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Newhall district files lawsuit over charters

Posted: June 7, 2014 10:19 p.m.
Updated: June 7, 2014 10:19 p.m.

 

The Newhall School District has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified School District’s approval of a charter school from the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences.

The lawsuit, filed Friday, alleges that the Acton-Agua Dulce district approved the Einstein charter in May 2013 as a means to address the district’s financial instability, knowing that the Einstein Academy did not intend to operate lawfully in the Acton-Agua Dulce district.

Allegations

The suit challenges the actions of the Acton-Agua Dulce district board, saying the board has approved 15 charter schools since 2012, with all but one of the 15 to operate outside the district’s boundaries.

In a statement last month, the superintendents of five Santa Clarita Valley school districts decried that as “pay to play.”

“Acton’s proliferation of charter schools unrestrained by the geography of the authorizing school district, and for the purpose of making money, is far from the intent and letter of California’s Charter Schools Act of 1992,” the statement reads. “It’s pay to play.”

The suit also challenges actions by the Einstein Academy to locate within the boundaries of the Newhall district — saying that Einstein has purchased a site at 25443 Orchard Village Road, in the boundaries of the Newhall district, where it plans to operate a charter school, or charter schools, approved by the Acton-Agua Dulce district.

Newhall district officials say they were not properly notified that the charter school might be located in the district’s boundaries.

In a statement, Sue Ann Salmon Evans, a lawyer with the firm Dannis Woliver Kelley and counsel for the district, said, “The lawsuit is not an attempt to prevent charter schools in the Newhall School District, but to ensure that local charter schools are authorized in compliance with law and operate in concert with local school districts to the benefit of our local communities.”

“The district recognizes that charter schools can play an important role in the community, but they best complement the services of local school districts when they are formed and operate in conjunction with a local school district,” Evans said.

Brian Walters, president of the Newhall district board, said the district had no choice but to file the suit.

“Acton-Agua Dulce left us no choice in this matter,” he said in a statement. “We sent a cease and desist letter on May 12 and waited over two weeks with no response.

“This could have been easily resolved if AADUSD chose to abide by the intent and letter of the law by keeping the Albert Einstein Academy operating in the district where they were chartered,” he continued. “By doing so, they would not have violated the clear statutory direction of the Charter Schools Act.”

The Newhall district previously rejected a charter petition from Einstein in 2010, citing concerns with the program proposal for English-language-learning students and the fiscal plan.

Einstein statement

In a statement Saturday, Einstein officials said the “organization has not been served any complaint yet by the Newhall School District.”

“But when and if we are served, we will review it and vigorously defend the right of parents to make a choice in the education of their children,” the statement reads. “Our organization operates wholly in compliance with applicable law.

“Children are not the property of the districts in which they reside,” the statement continues. “To suggest otherwise is indicative of the Newhall district’s desire to hold onto money rather than to compete and improve education for all students in the Santa Clarita Valley, missing the very purpose of the Charter Schools Act.”

Acton-Agua Dulce reaction

Ed Porter, vice president of the Acton-Agua Dulce board, said Saturday that he does not believe the board has done anything that would run afoul of the law.

Porter said he thinks the charter schools approved by the Acton-Agua Dulce district are filling a demand and providing a choice for parents and are not approved solely for financial benefit.

“We really believe in being a part of offering parents an alternative to the typical private and public education that’s out there,” he said. “And that’s why we’re doing this.”

Acton-Agua Dulce district board member Larry H. Layton voted against the Einstein charter proposal when it came before the board last year, telling The Signal at the time that he didn’t think it was right for one district to locate a chartered school within another.

“I didn’t feel, at the time, last summer that what the district was doing was fair,” he said when reached by phone Saturday. “I wouldn’t have wanted anybody to do that to us.”

Layton said he was also in the process of studying Senate Bill 1263, a piece of legislation sponsored by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, that would change California’s charter school law by blocking schools from locating outside the district that charters them.

“SB 1263 is the response to the abuse that we’re seeing, and we were so happy that Senator Pavley picked it up and ran with it,” said Newhall district Superintendent Marc Winger at the time.

Current state law allows for charter schools to locate and function outside the boundaries of their chartering district if they meet certain criteria.

Lmoney@signalscv.com

661-287-5525

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