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Charter operator calls to end Little Rock work

CEO of Louisiana-based 4-school system resigns as board faces bus lawsuit by Cynthia Howell | April 10, 2018 at 4:30 a.m.

A New Orleans news organization is reporting that the board of directors for Einstein Charter Schools has authorized its new interim chief executive officer to end its plans to expand into Arkansas.

Einstein Charter Schools received approval from the Arkansas Charter School Panel and then the state's Board of Education in 2017 to establish an open-enrollment charter school later this summer within the boundaries of the Little Rock School District.

The charter school system's plan called for a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school to be housed in the Little Rock School District's former Garland School, 3615 W. 25th St. The school building had been all but abandoned by the Little Rock district before the city school system sold it to KLS Leasing LLC -- a company owned by the Walton Family Foundation of Bentonville, one of the nation's foremost promoters of charter schools.

The Lens, an online nonprofit public-interest organization that focuses on investigative and explanatory journalism, reported late last week that Shawn Toranto, chief executive officer for the four-school Einstein system, had resigned and that Daniel Davis was appointed by the system's board of directors to fill the vacancy.

Toranto's resignation comes at a time in which the Einstein system is attempting to resolve a lawsuit filed earlier by the Orleans Parish School District against the charter system for failing to provide school bus services to the charter school system's elementary pupils. Instead, the system offered passes to children and their parents for city transit.

At a meeting last Friday, the charter system's board voted to hire a school bus service, according to The Lens article.

At the same meeting the board passed a resolution authorizing Davis to "terminate all efforts for replication of the school in Arkansas where practicable."

Arkansas Education Commissioner Johnny Key said Monday afternoon that he had heard rumblings about the leadership changes in Einstein Charter Schools.

"Usually, if something like that happens that impacts a school plan, the [state's] charter office would be the first one to get it. We'll check on it," Key said.

Key said he did not believe the school planners would have received any state funding for the Little Rock campus at this point.

"There are no startup grants right now from the state," he said. "In the past there was federal money that was used for startup for charters but we haven't had that probably in two or three years."

Kathy Smith, senior program manager for the Walton Family Foundation, said late Monday afternoon that she had not received any official word about the Einstein system's plans for the Little Rock campus. She is scheduled to speak to system leaders today.

KLS Leasing is in the midst of extensive renovation work to the early 20th century Garland school building for lease to the charter system.

The lease payments made by the charter school would -- in five to seven years -- go toward the purchase of the school building by the charter school operators, Smith said last year.

Einstein Schools in the New Orleans area serve as many as 1,400 students -- of whom 92 percent are from poor families and 32 percent are English-language learners. Over seven years, 100 percent of the schools' end-of-year algebra I test-takers have scored at proficient levels, Toranto told the Arkansas Charter Authorizing Panel last year.

School planners intended to open the school with no more than 300 students in kindergarten through third grades and then add one grade a year through eighth grade.

The Einstein programs focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics. School planners said last year that instruction would be a blend of traditional teaching and digital lessons. The school would have a nearly 1-to-1 ratio of students to electronic devices. Teachers who do not have state licenses would have one year to acquire that credential.

As for transportation, the school planners told the Arkansas education leaders that transportation, including reimbursed bus passes, would be offered. Three free meals and two snacks would be provided daily for every student, according to the Einstein application.

Metro on 04/10/2018

Print Headline: Charter operator calls to end LR work


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