An empty Redwood City office building was rented and will soon house 100 teenagers attending the yet-to-open Everest charter school after school and district officials failed to reach an agreement, which will result in a lawsuit against the Sequoia Union High School District.
Discussion of a location for Everest, a 400-student charter school approved by the state to open this fall, began earlier this year. Sequoia officials have offered five portable classrooms and two additional administrative buildings at 763 Green St. in East Palo Alto. Noting the inequities between facilities offered at the Green Street site and other schools in the district, Everest leaders denied the offer. As a result, Everest officials plan to file a lawsuit against the district this week. Office space at 305 Main St. was rented in the meantime to ensure classes begin on schedule next month.
"While the Summit Institute Board and I had hoped to avoid this action and reach an amicable agreement with the district, we had to move forward with the lawsuit and an alternative location when it became clear the district was not willing to meet the requirements of Prop. 39 and provide Everest’s incoming students with reasonably equivalent school facilities,” said Diane Tavenner, CEO of Summit Institute, which will oversee the new school.
Everest officials officially declined the district’s offer April 30. The Sequoia Board of Trustees denied a claim against the district by Summit Institute last month, allowing a lawsuit to be filed.
Previously, Everest officials planned to rent a space on Charter Street, which district officials opposed. Superintendent Pat Gemma was surprised to learn of the new space being rented, but noted the Green Street location would remain an option to Everest.
"While pleased to learn that Summit has abandoned the questionable site on Charter Street, we continue to be disappointed by the Summit Institute’s lack of communication and cooperation with the Sequoia district,” Gemma said in a prepared statement. It continued to state Gemma was disheartened Summit officials would not reconsider the East Palo Alto location and other mid- and long-term accommodations for the school.
Both the district and Summit Institute leaders pointed to their alternative as the one which made the most budget sense. The district noted the Green Street site was planned, budgeted and covered through voter-approved bond measures. It also offered a long-term plan of housing the school on a multi-school site planned to open down the road in East Palo Alto. Everest officials, on the other hand, explained the 18,000-square-foot, first-floor location costs $152,900 for the first’s year lease without need for renovation, rewiring or furniture.
The district questioned how necessary permits could be acquired within the timeframe. A call to the Redwood City project planner working on the plan was not returned by deadline.
Finding a location for the new charter school has been a battle.
While Everest officials call the offer a violation of the school’s state rights for facilities, Gemma described the plan as thoughtful and in the best interest of all district students.
Paul Minney, attorney for Summit Institute, previously explained the offer fails to meet the district’s state obligation to the 104 students enrolled for Everest’s first year. Among the major complaints is the use of the kitchen, multi-purpose room and playing fields at Menlo-Atherton High School, 3.7 miles from the East Palo Alto campus.
Under the district’s proposal, five portable classrooms would be placed on the currently empty site in a residential area. One of the classrooms will be specialized to include water and sinks for science laboratories. Two additional 960-square-foot buildings will be placed on Green Street. One will serve as the administrative building. The other will be a library/media center with infrastructure for computers. A modular bathroom building will be placed on campus along with 46 parking spaces.
Summit Institute leaders originally countered with a proposal in March to rent a building at 955 Charter St. — less than a block away from its sister school Summit Preparatory at 850 Broadway. If granted, Everest promised to drop its Proposition 39 request for facilities from the district including access to non-classroom space like playing fields and multi-purpose rooms.
A charter for Everest was denied twice locally — by Sequoia and by the county Board of Education — before being forwarded to the state Board of Education, which approved the appeal in March. The five-year approval of the school came with some modifications including termination of the approval if the school does not open between July 1 and Sept. 1.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.