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Albert Einstein continues its quest for charter elementary school

Tuesday marks school’s fourth try at approval for its elementary charter from the Saugus Union distr

Posted: March 17, 2013 9:14 p.m.
Updated: March 17, 2013 9:14 p.m.
 

On Tuesday, the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences is scheduled to begin its fourth attempt to win a charter for an elementary school from the Saugus Union School District.

“I don’t have any indication that Saugus is going to approve the charter,” the school’s foundation executive and spokesman, Jeffrey Shapiro, said Friday.

He expressed the same sentiment last month. “I believe the Saugus district has made it very clear they will not accept a petition from us,” he said in February. “We’re not anticipating that they will come around on the matter.”

In fact, Einstein has made few changes to the charter petition since the last time it was rejected, Shapiro said.

Einstein Academy officials have tried, unsuccessfully, to open a school for kindergarten-through-sixth-grade students in the Santa Clarita Valley since 2010.

During that time, Einstein has submitted proposals to the Saugus district, Newhall School District, William S. Hart Union High School District and Los Angeles Unified School District. At least twice they have taken an appeal of a rejection before the Los Angeles County Board of Education, only to step back from the appeal when it appeared it would not be granted.

Each time a charter petition comes before a school district, that district must spend money to process it, noted Joan Lucid, superintendent of Saugus Union School District. “I want to make sure we are doing our due diligence as the law requires,” she said.

Lucid estimated the district spends $40,000 to $50,000 on legal reviews for each petition. The total cost to the district for all four petitions could be as high as $200,000.

These figures do not include hours staff members spend reviewing the petition, Lucid said.

The repeated applications and three rejections so far have caused some tensions between the applicant charter school — which runs a seventh-through-12th-grade school chartered by the William S. Hart Union High School District — and Saugus Union officials.

During the district’s October review of the last Einstein application, Shapiro called portions of the charter review anti-Semitic, particularly concerns over whether the proposed school would be sectarian.

Though he later said he was not accusing any specific board member of being anti-Semitic, he said he stood by his general comments.

“I think you owe our board an apology, and our administrators,” Saugus board member Rose Koscielny told Shapiro at that October meeting. “How dare you?”

 

Criteria

Charter schools in California are formed to either provide educational services that are not offered by district schools or to educate populations of students believed inadequately served by existing schools, according to the California Charter Schools Association.

To receive government funds, charter schools in California must be approved by an educational agency, on either a local, county or state level.

According to the California Education Code, a charter petition must include a “reasonably comprehensive description” of 16 different elements, including the school’s educational program, admissions requirements, employee benefits and governance structure.

A district can deny a charter if any of those 16 areas is deficient, Lucid said. Most districts also require a budget and cash-flow projections to ensure they don’t take on a charter school that’s financially mismanaged.

In regards to the Einstein charter petition, Saugus officials believed Einstein’s financial plan “was a problem from the get-go,” Lucid said.

The Saugus district also had concerns about Einstein’s ability to provide adequate services to English-language-learning and special-needs students.

Charter schools must reflect the demographics of the overall student population of the district granting the charter. They are required to provide access, both educational and physical, to students who are physically handicapped or have learning disabilities.

“That’s what the (charter) program was designed to do,” Lucid said, “to meet the needs of least-served students.”

 

Not for elite schools

Similar concerns were cited by the Newhall School District when its board voted to deny an Einstein Academy charter petition for an elementary school in 2010.

“We had a CPA (certified public accountant) review their finances and they (Einstein officials) were just uninformed about school financing,” Newhall Superintendent Marc Winger said Thursday. “We didn’t believe they could do what they wanted to do.”

Winger said the Newhall district was not convinced Einstein officials had a satisfactory plan to serve more underrepresented student populations such as English-language-learners, low-achieving or minority students.

“They have an existing school that pretty much proves these objections,” Winger said, referring to the school chartered by the William S. Hart Union High School District. “The intent of the charter school law was not to open what looked like elite, private academies.”

“The intent was to open schools to meet the needs of low-achieving students.”

A charter can also be denied if “petitioners are demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement the program set forth in the petition” or the “charter school presents an unsound educational program,” according to the state Education Code.

 

Onus on districts

Shapiro sees the roles of the chartering district and the applicant school very differently than local elementary school district officials do.

“California charter law puts the onus on districts, and the only reason for denial is if you’re demonstrably unlikely to succeed with your plan,” Shapiro said. “Not that your plan is perfect.”

As to why Einstein continues to try to charter a school through the Saugus district, Shapiro said the charter process is already so far along that it does not make sense to start from scratch now.

California approved the Charter Schools Act in 1992, becoming the second state to authorize the creation of charter schools after Minnesota.

In the decades since then, California has seen meteoric growth and now has the most charter schools of any state, with 1,065 open as of the 2012-2013 school year, according to the California Charter Schools Association.

More than 484,000 students attend charter schools in California.

 

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