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Illegal Out-of-District Students Who Don't 'Fess Up to be Booted from Albany Schools in April

The district will first work to educate parents and offer temporary amnesty for families who live outside the city, but families who don't comply will be forced to leave before the end of the school year.

Albany Unified School District's superintendent, with the support of the school board, has embarked on a new effort to ensure that students who attend Albany schools actually live within city boundaries, or have received permits to study on district campuses.

In a , Superintendent told board members she'd like to take a strong stance to remove children from Albany schools whose families have lied to officials about their true addresses.

Families in this position have until March 31 to confess to the district. The children of those who do will be given amnesty to remain in Albany schools to complete the school year. 

Students whose families don't comply would be forced to leave April 1, Stephenson said.

The main goal, officials said, is to make room for more than 100 students who are stuck on a slow-moving waiting list to transfer into Albany schools.

"What's most difficult is very honest people who say, 'I want to apply for an interdistrict permit,'" said Nancy Powell, who was hired two months ago on a part-time basis to verify student addresses. "They might as well write it on a Kleenex and throw it out the window.... The people who are here illegally are taking the spots of the people who are trying to play by the rules."

Of roughly 3,850 students who attend Albany schools, there are about 550 "legal" interdistrict transfers. These include children of teachers and children whose siblings attend district schools, along with a number of students accepted into the district by the previous superintendent to help bring in more money from the state.

According to a document released in the Feb. 15 session, and attached as a PDF above, there could be hundreds of students who attend Albany schools illegally. Thirty-five out-of-district cases have been confirmed in the past two months; 36 students are on the "hot list" and have been avoiding all communication with the district; and another 200 or so remain to be verified. 

Another 86 students, whose addresses were questioned, have been verified as legal in-district students.

"The creativity of people who are in the district illegally is amazing," Powell told the board. "There are landlords people are paying to say they live in an apartment they clearly don't live in."

She said landlords have told her some families rent apartments for August and September only, just long enough to complete enrollment. Some families, she said, rent a second home or office in Albany simply to use the address. Leases and other documents have been faked, and one woman, said the superintendent, "just basically lied, even with Nancy and me sitting there."

The district has a range of ways to identify suspicious cases. 

Sometimes it's teachers and principals who make reports. Powell said she's recently been getting one to two reports a day from principals. Teachers notice when students consistently show up "tardy to first period. It's clear that they're coming from a distance."

Other times returned mail, with forwarding addresses to cities such as Pinole, Richmond, El Cerrito and Oakland, provides a tip-off.

Some people use post office boxes, which can be a red flag. In other cases, multiple families report living at the same address. She said she's come across studio apartments, or single bed- and bathoom units, where ostensibly a family lives. 

"Clearly a family of three is not living there," she said. 

"It costs less than private school tuition," said Board President Pat Low. 

The district hired hourly clerks in the fall to input all emergency contact forms into a database system to help keep track of the information; previously, the forms were kept as hard copies in binders.

Powell is the third person hired to attempt the daunting task of verification, said Stephenson. The first stepped down, and the second was released from the contract, she added. The job can be challenging because of the time-consuming investigation each case requires and the emotional responses of some families.

"People don't like being confronted on the fact that they are in the district illegally," said Powell. "People who come to the desk can be extremely intimidating. The kind of rancor simply asking them for a lease agreement could bring can be significant."

Stephenson said it can take at least five hours for Powell to try to pull together the information to verify each case, and another five or six hours for an investigator to visit an address believed to be real, document six sightings there and put together a case file on the student.

The district has strict standards for establishing residency. There are three main categories for students who attend Albany schools:

  • The student's parent or guardian lives within the district on a full-time permanent basis "that is seven days and seven nights." 
  • The student lives at a licensed children's institution.
  • The child has been admitted through the interdistrict attendance program.

One family who has had trouble because of the new effort attended Tuesday's meeting. 

Diana Li, a University of California, Berkeley, student who graduated from Albany High, spoke to Albany Patch on behalf of her family after the meeting, which had no public comment period. She said she has a younger sibling who attends elementary school in Albany, and has done so since he began school several years ago. 

She said her family owns a home in another city, but stays there only on weekends.

"The seven days and seven nights rule is very tenuous. We're in Albany for five days and five nights," she said. "We don't have another district, but we don't fall under Albany rules either."

