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Einstein Charter Schools May Lose Two Schools Over Busing Dispute

OPSB has begun the process of revoking Einstein Charter Schools' right to run two elementary schools.
Jess Clark
WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio
OPSB has begun the process of revoking Einstein Charter Schools' right to run two elementary schools.

Two New Orleans charter schools may lose their charters. The Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) says Einstein Charter Schools at Village De L’Est and Sherwood Forest must comply with its demands and start busing students or face management changes.

Einstein Charter Schools is a charter school group that runs four schools serving about 14,000 students, all in New Orleans East. OPSB says the network is not providing adequate transportation to students at its elementary school locations, citing district policy that OPSB says requires nearly all charter schools to provide regular yellow-bus transportation to and from school to students sixth grade and younger who live more than a mile from the school. Einstein maintains that its practice of providing Regional Transit Authority (RTA) tokens instead of school buses is in line with state law and district policy.

"Unfortunately, Einstein Charter Schools is refusing to provide appropriate transportation as required in its charter contract, despite OPSB’s continual efforts to compel compliance," the OPSB said in an emailed statement. "Therefore, the district will be moving forward with revoking Einstein’s charters at Village De L’Est and at Sherwood Forest. That means OPSB is beginning the process of terminating Einstein’s authority to run those two schools for next school year (2018-2019)."

The dispute between Einstein and the school board has been ongoing since September 2017, when at an OPSB outreach meeting a parent of two children at Einstein at Sherwood Forest told OPSB superintendent Henderson Lewis the school was not providing bus service and instead had offered to pay for RTA tokens for her 5-year-old and 10-year-old children.

WWNO reached out to the district to ask about that situation, and a few days later OPSB issued Einstein a letter of noncompliance. The letter required Einstein to contract with a bus company. After an out-of-court mediation devolved, the district sued Einstein and asked a judge to compel the school group to start busing kids. That litigation is ongoing, and a discovery hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Einstein Charter Schools says they will fight the charter revocation proceedings, and that they take issue with the school board's decision to begin the revocation proceedings while the dispute is still playing out in court.

"OPSB seeks to dictate to the court and will attempt to circumvent the legal process they initiated in order to force revocation of our charters," Einstein Deputy CEO Phong Tran said in a phone interview. "We ask them to stop this now, and respect the independence of our charter schools as well as the community it serves."

A spokeswoman for the school district says Lewis plans to make his final recommendation on whether to continue the revocation proceedings at the April school board business meeting. According to district policy, that decision would become final at the next board meeting in May, unless the board overturned Lewis' recommendation with a two-thirds majority vote.

However, the district says it remains open to halting the revocation if Einstein complies with its demands. 

"The district will continue to work in good faith with Einstein’s leadership to resolve this issue in a transparent manner, insuring fairness for both the school and for all families," the district said in a written statement.

The district's spokeswoman says OPSB has planned meetings with parents and staff of the two Einstein elementary schools over the next two weeks to discuss the revocation proceedings.

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