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Einstein up again

Saugus Union hears third charter petition from Albert Einstein Academy

Posted: September 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.
About 100 people attend a meeting of the Saugus Union School District board in Valencia regarding the proposed Einstein Academy charter on Wednesday. About 100 people attend a meeting of the Saugus Union School District board in Valencia regarding the proposed Einstein Academy charter on Wednesday.
About 100 people attend a meeting of the Saugus Union School District board in Valencia regarding the proposed Einstein Academy charter on Wednesday.

After an hourlong discussion, Saugus Union officials are considering a third charter petition from the Albert Einstein Academy for Letters, Arts and Sciences, officials said Wednesday.

“If they address all of my concerns, then I’m required to approve it,” said Saugus Union board member Doug Bryce, discussing his take on the meeting.

“And I’ve been very vocal about what my concerns are,” he said, mentioning financial issues and special needs students.

About 100 members of the community attended to the special hearing, where the charter school’s officials submitted their petition to join the Saugus Union School District as a kindergarten-through-sixth-grade school.

“But we’ll see. We’ve got to continue to review the proposal,” Bryce said.

All charter schools must submit a petition that addresses 16 parameters set forth by the state’s Education Code, in addition to proving fiscal solvency.

Shannon Perches, who is slated to be the principal of the Einstein Academy’s K-6 school if the petition is granted, kicked off the school’s 20-minute petition by introducing Jeffrey Shapiro, the executive director for the charter’s supporting AELAS Foundation.

Shapiro opened his remarks by asking for a respectful tone for the hearing, a move that several board members said they appreciated.

“This isn’t a referendum on the Saugus Union board or on the charter,” Shapiro said after the meeting. “The petition should stand or fall on its merits — and if it’s judged solely on its merits, then the charter will be approved.”

After a 20-minute presentation, the board gave a brief pause to allow the two camps — those in favor of the petition, and those against it — a few minutes to organize.

The group of mostly parents and residents who spoke in favor of the petition repeatedly mentioned the needs the school addressed.

The opposition, which consisted of Saugus Union teachers and administrators, reiterated the quality of the district’s existing services.

The school was determined to gain a charter so it could meet the community need expressed by parents, Perches said after the meeting.

If the charter is denied: “We’ll go to (Los Angeles County), we’ll go to the state Board (of Education),” Perches said.

“We aren’t going to go away — because our parents really want this. Resistance is futile.”

The first charter attempt was pulled before Los Angeles County could consider the appeal of a Saugus Union denial. The second attempt was denied due to a concern over the application’s budget projections.

Past reports put the district’s cost of each charter petition at around $40,000 to $50,000, according to district officials.  

By most accounts, Wednesday’s meeting was a stark contrast from the charter’s last go-round through the petition process.

A lengthy hearing turned to a contentious debate and attacks on the board, Bryce said.

“It was much more controlled (this time) — there wasn’t the anger,” Bryce said.

“I think Mr. Shapiro starting out his comment the way he did was a good lead-in, and something we all appreciated.”

Patricia Conwell, a retired director of special needs services for Saugus Union, said she didn’t consider herself a member of either camp.

Her concern for the welfare of students was what brought her to the meeting. The charter’s two failed attempts were a red flag that drew her to the meeting, but she also seemed to have not yet made up her mind on the charter’s petition.

“(The board) will grant it if it meets all the needs and requirements,” Conwell said. “And if not, they’ll say why.”

District officials did not offer a date for when the decision would be made, other than to say they would contact the lead petitioner, Perches, and let her know.

District officials are obligated by law to respond to the charter within 60 days of the petition’s initial submission date, which was Aug. 27.


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