She continued: "It's also difficult for them to believe we live in a one-bedroom apartment. Those people who lie make our situation seem illegitimate, but that's just how some families live. In many immigrant families, there are two siblings and two parents who live in one bedroom. It may seem absurd to some people, and like a lie, but it's not."

The district plans to send home letters, in multiple languages, with all elementary school students to explain residency requirements and board policy. Middle and High School parents will receive the information via school e-mail lists. (, in the "Schools" section.) The deadline for coming forward to report an out-of-district address is March 31; families who move are required to report new addresses to the district within 72 hours.

Everybody makes mistakes ... ! If there's something in this article you think should be corrected, or if something else is amiss, give editor Emilie Raguso a call at 510-459-8325 or shoot her an e-mail at emilier@patch.com.

Peter Leahy February 25, 2011 at 09:37 PM
I was told by staff of the district about the residency checks for incoming families with children with IEPs including home meetings scheduled with school staff generally in the preschool years. I'd prefer not to give names as it includes one former principal, several staffers at one school site and more than one family targeted. Several called the Superindendent's directives illegal and discriminatory at the time when returning from a meeting on the matter last spring. As far as how divorce is handled the district then needs to provide a public and comprehensive written policy document as this was not applied to a neighbor of mine. This policy should be reviewed by outside legal counsel as I can see potential civil rights violations and costly lawsuits that drain the districts resources more than the little a bad policy enforced unequally will save. So separations mean kids are kicked out under the rule but once a divorce is final it is OK? So simple solution to the girl's earlier story about 5days in the district was for her parents to divorce. Again these are real people's lives and students constitutional rights to a quality public education. They should have a thorough, thoughtful and legal policy in place and published before any moves against anyone.
Peter Leahy February 25, 2011 at 09:52 PM
Again how are Gay or Lebian families handled who did not marry in the 6 months it was legal? If they can't marry then they can't divorce to share custody. How about a gay family from Massachussets arrives and they were married there but not considered married here? Are their kids treated under the 7 day rule? Families are much more complex than the current limited 7 day policy allows and there should be some significantly more critical thinking applied and a comprehensive written policy enacted that has been vetted by outside counsel. We should not be allowing judgement calls by staff vs. a legal standard the is public, defensable and non-discriminatory.
Ross Stapleton-Gray February 25, 2011 at 10:01 PM
I believe the "7 days, 7 nights" rule was commenting on parent/guardians, e.g., if (kid) Janey lives four days with parent Grace who lives in El Cerrito, and three with parent Sophie who lives in Albany, it'd be ok so long as Sophie doesn't then herself spend two nights a week (perhaps two of the four she's not responsible for Janey) with SO Elaine in Emeryville, say. A rigid rule for times that call for far more flexibility. Bottom line, though, in the above example, there's a kid who spends some of her time in the home of someone who would seem to be regarded by most as an Albany resident, especially if she pays taxes here, or lives in an apartment that has no other tenants besides her and Janey (and perhaps Elaine, from time to time). I would hope that the cases of abuse would be cut & dried, e.g., the case mentioned by Preston, where someone's name might be attached to a mailbox, but no habitation is apparent.
Michael Barnes February 26, 2011 at 01:03 AM
Preston, I'm not sure about this. The remarkable thing is just how few low-income exemptions there are. I suspect many seniors who would qualify for low-income exemption are too proud to take it, and opt for the face-saving senior exemption instead.
D. Mehrten February 26, 2011 at 04:22 AM
I'm one of the folks who qualifies for the low-income exemption, and the big difference between it and the senior exemption is that the low-income exemption must be documented each year, while the senior exemption need be applied for only once upon reaching age 65. Of course, it's still a matter of choice to actually take the exemption or not. The documentation is a bit fussy, but more to the point--I think there may be low-income (and senior) homeowners here who don't even know it's available. Maybe not, but it doesn't seem to me that the city of Albany has made much effort to publicize this option for those who do qualify. As a side note, the state of California used to have two different programs to help with property tax payments for those in need. Now both are completely gone. (Probably never to be revived.)
