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Board approves application for federal funds to take charge of a second school

At an eleventh-hour meeting Sunday night in a coffee shop, Einstein’s board of directors approved a federal i3 grant application.

Board members met at CC’s Coffee House on Esplanade Avenue to review the 28-page application, due the next day.

Principal Shawn Toranto presented board members with the draft.  She said she and her team had been working on the grant “non-stop” since the board’s last meeting a week earlier.  The grant was due Nov. 5.

An i3 grant would allow Einstein Group Inc., the charter management organization,  to take charge of a school in addition to Einstein Charter.  At a meeting in October, Einstein Group Inc. disclosed that the Recovery School District was encouraging it to apply for the grant to facilitate possible takeover of nearby Intercultural Charter School. ICS appears to have fallen below minimum standards of performance set by the state and faces a decision on the renewal of its charter in December. Einstein listed ICS as the takeover target in the i3 grant application.

During a 30-minute review of the application, board president Ryan Bennett asked Toranto to include more detail on the recruiting process outlined in the grant.  He disagreed with Toranto’s plan to have faculty begin work a week before students return for the fall semester, but the board opted to table that discussion.

Bennett had questions about transportation as well.  The application says that Einstein Group Inc. would not provide transportation for students at the takeover campus.  ICS currently provides transportation, but Toranto said transportation costs were not in the projected budget.

When Toranto and Phong Tran, head of technology, presented the projected budget,  they met with some resistance from the board.

Toranto was listed as chief executive officer of both schools, at a salary of $185,000.  Bennett suggested a portion of the salary be withheld and offered as a bonus based on Toranto’s performance.  Board member Kathy Litchfield disagreed, noting that metrics to calculate bonuses had not been discussed.

Toranto also disagreed.  She said she has yet to be evaluated by the board of directors, though the Orleans Parish School Board has done so. She added, based on the experience of other schools, that she was not sure Einstein would be able to maintain funding for bonuses.

At one point member Chuck Gasho left the table, saying he would abstain from any vote since the budget was being delivered so close to the grant deadline.  Bennett reminded the board members that they knew they would be working on a tight deadline.

Gasho then asked members Litchfield and Laurin Jacobsen their opinions of the budget.

“I don’t know what these numbers should look like,” Jacobsen said.

Litchfield also said she did not know the average salaries for similar positions in the district.

“I’m trusting the people who created it,” Jacobsen said.

A motion to approve the application and projected budget passed unanimously.

“We need more passing schools in the east,” Toranto said.

Toranto did not return calls for comment Tuesday, nor did New Schools for New Orleans, the organization that administers i3 grants for the federal government.

Before adjourning the board elected two additional members, Lauren Pigeon and Emily Danielson.  The board now has six members, one shy of the seven required in the bylaws.

The meeting began at 7:42 p.m. and adjourned at 9:40 p.m.

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