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Einstein board prepares to fight Orleans school district over its failure to bus students

Einstein Charter Schools is poised to fight the Orleans Parish School Board after being cited for not busing elementary students.

Einstein started to bus some children four years ago after taking over a failing school. But at some point, it apparently stopped. The mother of two children, 5 and 10 years old, said at a public meeting in August that Einstein had offered her public-transit tokens to get them to and from school, WWNO reported.

In a hastily called meeting Monday afternoon, Einstein’s board authorized CEO Shawn Toranto to hire a lawyer “to institute legal action arising from Orleans Parish School Board’s issuance of a notice of non-compliance.”

Einstein received a warning Sept. 19 from Dina Hasiotis, the school district’s executive director of school performance.

Hasiotis wrote that the school district had received complaints from two parents. By not providing busing, she wrote, Einstein was not meeting its obligations under its charters.

In order to stay open, charter schools must meet certain benchmarks for student performance, governance and financial health.

“At this time, the organization falls far below our expectations for charter schools in terms of ensuring all students have access to school per state law,” Hasiotis wrote.

To return to good standing, she told the charter group to come up with a plan to begin busing students by Nov. 27, tell families how they can use the service, and provide an invoice from the bus company.

The Orleans Parish School Board now requires open-enrollment charter schools — those that accept students from anywhere in the city — to provide buses or vans to students in 6th grade or younger who live more than a mile from school.

Einstein opened its first charter school in 2005 but didn’t provide busing until it took over the failing Intercultural Charter School in 2013.

Einstein received a $1 million takeover grant that required it to provide transportation to returning students, which had been a requirement under Intercultural’s charter granted by the Recovery School District.

At the time, the Orleans Parish School Board didn’t require its charter schools to bus their students. That changed in 2015, when the district decided to require its open-enrollment charters, like Einstein, to provide transportation.

When Einstein took over Intercultural, New Schools for New Orleans offered $800,000 to help with transportation costs for two years.

Patrick Dobard was in charge of the Recovery School District at the time; he’s now CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, a nonprofit that funds charter school initiatives.

The group “has always believed in access for families, so we funded the transportation for them early on,” Dobard said.

That money was given to Einstein, Dobard said, with the expectation that it would continue to bus kids.

He praised the OPSB for holding the charter accountable.

Einstein now has four schools, three of which serve children in grades that would require busing. The district renewed Einstein’s charters last year with one condition: Provide busing.

Toranto would not say Monday when Einstein stopped providing busing. Nor is it clear if Einstein provided busing just to the students at the former Intercultural school or to all three locations.

Orleans Parish School Board spokeswoman Dominique Ellis didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Einstein’s decision. Earlier in the day, she declined to say when the school board learned Einstein wasn’t busing students.

Einstein’s board spent most of Monday’s hour-long meeting behind closed doors to discuss the resolution authorizing Toranto to take legal action to defend the charter group against the OPSB’s notice.

The Louisiana Open Meetings Law states that public business must “be performed in an open and public manner” and that citizens should be aware of “the deliberations and decisions that go into the making of public policy.”

But in some cases, public bodies can close a portion of a meeting for what’s called an executive session.

Participating by speakerphone, Einstein’s attorney Lee Reid cited an exception to the Open Meetings Law that allows public bodies to discuss litigation strategy “when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the bargaining or litigating position of the public body.”

When the board resumed its meeting before the public, board chair Lauren Narcisse called for comment.

“No, I think we know what we need to know,” board member Chris Bowman said.

They voted unanimously to approve the resolution.

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