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Einstein board waiting for former Intercultural Charter School’s campus to be fixed

Einstein’s chief executive officer said she is happy to have 400 students enrolled at what will soon be the charter organization’s second school, but she vows she will not move children into a substandard facility.

Mold, rotting floors and construction delays have prevented the move, and CEO Shawn Toranto’s teachers are supposed to report in just three weeks.

Toranto is ready to get the ball rolling on the 2013-2014 school year and finally move into Intercultural Charter School’s former campus,  5316 Michoud Blvd. Intercultural’s charter was not renewed and Einstein is slated to take over and turn around the school with the help of a $1 million grant.

“As you know the facilities have not met our standards,” Toranto said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “By a long shot.”

Some New Orleans students have spent the years since Hurricane Katrina in modular buildings. A band-aid for a city of wind- and water-damaged schools, and something board members agree was widely known to be a temporary solution that has gone on far too long.

Einstein Extension will be housed in the former Intercultural modular campus on Michoud Boulevard.

The Recovery School District, which oversaw Intercultural, was already taking on repairs at the site but Einstein board members were concerned about the scope of work and ordered their own fungal assessment, which they passed on to the RSD.

“As a result, we have increased the scope of work at this site to include additional demolition, remediation, reconstruction and waterproofing of the Intercultural campus,”  Tiffany Delcour, chief of staff for services and operations at RSD, wrote in an email to Einstein leaders.

Delcour said the RSD has received final quotes on the work and planned to issue purchase orders for the “emergency procurement” earlier this week.

While Einstein leaders are happy the scope of work has been significantly expanded, Toranto says she will not allow children into the campus until the buildings are safe and free of mold.

“We will not accept a substandard facility,” she said.

In the email, Delcour wrote that the work is expected to be complete in part of the school by July 25, and the remaining work done by Aug. 1. But Toranto and board member Chuck Gasho aren’t willing to just take their word for it.

Gasho is asking that Einstein be able to clear the site with its own inspector before contractors close the walls of the buildings.

“Whoever inspected that and said it isn’t mold needs to be terminated,” Gasho said of the initial mold assessment and scope of work.

He said they are particularly concerned about moldy ductwork and vents, and that the independent specialist they hired also found mold behind some walls and baseboards.

“We should be a part of inspecting it, making sure it’s done,” said Gasho, “because once the walls are there, we don’t know what’s there.”

Einstein has already poured thousands of dollars into its facility at 5100 Cannes Blvd., money that board members believe should be reimbursed, at least in part.

On Thursday, Gasho informed The Lens that the charter had spent more than $200,000 fixing the school over the years. A portion of that was spent this fall after Hurricane Isaac damaged the school and flooded parts of it.

When asked if Einstein had sought reimbursement, Gasho said yes, in “as many ways as we know how.”

The board is planning to do a walk-through of the Michoud campus in the coming weeks and meet July 23 to vote as to whether it will accept the facility.

“We cannot inherit another building that we’re going to sink our money into,” Toranto said.

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About 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 to New Orleans in the fall of 2014 after covering education for the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with majors in journalism and social welfare and a concentration in educational policy studies.

  • nickelndime

    Since 2006, the “original” Einstein Charter is housed in the RSD-controlled Village d l’Est building at 5100 Cannes St. and recently signed off on a 2-year lease from the RSD to remain there (which includes the RSD-ICS facility). Now, Toranto and Gasho and the Einstein Board say they aren’t moving ICS students into the Michoud St. facility until it is fixed. So ICS students have been sitting in a moldy, substandard, health-hazard environment for the past 5 years, the irony of which is that ICS would have remained in this moldy environment (and also sunk money into it) if the RSD had renewed its charter instead of wheeling and dealing with the Einstein Board president Bennett and CEO Toranto. New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) – sitting OPSB member, Sarah Usdin’s “baby” – has worked very hard with the RSD to ensure that Einstein was awarded that 5th-stage $1,000,000 grant, and Toranto and the Einstein Board (chaired by Ryan D. Bennett, Firstline Schools Inc. Director of Teacher Development) have now (in the past few weeks) been caught unaware (sitting on their thumbs) of what ICS students were being housed in and what they (the OPSB and EINSTEIN) signed off on. Deputy Superintendent Padian has also got some ‘splainin’ to do, since she pushed (without so much as an advance committee meeting), this whole thing in front of the OPSB at its inaugural meeting.

  • nolacotton

    Einstein is also the charter school that was founded by a husband and wife team who thought the idea was to to give themselves jobs at the school, run the board and hire all their relatives so that they could line their pockets. Officials ended up having to run the Einstein duo out of the building for nepotism, racism, even accusations of abuse. You can learn more about it by doing a search of Midkiff and Einstein. What a joke.

  • nickelndime

    nolacotton – sounds to me like you have an axe to grind against the husband and wife team who were over at Einstein – Hm-m-m-m! I took your advice and looked it/them up. OMG!! OMG!! Sounds pretty serious to me! Tell me, where are they “doing time” and what did the ethics fines amount to? Sounds to me like there was some kind of political agenda going on and they were forced out for other reasons. Have you heard the saying, “The bigger the lie, the more people will believe it?” Maybe they couldn’t be “bought,” or worse yet, maybe they couldn’t be controlled by Adams and Reese attorneys (like Lee Reid who helped his law firm “earn” $40,000 off of Lycee in legal fees). I heard the husband and wife team were firecrackers. I’ll take firecrackers over what I am seeing in this city right now in public education. That’s dangerous (can’t be bought and/or can’t be controlled) in this corrupt city and state. Since Einstein “I” is housed in an RSD building already, how can Toranto and the Einstein Board now complain (3 weeks before people report to work) about taking 1 million in grant money from NSNO and act like they didn’t know what kind of facility the ICS (Einstein II) children were sitting in and how much toxic mold they were breathing?