Ira Sharenow February 26, 2011 at 05:47 AM
Emilie, can you ask Marla for some demographics on the inter-D transfers and the illegal students? How many in each grade? How many from each community? Ethnic mix? Given that the district admits the problem has existed for years, why is the district acting now? Is it just to appease families with potential inter-D students? How many current inter-D students are children of AUSD staff and how many are on the waiting list? What about the numbers for city of Albany employees or any other category of admits?
Brian Parsley February 26, 2011 at 07:17 PM
Just as a side note seniors who take the exemption must be owner-occupants. You can not claim a senior exemption on a home in Albany the you don't live in or rent.
Ira Sharenow February 26, 2011 at 08:12 PM
The benefit is for owners, not renters. Also a person only has to claim to be 65 and an owner-occupant, as the district is not checking this the way it is checking students.
Brian Parsley February 26, 2011 at 08:48 PM
Ira I don't believe you can just claim to be 65. The district requires seniors submit a drivers license or state issued I'd as well as current utility bills to prove residency.
Ira Sharenow February 26, 2011 at 09:37 PM
I was trying to compare the exemption process for homeowners versus the new process for student residency verification. Marla told me there is no follow up for the homeowners exemptions (senior or low income) while there is now an onerous process for at least some of the targeted students. Say a couple of 55 year olds with $50,000 in income actually lives in the home they own, but they share it with their adult children who earn $1 million. Then it would seem that the couple can claim the low income exemption. Say one owner claims to be 65 and the other owner is 40, then that home is also exempted. Say a 65 year old owns a 2-unit place and lives in one of the units. Then that one unit is exempt. Copies of various forms can be easily faked, I am told. I do not understand the rationale for giving relatively well off people property tax exemptions, especially in a down economy. It was probably included in order to get more votes for the two measures. http://www.ausdk12.org/apps/pages/?uREC_ID=92442&type=d http://www.smartvoter.org/2009/11/03/ca/alm/meas/I/
Ross Stapleton-Gray February 26, 2011 at 09:55 PM
I wouldn't assume Marla to be the authority on how the exemptions are verified; though the parcel tax benefits AUSD, I would think that it's up to the City (or perhaps the County?) to perform the verification, as they're the parties who tax.
Ira Sharenow February 26, 2011 at 10:11 PM
http://www.ausdk12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=92442&type=d&termREC_ID=&pREC_ID=173267 A “Request for Parcel Tax Exemption” form for the 2010-2011 fiscal years may be filed with the AUSD by the owner and occupant of his/her “primary residence only,” if (s) he is 65 years of age or over, prior to July 1, 2010. To be considered, the application needs to be submitted by May 31 2010, with a COPY of the following: 1. Date of Birth (Driver License, Passport, or Birth Certificate) 2. Proof of Ownership (2009 Property Tax Bill) 3. Proof of Primary Residence (Recent 2009 Utility Bill) Once approved, the applicant will receive the exemption for each following year they are eligible, without the need for reapplication. If you have any questions or need assistance completing the form, please call Allan Garde at 510-558-3760 or e-mail agarde@ausdk12.org
Brian Parsley February 26, 2011 at 10:16 PM
While these are intersting hypothetical situations, they are just that, hypothetical. Do you have of any basis in fact that there are currently these types of exemptions occurring? When we moved into my grandmothers house, after she moved to assisted living in El Cerrito, she was no longer able to take the senior exemption. The district sent my grandmother a form asking her to provide proof the she was still the owner occupant. These included a state issued ID and utility bills. I think by defining all senior homeowners as wealthy land barons out to beat the system and cheat Albany children out of education dollars is a little misplaced. Many of these seniors purchased their homes 40, 50, and 60+ years ago and have worked or volunteered in the city, schools, and thru various community organizations. Some still do, when they are not counting their millions in the shoe boxes beneath their beds.
Ira Sharenow February 27, 2011 at 12:18 AM
