Schools
 

Einstein Charter Schools CEO Shawn Toranto resigns amid busing dispute

Einstein Charter Schools’ board of directors accepted the resignation of CEO Shawn Toranto at a meeting Tuesday night, two weeks after suddenly dropping its resistance to busing its youngest students.

The decision was met with applause by one of two parents at the meeting in the library at Einstein Charter School Sherwood Forest in eastern New Orleans. About 10 teachers and other staff members remained silent.

For the past six months, the charter network has been locked in a battle with the Orleans Parish School Board over Einstein’s decision to offer free, public-transit vouchers rather than bus children in grades six and under.

Two weeks ago, the school district announced it would start the process of revoking charters for Einstein’s two elementary schools.

That apparently got the board’s attention. Two days later, the board passed a resolution offering to provide “up to yellow bus transportation” to resolve the dispute.

“We were told from the administration that the parents did not want yellow bus service,” board member Durrell Laurent said after voting for that resolution. “After meeting with parents and talking with parents, I found out that’s not true.”

But there was no discussion about busing at Tuesday’s meeting. And although board chairman Chris Bowman said the board had received Toranto’s resignation letter Monday, it was not on Tuesday’s agenda.

The board immediately went into a closed-door session to discuss Toranto, who was not there, and its ongoing lawsuit with the school district over busing.

They met privately for two and a half hours. Then the board welcomed the public back in and said Toranto had resigned. They added an item to the agenda to approve her resignation and unanimously accepted it without discussion.

The board also added to the agenda the appointment of an interim CEO, Chief Strategy Officer Dan Davis. That too was approved unanimously without discussion.

Those decisions took less than four minutes.

State law requires public bodies such as school boards to notify the public of meetings at least 24 hours in advance. That notice must include an agenda for the meeting, with each agenda item to be “described with reasonable specificity.”

The law does allow items to be added to an agenda if the board votes to do so.

Bowman also established a CEO search committee, which will determine the timeline and process for finding a permanent leader.

“The students, parents, teachers, and staff of Einstein Charter Schools should know that there will be no disruption in school services as we begin testing and prepare for the conclusion of this academic year,” the board said in an announcement sent late Tuesday night.

The announcement described Toranto’s move as a “request to retire and to resign effective immediately.”

The board thanked her for 30 years as an educator in New Orleans public schools and for leading Einstein, which serves a large number of students in eastern Orleans who don’t speak English as their first language.

“We are proud and grateful for her service to these children and these schools in bringing quality, public education to an often neglected segment of our city,” the board said.

Einstein has four schools; three have a C rating from the state, one has a D.

Parent Cristi Fajardo applauded the board’s decision and wondered what has happened to all the money Einstein saved on busing. “They carry heavy books home when we don’t have transportation,” she said.

The school district learned Einstein relies on public transit after a parent complained at a meeting in August.

The district maintained that its contract requires the charter group to provide busing by a vehicle approved by a particular state policy, although the policy doesn’t actually say what types of vehicles are acceptable.

Einstein argued that free public-transit vouchers met the transportation requirement.

The charter group has estimated it saves about $523,000 a year by using public transit.

Last fall, the school district told the charter network to hire a transportation company and start busing the week after Thanksgiving.

In response, Einstein’s board authorized Toranto to take legal action against the school district. The matter soon wound up in court.

Two weeks ago, Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. told parents in a letter that Einstein had refused to follow laws ensuring all students can get to school.

“Einstein Charter School leadership must make a decision,” he wrote. “They must follow the contract signed with the district by providing the required transportation or face the consequences.”

Help us report this story     Report an error    
The Lens' donors and partners may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover.
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.