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UPDATE: Saugus rejects Einstein petition for fourth time

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Posted: April 23, 2013 7:00 p.m.
Updated: April 23, 2013 8:45 p.m.

Citing widespread programming, financial and comprehensiveness issues, members of the Saugus Union School District board voted 3-1 Tuesday night to deny a petition from the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences to open an elementary school in the Santa Clarita Valley.

It is the fourth time the district has done so.

After reviewing the latest petition, submitted in February, Saugus district staff members raised a host of issues with the charter, including that the petition “presents an unsound educational program,” and that Einstein officials are “demonstrably unlikely to successfully implement their program.”

Specifically, Saugus district officials characterized the school’s proposed budget as unrealistic and questioned whether the school would be able to implement successful programs for special-needs and English-language-learning students.

District Superintendent Joan Lucid said she and district staff members reviewed the charter. Their conclusions were then reviewed and vetted by a legal professional.

“It’s not an amateur deal tonight, ladies and gentlemen,” board President Judy Umeck told the crowd of about 30.

Lucid has previously 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.

Per state law, charter school petitions must contain a “reasonably comprehensive description” of 16 key areas, including a school’s proposed educational program, governance structure, health and safety procedures and admission requirements.

A charter petition can be denied if it is deficient in any one of those 16 areas. According to the Saugus district, the Einstein petition was deficient in 12, with questions raised concerning its health and safety procedures, governance structure, educational program, admission requirements and employee qualifications, among others.

Lucid also said the district based its recommendation to deny the petition on the language of the charter itself.

“It’s not, ‘Take our word for it,’ it’s not, ‘Trust us,’” Lucid said. “It’s about what’s in the petition.”

The only board member to vote in favor of the petition was Stephen Winkler.
Winkler, who also cast the sole vote for the last Einstein petition in October, said he thought his fellow board members may have ulterior motives for opposing the petition.

When Saugus district board members voted to deny the Einstein petition in October the charter’s lead petitioner, Jeffrey Shapiro, called portions of the board’s charter review anti-Semitic. Winkler said Tuesday that he has a “speculative hunch” that such is the case.

“That is one my concerns,” he said.

Board member Paul De La Cerda did not attend Tuesday’s meeting, as he is traveling out of the country, but submitted a letter to the board supporting denial of the charter.

No one at the meeting spoke on behalf of Einstein. Shapiro was not in attendance.

Shapiro, the executive director of Einstein Academy’s foundation, did not respond to calls for comment after the meeting. Eddie Nathan, the associate director of the foundation, also did not return calls requesting comment.

Einstein has the option of appealing the Saugus district decision to the Los Angeles County Board of Education. Shapiro has previously told The Signal that an appeal is planned.

If so, it would be the third time Einstein officials have appealed a Saugus denial to the Board of Education. In both previous instances, most recently in February, officials withdrew the appeal before the board could vote on it.

Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Arturo Delgado had recommended the Board of Education deny the appeal in February prior to Einstein officials withdrawing it.

Einstein is already chartered to run a school for students in grades 7 through 12 in the William S. Hart Union High School District.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney


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