rate of success that Summit has.

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Posted by check your facts
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 23, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Ahhh, another charter supporter who has not does their research. We must be imagining all of the buses transporting EPA students to Carlmont, Sequoia, and Woodside everyday. There is a significant number of students from EPA in the comprehensives. Do your research.

Also, look into how many Summit students transfer into the comprehensives because Summit's AP courses are not rigorous. Check out their AP results and that will tell a story.

You can put all of your students in AP courses, but it doesn't mean that they are performing at AP levels. Grades are arbitrary...AP scores don't lie, and their AP results are not very good.

Also, did you check out the API links above? It seems the comprehensives are achieving at the same levels and better. It's just that the comprehensives do it on a larger scale.

Pat Gemma is not the enemy. Do you know how hard that guy works for the betterment of 8,200 students in his district. Shame on you. You reveal your misogyny in your opinion of a great educator.

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Posted by M-A parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 23, 2009 at 9:15 pm

Check, I think you need to look up the definition of 'misogyny!'

Most of the area east of 101 in EPA and MP is in the M-A district. Some of it is not. Maybe Pat Gemma can explain why he thinks it is appropriate to assign those students to school in San Carlos rather than to the closest school. Perhaps he lacks respect for ethnic minorities?

Average AP scores at Summit are not as high as average AP scores at M-A, but that is because everyone at Summit takes the AP courses, not because the courses are inferior. There are students enrolled in AP courses at Summit who would be placed in remedial courses at M-A, would get discouraged, and would quit. Even if they don't score well on the AP tests at Summit, they still graduate and go to a four-year college.

The dropout rate at Summit is very low. But see what happens to ethnic minorities at the comprehensives. Many disappear between their freshman and senior years. Of course the comprehensive APIs look good -- they get rid of the underperforming kids! Summit manages to maintain very competitive API numbers while retaining almost all their students.

Name-calling and ad hominem comments aside, there's no logical reason for the district to be spending so much money in a case that it is bound to lose. Everest has the statutory right to locate in Redwood City. Pat needs to suck it up and get on with the business of educating students.

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Posted by No use
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on May 23, 2009 at 10:30 pm

There's no use in debating this with M-A parent. You can't put all of the EPA students at M-A. Also, all charter schools can boast that they have no dropouts, as any student who leaves a charter school goes to a comprehensive and doesn't count as a drop out becasue it is another public institution. Charter schools have safety nets, comprehensives don't.

The point about the scores is that if you let everyone in AP courses, your truly more capable students suffer. It is a noble theory, but what happens to the higher end?

Also, Summit and Everest do not and will not serve as many far below basic and below basic students. That's the real diversity piece---not skin color. That is irrelevant these days.

You obviously have no idea who Pat Gemma is--he works around the clock for students and he cares deeply for them.

When you say comprehensives get rid of underperfoming kids---how do you know this? Have you ever visited any of the classes in M-A to see how hard teachers work? At Woodside, Carlmont, or Sequoia?

Again, you are beating up the real heroes and it sickens me.

Many disappar between freshman and senior years----do you have any real statistical data to back this vague statement?

I don't think that you have much first-hand experience with the comprehensives.

In terms of a logical reason for spending money fighting these charters and for offering the EPA site, I suggest you read some of the comments above. I think they give reasonable answers to these questions.

It's too bad that these charter school proponents were so quick to give up on the comprehensives. There is a way to create small learning communities within larger schools and to avoid having charter school students miss out on much of the fun stuff that a large school can offer like competitive athletics, a diverse selection of clubs, large scale proms, etc.

It is a shame to think how much could have been achieved if the charter folks had poored all of this energy and money into the exisiting structures. But then again, all of that would have been distributed to communities that are not as important to them as their own.

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Posted by M-A parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 24, 2009 at 9:31 am

In the most recent academic year, Summit had a single dropout. M-A, conversely, had 65, including 28 from the senior class. Some of the dropouts aren't truly dropping out: they take the CHSPE and go straight to college. Others try middle college (I doubt they are included in the dropout stats; I don't know.) Everyone has access to the same safety nets, which is as it should be. These kids are still pretty young and their options should remain open.

For a look at these and other statistics, I can point you to Web Link where you can easily have fun running the numbers for hours. Check the SAT stats, for example. Summit had 97% of its seniors taking the tests. M-A had only 58%. Guess who isn't even going to have a chance to apply to college? Sad.

What happens to the high end? The high end do fine no matter what. They get into top tier schools and achieve. Those aren't the kids that the comprehensives are failing.

