After another lengthy round of petitions, interviews and campus visits, staff from the Los Angeles County of Education (LACOE) is recommending that the Los Angeles County Board of Education deny a charter petition appeal submitted by Santa Clarita’s Albert Einstein Academy of Letters, Arts and Sciences (AEALAS).
The decision on Einstein, which serves students in grades 7 to 12, will be officially determined at the Board of Education’s meeting Tuesday.
“As expected they recommended that the Board deny our appeal,” Albert Einstein CEO Maggie Ford said. “This decision was expected and we have been preparing our response for many weeks.”
According to a 32-page staff report on the charter’s five-year renewal petition, the county superintendent and the district staff recommended a denial based on past performance, Education Code and the California Code of Regulations.
County education staff reported that Albert Einstein presents an unsound educational program for students to be enrolled in the school, is unlikely to successfully implement the proposed educational program and does not provide a reasonably comprehensive description of all required elements in a charter school petition.
The final decision is expected to come nearly one month after the school’s public hearing with the County Board of Education on April 18 and a little more than two months after the William S. Hart Union High School District’s denial of the charter renewal on March 1.
Staff from the Los Angeles County of Education agreed with the same issues raised by the Hart Governing Board, according to an agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting.
These reasons include: concerns regarding the school’s racial and ethnic balance, performance among all student groups, unrealistic financial and operational plans, delinquent audits and a lack of transparency with the school’s involvement with the larger Charter Management Organization (CMO) AEALAS Inc.
Ford said the report created by LACOE is meant to dig deep and thoroughly into the school’s academics, operations and finances, but that it does not tell the whole story of the charter school.
“It is our job to tell the rest of the story,” CEO Ford said. “Our school is an academically rigorous, operationally sound and financially solvent organization. We are a safe haven for all students and have a dedicated and highly qualified staff.”
Ford said Albert Einstein staff are preparing a rebuttal to the report and are “confident” that they will be successful in their rebuttal before the Los Angeles County Board of Education. She also believes they will be successful in seeking renewal.
If denied by the LACOE Governing Board, however, it is unknown yet whether Albert Einstein officials will appeal the decision to the State Board of Education.
According to LACOE, the board can deny a charter appeal if it creates written factual findings to support one of more grounds for denial and to highlight the charter’s failure to meet criteria in the Education Code.
County staff cited concerns about the school’s past performance in academics, finances and operations.
In regards to academics, the report stated that the school’s successes in student achievement are not equal across all student groups with achievement gaps among different ethnic groups.
LACOE also noted that Albert Einstein’s demographics do not mirror those of the Hart District, serving fewer low income and English Learner students, as well as having fewer students with disabilities in their school.
County staff members had concerns that there were no English Language Development program, no special education program and no comprehensive descriptions of student intervention measures.
LACOE staff also noted many concerns with the finances, both past and present, of Albert Einstein.
“Over the past few years, the authorizing district has noted Einstein has not complied with the terms of its charter or legal requirements, including the failure to complete its 2013-14 and 2014-15 annual audits by the statutory deadline,” the report read.
These financial concerns include negative net assets, a lack of appropriate fiscal policies relating to intercompany dealings, delinquent audits and outstanding loans and settlements.
In 2014, Albert Einstein was the subject of an extraordinary audit, or Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team (FCMAT) audit. It raised concerns about possible fraud, misappropriation of funds and illegal practices due to a lack of internal control in the organization.
This concern was also due to the school’s operation under its charter management group, with funds being diverted to the organization, its foundation and other schools.
AEALAS Inc. operates three other schools in Los Angeles County, including Agua Dulce and STEAM in Valencia, and one in Westlake, Ohio.
The corporate identity owes money to the Albert Einstein charter and its structure creates a concern for the local governance and management of the charter school.
Currently in its seventh year of operations, AEALAS has an enrollment of 465 students in grades 7 to 12.
Its charter was first authorized in 2010 by the Hart Governing Board for two years before it was reauthorized in 2012 for a five year term.
In its March 1 denial, the Hart District first cited increases in pupil academic achievement for all student groups as the “most important factor” for renewing its charter.
Ultimately, the school denied the charter because the school’s “troubled governance and management, together with a lack of transparency and conflicts of interest, result in a lack of accountability and unsatisfactory outcomes for students and the public.”
The school then appealed the district’s decision to the County Board of Education the following week. LACOE then had 60 days from receiving the charter petition to make its final decision on the school.
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