Does AHS/AMS need even more non-district students? Did the AUSD board ever complete its study? I enjoy reading Paul’s posts even if I often disagree and am disappointed by his lack of data. The board’s decisions seem to be based on guesswork and a lack of meaningful community involvement. While they want to admit students in the early grades, in fact they seem to be admitting nonresidents in middle school and high school, but no real data is presented. Paul Black’s blog excerpts http://www.prblack.com/BoE/BoE_Blog/Entries/2010/6/18_Interdistrict_Transfers_and_Enrollment.html June 18, 2010 Honestly, we don’t really know whether we’re better off in terms of revenue by accepting IDTs or not. However, we all agree that IDTs bring cultural and ethnic diversity to the district and, by increasing enrollment, enable us to offer more electives to students in the middle and high schools because we can fill more classrooms. So we want to admit IDTs in the early grades and keep them right through high school. We amended the IDT student contract as well. Previously, the contract stated that a student could be exited for failure to maintain a grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or better. We removed that provision, as we feel that it’s our duty to educate all our students, not to kick them out if we’ve failed in that duty. IDT students can still be exited for severely disruptive behavior or failure to attend school regularly. Enrollment Limits are To Be Determined
Ira Sharenow February 27, 2011 at 12:20 AM
The last sentence is interesting. http://www.prblack.com/BoE/BoE_Blog/Entries/2009/10/8_Yet_More_on_Out-Of-District_Students_and_the_Parcel_Tax.html October 8, 2009 In short, it’s very hard to tell whether out-of-district students are a net plus or a net minus for our schools. The question of which and how many out-of-district students we should admit will be discussed at length by the Board this year. http://www.prblack.com/BoE/BoE_Blog/Entries/2009/9/17_Ruminations_On_Flat_Taxes_and_Out-Of_District_Students.html September 17, 2009 As for people who lie in order to get their children enrolled in Albany schools -- we ask each family for documentation of their status as Albany residents when they enroll their children in our schools. If we find anyone who is not legally in the district, we disenroll them. But I personally do not want to live in a climate where we ask people to report their children’s classmates for suspected violations. I’m willing to accept a small amount of fraud as the price for not living in an atmosphere of mistrust.
Ross Stapleton-Gray February 27, 2011 at 01:39 AM
"A “Request for Parcel Tax Exemption” form for the 2010-2011 fiscal years may be filed with the AUSD..." Huh... I stand corrected, though I suppose that the actual adjudication of residency might be done by the City (i.e., AUSD just hands the pile of exemption requests over for the City to examine). I would actually hope it went that way, as presumably the City has better insight into issues of general residency than AUSD ought to be expected to have.
Ira Sharenow February 27, 2011 at 10:27 PM
On Tuesday the board will take up the ramifications of the new state law as it impacts inter-district transfers. From what I can tell, the board previously decided that transfers that perform poorly academically will not be dis-enrolled. It seems that Paul Black and perhaps the board as a whole views that as a failure of the school district and not of the children or families. There will also be a budget update. A previous article on head lice received a lot of feedback and that issue is also on the agenda as is the general issue of student wellness. Finally the board lists close to 50 certificated staff as temporary employees. http://www.ausdk12.org/ourpages/auto/2011/2/11/51673795/3_1_packet.pdf I hope that Albany Patch will cover the meeting and ask the tough questions, especially since the board is so often vague and secretive.
Emilie Raguso March 04, 2011 at 05:00 AM
Regarding divorced parents, just received this helpful information from the district: "Residency under the California Education Code is determined pursuant to the applicable laws of general residency. A student may attend school in the district "in which the residency of either the parent or legal guardian is located." (Gov't Code § 244.) In cases of divorce, Welfare and Institutions Code section 17.1(b) provides that the residence of the child is determined by the residence of the person who has been given custody by the court. "Custody" means the legal right to have custody of the child. If custody is held jointly by two or more persons, "custody" means the physical custody of the child. For purposes of residency for parental joint custody, whichever parent has the student for the greatest percentage of time during the school year will determine residency. In the case of 50/50 joint physical custody, the family may decide in which school district to enroll the student."
Ira Sharenow March 04, 2011 at 07:39 PM
The district has a new interim budget report posted and the district is projecting increased enrollment. http://www.ausdk12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=97076&type=d&termREC_ID=&pREC_ID=173234&hideMenu=1 http://www.ausdk12.org/ourpages/auto/2010/6/21/38098058/2nd_interim.pdf ENROLLMENT PROJECTIONS District enrollment is projected to realize a slight increase over the next several years. Per recent legislation, as well as revised inter-district policies the district will closely monitor enrollment and attendance trends. The districts attendance percentage is 96%. This is a slight increase over prior years, potentially due to the implementation of on-line attendance. 