I have had a number of conversations with Pat Gemma and found him to be a dedicated and caring person, not a bureaucrat or black and white thinker. That is why I find his stance on charter schools so puzzling. It's irrational and emotional, and smacks of a head-in-the-sand mentality.

I don't think anyone has given up on the comprehensives. Similarly, I don't think that we should give up on the charters. Both offer viable alternatives for students, especially for those who are already high achievers. Where the comprehensives need to improve is on the low end. I suspect that much of Pat's opposition to the charters devolves from the fact that their students tend to be motivated learners whose decent test scores (the holy grail for administrators!) would help bump up the averages at the comprehensives, thereby helping to camouflage the weaker scores of the kids at the lower end. But our comprehensives will never be successful until we raise the performance of the kids at the lower end. Summit administrators understand this; Pat Gemma and the anti-charter posse have yet to figure it out.

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Posted by Sc Parent
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2009 at 4:37 pm

Everest, another school formed by the Portola Valley community of parents. Do we really need another high school in the SUHSD, another staff of administrators, more brick & morter? All of our local elected boards said decisively "No" (SUHSD with a 4-1 vote, the COUNTY BOARD OF ED with a 5-2 vote). It's time for the anti-comprehensive higher ed posse to step away, listen to the will of the people, and form their own private school...and pay for it themselves. This is outrageous.

And lets tell the State Board of Ed to fill the seat that represents the "typical school board trustee" with someone who REALLY DOES speak for our districts. Right now that seat is occupied by Beth Hunkapiller who is a $1,000,000 sponsor of a charter foundation, a $100,000-$1,000,000 sponsor of another charter foundation, and a board member of a charter foundation.

No wonder the state approved this unnecessary charter.

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Posted by Menlo park parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on May 25, 2009 at 4:24 am

That beautiful new facility on the Encinal campus is certainly comfy for the financially strapped district officials. Since there is no need for them to be central, why not put Everest there and the trustees in the portables?

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Posted by Peter
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on May 25, 2009 at 9:11 am


Everest wants the district to take 2.5 million of our money that was designated for building to put into a LEASE for 3 years? And then what? So much for the talk of charters costing less for tax payers and parents choosing what to do with "their" educational dollars. Someone do the math here.

The district already owns the property in East Palo Alto.

The quotes about "portables" are horrid. Come see the "portables" at M-A in the G-wing if you think the buildings will be temporary. Prefab? Yes. Trailers? No!

Can someone explain how you bring a small school onto one of the current high schools to use the facilities on a regular basis without creating a mess or denying the current students the use they would normally have? Or, are we assuming that the Everest kids would be mixed with the "other" students. Why didn't Summit insist on this? Do we have to recreate an entire campus for these charters? Yeah... that would be really economical.

FAR better to use the current campuses....... the current administrations.... and have schools within schools... utilize the community resources for ALL of our kids. We are already paying for the manpower and the facilities. Nice to have private entities telling us what to do... What is their profit margin after they get the use of our public money??

ALL of our kids and parents should be diving in a LOT earlier if you want to avoid the problems that occur in high school for our drop outs. SOME of the problems could be addressed. We should be busing over tutors and mentors on a daily basis. We should do our best to convince the better students to continue on with their classmates. This should be the district's business. What we really need is a K-12 structure. All of the feeder schools should match Hillview and La Entrada. Now that would be a good use of money.

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Posted by M-A parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 25, 2009 at 9:59 am

Most Everest students come from Redwood City, the neighbors of the EPA site do not want a school there, the facility would not be adequate, and the site isn't legally compliant. If it were, there would not be grounds for a lawsuit.

Peter, I agree with you about addressing the problems earlier. Waiting until 9th grade is too late! So it's fun to envision a Sequoia Union District, grade schools, middle schools, and high schools, that covers the entire southern part of the county and allocates resources appropriately so that everyone is on the same track. It's a fantasy.

One of the first questions I asked when we started in the MPCSD was why our district wasn't K-12. I was told firmly that they did not want high schools in the district as high schools suck up all the resources. I now understand that there would be huge political issues associated with merging even one school, M-A, into the MPCSD.

So my next naive question pertained to the elementary districts. It made no sense to me that we had one small district with four schools adjacent to an even smaller district, Las Lomitas, with just two schools. After getting half-baked answers from a number of people, I was finally told the whole story by a school board member. It's because of many reasons, including historical entitlements, different payscales, and of course, the teachers' union.

