The Einstein Charter Academy board is poised to ask the Orleans Parish School Board to amend its charter so that it can expand to operate two schools.

Without naming the school they hope to begin operating, the board of directors on Wednesday approved asking permission to add another school site to their charter in order to serve up to 900 students.

Member Laurin Jacobsen questioned why the second site was not named in the proposed letter.

Board President Ryan Bennett said Einstein leaders are working with the Recovery School District to have a school building granted to them. He said the site would be listed in the letter before it was presented to the Orleans Parish School Board.

Although nothing has been officially announced, it appeared at Einstein’s October meeting that the board is preparing to take over Intercultural Charter School.

ICS is also in eastern New Orleans, the community Einstein currently serves.  The state board of education voted in early December to take away Intercultural’s charter at the end of the school year.

“Everyone knows we would only actually consider a site in the east,” Bennett said.

Einstein Group, Inc. currently operates Einstein Charter School. Principal Shawn Toranto announced the organization was awarded a $1 million federal startup grant to allow the charter school to grow into a charter management organization and operate two schools in 2013-14.

In addition to the federal grant, Einstein received an additional $800,000 from New Schools for New Orleans. That additional money is earmarked to help the organization provide bus transportation for students, something that was not in the original grant proposal.  Einstein does not currently provide transportation for its students.

“If we’re offering it in the new school we want to offer it here too,” said Bennett.

Though Bennett stressed nothing was official, both board members and school staff interchangeably used “other school” and “Intercultural”, throughout the meeting.

“We would be operating another OPSB charter in an RSD building,” said Bennett.

The board voted to be listed on the RSD’s OneApp but without participating in the full-on OneApp process for the upcoming school year. OneApp is a program designed to make it easier for parents by allowing parents to apply to multiple charter schools by filling out just one application. It also would enable the district a more realistic look at the number of applicants for each school.

“In order for us to move into a current RSD building we have to ensure that all students at that school have full access at that site,” said Bennett.

All Orleans Parish School Board schools will eventually be part of the OneApp, Bennett said. Einstein wouldn’t have to participate until 2017 when they seek a charter renewal, he said.

“It behooves us to get our name on the OneApp form but not have to be officially part of the OneApp,” said Bennett.

“I am in full support of that,” Toranto said.

Jacobsen asked how Einstein could “participate but not participate at the same time?”

“They are willing to put an alternative spot on the OneApp form for students at the current site to elect that they want to stay at the current site,” said Bennett.

The move to participate in RSD’s centralized enrollment process only further suggests Einstein may be taking over Intercultural, whose charter is held by RSD.  Bennett said Einstein would be listed as choice on RSD’s centralized OneApp in an effort to retain more students at the school they will likely takeover.  He said this would likely reduce the need for recruiting to fill seats at the second site.

Bennett and Toranto explained that the school did not want to fully participate in the OneApp process yet because then their enrollment, and hence revenue, would be controlled by RSD.

Toranto said the group is also exploring other grant options should the charter extension be granted by Orleans Parish School Board.  She said they would likely apply for an Arnold Grant, which could provide $2,500 per seat at the extension school, and a grant from 21st Century that could provide $1,500 per student for two to three years.

Toranto and Head of Technology Phong Tran presented a potential budget for the expansion plan.  Board members expressed a lot of concern initially but after an extensive explanation from Tran they were comfortable with the plan. Tran explained that the models presented did not include the newly awarded $1 million charter organization startup grant.

Tran presented three models to the board. He said the best financial outcome will occur if the expansion site has 450 students, which would provide a surplus of about $140,000.  If the school had only 200 students it would have a budget shortfall of $486,000, he said, while an enrollment of 305 students would essentially break even.

Members Bennett, Laurin Jacobsen, Kathy Litchfield were present for the entire meeting.  Member Chuck Gasho was present for about 15 minutes, which allowed the board to reach quorum and vote on two action items.  Without a quorum members were not able to vote on approval of prior meeting minutes at the end of the meeting.

The meeting began at 6:24 p.m. and adjourned at 7:42 p.m.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...