Ira Sharenow March 17, 2011 at 04:44 AM
The district has posted its enrollment projections for the next few years. The district predicts increasing enrollment, including more non-district students. Unfortunately, the district failed to distinguish between UV and non-UV residents even though it has previously done so for 2001/02-2009/10. Apparently the district thinks there is room for growth! http://www.ausdk12.org/pdf/district/boe/archives/2010-2011//agendas%20and%20packets/81_2.15.20%20Facilities%20Capacity%20and%20Enrollment%20Projection.pdf People may also find the SARC reports to be of interest even though the documents are scanned in and poorly formatted and have mistakes. A corrected report will be coming out. Although Marla is planning on kicking out some students at the end of the month, one should not assume that the district wishes to get enrollment under control. This site has been enhanced, but the district continues to refuse to post its minutes. http://www.ausdk12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?dir=2010-2011/agendas%20and%20packets&hideMenu=1&termREC_ID=&pREC_ID=173332&type=d&uREC_ID=97076 I did not study the data closely but I think the data may not be consistent with the new census data.
Alison March 17, 2011 at 02:56 PM
What makes me laugh is the district thinks theres room for growth. They are trying to down size how many classes they have and fill them to the brim. My older daughter when she was in kindergarten had 18 people in her class and there were 4 kindergarten teachers at Marin. My younger daughter is in kindergarten this year where she has 27 kids in her class and there are only 3 teachers. I support growth in classes if you aren't over crowding the class rooms.
Ira Sharenow November 06, 2011 at 12:58 AM
Inter-district transfers. It looks like many of those who ‘fessed up were admitted for this year. From reading El Cerrito Patch, apparently AUSD wants this hushed up and many are complying with that wish, but I think AUSD should provide more details. How many from El Cerrito? From Kensington? With the teachers’ union and others complaining about large class sizes, why admit so many non-residents, especially since ADA funding has been sharply cut back? Many were rejected. On what basis were students rejected? Were ‘fessers up given priority? What are this year’s enrollment totals? Why so quiet this year? http://www.ausdk12.org/ourpages/auto/2011/9/23/64106571/2011-2012%20INTERDISTRICT%20TRANSFER%20INFORMATION.pdf
Ira Sharenow November 18, 2011 at 04:23 PM
I think the time has come for AUSD to re-examine its policy of admitting huge numbers of non-residents students and also looking the other way as hundreds more use fake addresses. The declining performance of AHS on the API indicates that the policy has not worked academically. With the state continuing to reduce its ADA funding, it does not appear as though the policy now makes any economic sense, if it ever did. The district engages in many questionable economic policies – extravagant swimming pool complex, multiple bonuses for the teachers, high salaries for top administrators, accepting many hundreds of non-residents, and so forth. Has AUSD been increasing its reserves? http://www.insidebayarea.com/top-stories/ci_19359642 Most school districts won't shorten school year, but worry about future
Ira Sharenow February 15, 2012 at 04:37 PM
January 2012 The size of AUSD has been the topic of many staff room conversations. Staff has seen multiple cycles of the District accepting inter-district permits throughout our history. We have encouraged and accepted transfer students to bolster our revenues and expand electives at the secondary level. Many families have been legally accepted into our schools. The Board of Education has made it very clear that once we accept a transfer student, our intention is to keep that student through their K-12 school career. Over the years there have been reports from school sites that some students, who attend Albany Schools, do so illegally. From a budget and facilities planning perspective, we need to know who lives in Albany and who does not. In these lean budget times, it is very important that we accurately plan for growth, decline or stable enrollment. Last year the District began a process of re-verifying the address of every family attending Albany Schools. We simultaneously began to actively investigate any reports of students illegally attending AUSD. To that end, we have exited 73 students over the last twelve months. These students did not live in the District and did not have inter-district permits. Our 2011-12 student enrollment is 3803. Last year our enrollment was 3882. We have declined by 79 students. We currently have 493 inter-district transfer students. http://www.ausdk12.org/ourpages/auto/2011/9/13/62385769/Enrollment_Update_1_12_12-2-1_1_.pdf
