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Einstein Academy Officials Appeal Charter To LA County

DOWNEY -- Los Angeles County Office of Education board members heard about 30 minutes of discussion Tuesday at a public hearing that provided Einstein Academy for the Letters, Arts and Sciences another chance to petition for a kindergarten-through-sixth-grade charter school in Santa Clarita.

After testimony from those in favor and opposed to the charter school had wrapped up, the meeting turned slightly contentious, as county board member Doug Boyd began asking a series of pointed questions at Saugus Union School District Superintendent Joan Lucid.

Lucid attended the meeting along with Saugus Union board member Judy Umeck and Debbie Rocha, president of the district's teachers association, representing the opposition to the charter school.

An Einstein K-6 petition has been denied three times by the district, once by the Newhall School District and another time by the Los Angeles Unified School District.

After a heated back-and-forth, Boyd ultimately asked Lucid if there was any chance the district and the academy could work out a charter, to which Lucid replied, "I don’t believe that a working relationship is anywhere on the horizon."

If the county were to approve the charter, oversight of the school would fall to Los Angeles County staff, according to Kevin Korenthal, AELAS spokesman.

Dozens of Einstein Academy students and their parents clad in school T-shirts made the 52-mile drive from Einstein Academy's Kelly Johnson Parkway campus. Several spoke of positive experiences at Einstein, and negative experiences at other local public schools.

However, Rocha noted that none of the cautionary tales offered had to do with Saugus Union schools.

During the opposition, Umeck mentioned having a relative who attended the academy's high school, and said the denials were nothing personal against the charter; however, she also found the accusations of anti-semitism launched against Saugus Union's board during a previous petition hearing completely unacceptable.

District officials noted the low percentage of students with disabilities and English language learners in Einstein's Academic Performance Index scores, in relation to the average number of such students in Saugus Union schools. Access for all students, such as English language learners, has also been a concern mentioned by several local school officials. A school’s API is a state-assigned score that gauges school performance on standardized testing.

But Bill MIranda, CEO for the local chapter for the Latino Chamber of Commerce, said that simply shouldn’t be a concern with Einstein. Since the school follows a lottery system that randomly selects students, accusations that the school only caters to certain types of students are false, he said.

AELAS Executive Director Jeffrey Shapiro started the hearing by laying out the school's petition for county board members, followed by testimony from students and parents in the EInstein Academy community.

During the previous petitions to the local districts, Saugus Union officials repeatedly questioned the soundness of the charter's financial plan, and Einstein officials have countered that no genuine effort has been made by the district to give them a chance.

For the county's review, Einstein officials provided an audit of their records, which Boyd mentioned during his questioning.

"We have to follow the law," Lucid said, adding the petition had to be assessed as it was presented, and there was no bond money on the books or a financial audit when district staff completed its extensive review of Einstein.

Einstein recently sold a nearly $6.4 million bond that paid off the school’s high school campus and provide its governing foundation funds needed to expand facilities. The school is currently a 7th- through 11-grade school that will add a 12th grade next year.

Einstein Academy scored a 908 on the state’s Academic Performance Index scale in 2011, which rates schools’ ability to improve student scores on the state’s annual benchmark testing. In 2012, the school earned a 910 on the 0-1,000 scale.

LACOE board member Thomas Saenz, seated directly opposite Boyd across the seven-member board, thanked Saugus Union officials "for making the long drive," as the hearing wrapped up.

"We hear a lot of these charter petitions where the school district doesn't even bother to show up," he said.

Without missing a beat, LACOE board President Rudell Freer looked at both ends of the dais from her seat in the middle and tried to end the hearing on a slightly lighter note.

"Well, there's two opposite ends of the spectrum, literally," she joked.

The board wrapped up its session by noting that it would have decision within the state-required 60-day time period for review.