Albert Einstein Academy for the Letters, Arts and Sciences officials hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for their elementary school at a former Pinecrest school site in Santa Clarita this week.
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Einstein Academy’s efforts to open an elementary school have managed to divide Santa Clarita Valley legislators, earn the ire of education officials in several counties and even prompt several lawsuits from school districts.
But those in support of the school remain resolute and undeterred.
The school’s supporters called the opening a “victory for parents.” Education officials in three counties say AEALAS is ignoring the law, which is why the school has been hit with such opposition.
“This is a victory for parents in this community who’ve been wanting this for many years,” said Jeffrey Shapiro, executive director for Einstein Academy, of the elementary school’s opening. “Everybody involved with Einstein does this because of our commitment and belief in the community and to education.”
However, by obtaining permission to operate from outside of the districts that denied their requests to operate, San Diego and Los Angeles county officials have accused the school of ignoring their respective district’s concerns and usurping local control.
AEALAS officials, as well as Acton-Agua Dulce officials, have consistently claimed their actions are legal, even while legislators move to change what the school’s opponents are calling a loophole, with the passage of SB 1263.
“This particular charter school circumvented the law entirely by going to a neighboring school district,” said Erin Evans, a legislative consultant hired to advocate for SB 1263, a bill authored by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Calabasas, who represents portions of the Santa Clarita Valley.
“It’s sort of like if the LAPD policed the streets of Santa Clarita,” Evans said of the Acton Agua Dulce Unified School District approval of the Pinecrest site. “The way we see it, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
While the move is legal under the state’s Education Code, Newhall School District officials said attempts by the cash-strapped AADUSD to site charter schools outside its own boundaries nullifies its constitutionally granted right to oversee public education within its boundaries.
Education officials’ statewide efforts to address their concerns legislatively with SB 1263 have split the views of the Santa Clarita Valley’s representatives, with state Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, expressing opposition to Pavley’s bill in recent interviews.
Santa Clarita Valley education officials testified in front of the Assembly Education Committee that county and state agencies both claimed to have no authority to intervene on behalf of the school districts.
County education officials ultimately did put several of AADUSD’s charter school approvals on hold, but the actions had to do with concerns about the school district’s finances.
Wilk has met with both sides repeatedly to discuss the issues related to SB 1263, he said.
While he considers the Acton-Agua Dulce Unified District a “bad actor” for its proliferation of charter school approvals outside of its boundaries, he saw the legislative solution proposed as a targeting of the elementary school, which he didn’t think was right.
“I’m the first to tell you that there’s a problem in the way (AADUSD) has been operating,” Wilk said, “but you don’t create legislation that one hurts school districts across the state and targets one specific school.”
Both Wilk and Knight suggested an amendment to state’s Education Code allowing county governance to provide oversight of charter schools with a mechanism to enforce the current law.
As the law stands now, Einstein officials were able to seek approval from the Los Angeles County Office of Education after the Saugus Union School District twice denied petitions. However, when it appeared as though LACOE also might deny Einstein’s petition over program concerns, the school went to AADUSD, which granted the approval that led to the Einstein elementary at the old Pinecrest location.
“What we have here is a charter school that was denied because it didn’t have a proper program in place to serve English learners and special needs students,” Evans said, adding the bill should be voted on the Assembly floor by the end of next week.
If the bill is successful there, it could head back to the Senate for a concurrence vote, and with a passing vote, then sent to the governor’s desk.
The bill, if signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, could prevent Einstein Academy from operating at a site outside of the Acton Agua Dulce Unified School District, Evans said.
The bill states a charter school could continue to operate a facility outside the boundaries of the chartering school district if both of the following apply: The charter school was authorized before April 1, 2013; and the charter school operated that facility with pupils enrolled and attending before Sept. 15.
Einstein Academy received conditional approval from AADUSD in May 2013.
AEA’s elementary school plan faced rejection from three districts before going to AADUSD, citing various concerns, and denied permission for its previous location in Valencia based on the concerns of Santa Clarita city planners.
After the Los Angeles Unified, Newhall and Saugus Union school districts (twice) turned down petitions to open a charter school, Einstein Academy sought approval from Acton Agua Dulce Unified School District to open a location outside that district’s physical boundaries.
But the denials mattered little to Terry Collier, a parent with two children at the school’s new Pinecrest site.
The new site is more convenient, she said, and allows the school’s parents to becomes much more involved in school activities because of its proximity.
Collier also saw the four-year ordeal of Einstein officials leading up to the opening of the new site on Orchard Village Road as a lesson in perseverance for the school’s students.
“The fact is that we’re here — ‘Are they happy? Are they learning?’” she asked rhetorically, explaining what mattered to her as a parent. “And the answer is yes and yes. It’s unfortunate that these politics that are going on.”
Shapiro declined to comment on the lawsuits, saying the school’s “focus right now is on the beginning of the school year and getting our students into school and educating them,” he said.
Einstein Academy is currently in the various stages of development of eight sites, he said, and some of those are being challenged by lawsuits brought forth by local school districts.
“We’re thrilled that we’re able to bring quality programs to communities that want it,” Shapiro said, “including in Santa Clarita.”
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Source: Santa Clarita News