Ira Sharenow March 10, 2012 at 04:26 AM
Recently I haven’t seen much coverage of the board meetings, so I took a look. http://www.ausdk12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=92420&type=d&pREC_ID=173242 The SARC report was discussed. It appears as though the district is still having difficulty with data. Teacher salaries continue to be well above that of peers and that does not include the bonus money teachers get or the extraordinary health benefits. AHS continues to be below average on the API for peer groups. The interim budget was discussed. If a sales tax does not pass, then there will be severe cuts. I could not read the slides while watching on the web. The district appears to have a significant budget deficit. The district is unable to estimate the potential operating loss associated with the pool. There was mention of the parcel tax. The district may have to borrow money because of state funding deferrals. I did not hear any mention as to the total costs and reserves associated with Measure E. It appears as though there will be many cuts. Marla expressed concern that some other districts were not allowing or cutting back on transfers to AUSD. No district was mentioned. Attendance rates are down. The staff emphasized that the district is burning down its reserve. No citizens spoke on the budget issue.
Ira Sharenow June 01, 2012 at 03:44 AM
Resolution: Albany taxpayers shall support the education West Contra Costa students. RESOLUTIONN021. OF THE GOVERNING BOARD OF THE ALBANY UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT, ALAMEDA COUNTY, CALIFORNIA REGARDING THE LEVY AND COLLECTION OF LEVEL 1 SCHOOL FACILITIES FEES WHEREAS, the District seeks to impose the maximum rate allowable under Level 1 fees in those situations where the District will collect Level 1 fees; B. These fees will be used to fund the construction or reconstruction of school facilities needed to reduce overcrowding which exists or will exist in the district and impairs or will impair the normal functioning of educational programs. Page 81 of AUSD agenda of June 5, 2012 http://www.ausdk12.org/ourpages/auto/2012/1/9/45597896/6-5-12%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf Next year (my guess): New parcel taxes on renters and others.
Ira Sharenow June 01, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Superintendent Goals 2012-13 Goal l: Improve Communication Protocols Goal 2: Improve Student Safety Goal 3: Increase Student Achievement Goal 4: Improve Opportunities For Increasing Student Well-Being Goal 5: Strategic Plan Goal 6: Fiscal Stewardship Goal 7: Governance Goal l: The staff and community should be kept informed of important AUSD initiatives, student progress and activities. Second language parents need to feel included in District activities through intentional outreach efforts. Analyze results of Spring 2012 staff and community survey for baseline satisfaction levels in the area of communication. Quarterly newsletters from Superintendent to community. Newsletters translated into Spanish, Korean and Mandarin. http://www.ausdk12.org/ourpages/auto/2012/1/9/45597896/6-5-12%20Agenda%20Packet.pdf Page 133
Emilie Raguso September 24, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Albany Patch is preparing a list of questions from readers for school board candidates. We've scheduled, in conjunction with St. Alban's, candidate forums in October. (BOE: Oct. 10; CC: Oct. 17) Details here: http://patch.com/A-ybgT Please comment back ASAP to let us know your questions for school board candidates, or email me at albany@patch.com.
Ira Sharenow March 08, 2013 at 07:12 PM
This year AUSD admitted 73 new inter-district transfers and 50/73 = 68% came from WCCUSD. All told 378/471= 80% came from WCCUSD. There is a wait list of 114 students. There was no estimate of the number of students illegally enrolled. Whatever happened to the students that did not fess up? How does AUSD account for the massive increase in enrollment that has occurred in the past 12 years? What are the financial, academic, and social impacts of this massive experiment? Check the current agenda, page 18, for more details. In other news, the board is set to approve the SARC reports and copies are available online. The second interim report is also part of the meeting. The district is expected to have a negative cash balance in June 2013. The district is expected to continue running deficits of over $1 million per year for the next several years and is depleting its reserves. I think it is likely that there will be upcoming votes for new parcel taxes and new bond measures.
Ira Sharenow March 28, 2013 at 02:01 AM
WCCUSD suggests AUSD siphons off their students! http://elcerrito.patch.com/articles/school-board-seeks-public-input-on-portola# Board member Charles Ramsey, who also lives in El Cerrito, said between 100 and 150 students are siphoned off each year from the six elementary schools that feed Portola: Fairmont, Harding, Kensington, Madera, Stege and Washington.

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