Initial success of Einstein’s charter expansion is tied to student enrollment, leaders say

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Einstein’s board of directors continue to keep a close eye on enrollment numbers at the school’s expansion site.

Einstein Group, Inc., which oversees Einstein Elementary in eastern New Orleans, is growing into a charter management organization with the help of a $1 million federal grant. The school recently received the funding to takeover a failing Recovery School District school.

At the behest of the Recovery School District, Einstein staff applied for the grant last fall with Intercultural Charter School named in the grant. Intercultural is an F-rated school, while Einstein received a C in the state’s rating system.

Now as Principal Shawn Toranto is working to enroll students in the new school, she must navigate between two different districts. Einstein is authorized by the Orleans Parish School Board while Intercultural is overseen by the RSD, each with its own student enrollment system.

Intercultural currently has about 425 students. According to budget projections, Toranto needs to enroll at least 300 students to be financially viable at Einstein 2, but she’s hoping to serve more, up to 500 if possible.

“Basically we need 305 students to break even,” said board president Ryan Bennett.

Toranto said she has received about 130 OneApp referrals for Einstein 2 so far. However, the first deadline for the OneApp, the RSD’s unified enrollment system, isn’t until Friday. OneApp allows parents to apply to multiple charter schools using one application.

Toranto said she has also received applications through the school’s internal application process. She declined to specify how many, as she thought there were likely duplicates from the OneApp submissions.

Business Manager Doug Guidry said budgets for the two schools will be more accurate once per pupil funding is finalized. He said he expects to hear that number from the OPSB on March 29. Guidry has to wait on OPSB because per pupil funding is impacted by local districts.

“We don’t know what OPSB is going to tell us,” Guidry said.

A large piece of the budget will go toward transportation. Transportation costs are so high, the $1 million takeover grant also came with $800,000 in additional funding earmarked for busing.

The additional funding is specifically for providing busing to current Intercultural students for the next two school years, $400,000 per year. Einstein does not currently provide busing, and will only provide busing at the expansion site next year.

Delving into busing plans has been difficult without final enrollment numbers, said Toranto.  Her latest estimates, based on Intercultural’s current enrollment, put one year of busing at about $600,000. That estimate is based on sharing services through OPSB.

With estimates running over $400,000 for one year of busing, the transportation line item will no doubt impact the school’s budget.

“It’s a $200,000 hit,” said Guidry.

In the end, Toranto said, busing costs will depend on enrollment.

Staffing Einstein 2 also hinges on enrollment. Toranto said she is currently accepting applications and setting up interviews with teachers.

Toranto said she has selected both school leaders. Glendalyn Lewis, a current Einstein teacher, will head Einstein 2 next year. Toranto, who will rise to CEO, said she has also selected her replacement at Einstein. She declined to name her successor, because she said the person is currently employed.

Bennett asked Toranto “in the spirit of transparency” for the school community when the principal would be named. Toranto said by April 1 or sooner.

Toranto said Einstein will hold an open house April 4 at 5 p.m. and she continues to promote the school in hopes of boosting enrollment.

As the school grows into a charter management organization, Bennett said it’s important that the governance committee recruit more board members.

“Our major priority is finding additional board members,” said Bennett.

Members Bennett, Laurin Jacobsen, Lauren Pigeon, Emily Danielson, Kathy Litchfield and Chuck Gasho were present. The meeting began at 6:13 p.m. and adjourned at 7:24 p.m.

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