If our two tiny districts can't be merged (unless, I suppose, the state were to require it for some reason) how can we possibly create one single district that serves thousands of kids? Never mind that the most articulate and affluent parents -- those in Las Lomitas and MPCSD -- would be violently opposed.

Fantasies aside, the elementary charter schools seem to be doing the best job of educating the kids from less privileged families and bringing them up to speed for high school. Schools like Summit and Everest don't represent the ultimate answer, but at least they serve to help a few hundred kids that would otherwise not make it through. The board, the superintendent, someone needs to acquire the courage, vision, and authority to fix the system. Until and unless they can do that, they should applaud and support the efforts of the charters to serve the kids that the SUHSD would rather ignore.

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Posted by informed
a resident of another community
on May 25, 2009 at 2:15 pm

a few observations:

Peter & "Leasing vs. Owning" - The District environment impact report notes the Green Street facility will be abandoned for charter use after two years as too small. When you know a move is coming, yes, a lease can make far more sense than ownership, especially when it results in better facilities and education for the dollar. Objectively, there is the adult school use, too, in the equation. Peter also raises the question of the real estate ownership: that price should be part of relative costs.

Peter - there is no profit margin

No Use - on the disappearance. a very easy measure is coming up: in a few weeks the Almanac will publish the 2009 graduates (who deserve unconditional plaudits) How many do you think will graduate? M-A started with 534 freshmen, Woodside with 508. Web Link (and this number is augmented by all those students which "check your facts" asserts transfer from Summit)

If you don't care to wait, you can look at prior years on the same website eg the class of 2008 Woodside started with 528 freshmen, graduated 327 students with 170 ready for college. M-A started with 516 freshmen, graduated 351 with 211 ready for college. This is an ominous red flag.

Sc Parent - the Everest charter was turned down locally by not following the state law. At the state level: it was approved unanimously (the only one approved unanimously that day) Web Link I do agree with Sc Parent that it is time to "listen to the will of the people": this year roughly 1/4 of district freshmen applied to be at Summit and Everest.

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Posted by Paul Goeld
a resident of Woodside: Woodside Hills
on May 26, 2009 at 5:41 pm

For those of you who are against the charter school - that issue has been settled. In fact, the SUHSD trustees are no longer against the charter school; they are now on record as saying Everest will be "a gift" to the community. They certainly seem to have warmed to the idea.

The only issue that is in dispute is the LOCATION of the charter school. District officials are on record as saying the proposed EPA site is intended to be a "starter campus" and will be moved in two or three years. Trustees have admitted that their proposed EPA campus is non-compliant with Prop. 39 requirements. No other district school requires students to travel 8 miles (round trip) during the school day to use required facilities. That inequality alone is going to be a difficult fact to defend in court.

Parents and district tax payers need to decide if they want the district to spend $4.0 million on the temporary, non-compliant EPA site - a site that is unwanted by both neighbors and the charter school - OR if they want the district to spend $2.3 million on a fully compliant site that the charter school wants.

I don't think this is a difficult decision and I suspect the court won't either.

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Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 27, 2009 at 1:48 pm

It's amazing to look at some of the comments on the board. AShamed should take a good look inward. One can be proud of some of a superintendent's accomplishments without being a mouthpiece for him. Nor does responding to a demand make the folks at Summit/Everest worthy of the villification and untrue motives attributed to them in these comments. It is very clear that for a significant number of parents within the district that the existing schools do not provide enough of what they want for their children. As a taxpayer and parent of a student in a regular high school (M-A), there is a lot of work to do and charter schools may give some insight.
As far as spending a lot of money as a precedent, the comments about the superintendent "taking the long view" to avoid other charter schools popping up is rather chilling. The message is that the district is justified wasting money on defending a prop 39 violation to avoid competition. I would think the answer to competition would be to make the regular schools so good that there would be no demand for the existing charter schools, let alone new ones. The district has either a problem with their "educational product" or their marketing and given the disinformation routinely put out by the district and blindly repeated (see multiple posts above), I would venture a guess it's the product.

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Posted by Summit Prep Mom
a resident of another community
on May 30, 2009 at 12:04 pm

The concept of a charter high school is custom made for my student who is not an athlete, actress, robotics wizard, dance team girl, computer geek, or an incredible student. For my student to attend a school where so much money is spent on these and other programs would mean she would be contributing her share of her state money for others. The charter program gives us bare bones in these activities but is so strong in academic support that she gets one hundred percent benefit from the money provided for her. That is the concept of the charter schools that is giving the district schools a run for their money, literally.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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