Encino woman files petition for online charter school

Target: LVUSD

An Encino woman has proposed opening a charter school for kindergarten through 12thgrade students in the Las Virgenes Unified School District in a deal that includes online classroom options to accommodate families who travel extensively or celebrate many religious holidays.

The Las Virgenes Unified School District Board of Education heard the charter petition for the K12 Preparatory Academy on June 21, but will not deliberate on the proposal until the next meeting.

Sima Engelstein, an Encino resident, said the charter school would offer a “ unique” approach to education, especially for families who want a more flexible school program for their children.

The Charter Schools Act of 1992 allows groups of educators, community members, parents, or others to create an alternative type of public school that operates independently from school districts. Charter schools are funded with property taxes funneled through the state of California.

If, for instance, 100 students who attend a Las Virgenes school enroll in an approved charter school within district boundaries, the money ordinarily earmarked for those students would be deducted from the school district budget. The financial impact is the same as if students left the school district.

In the proposal, Engelstein said the charter would operate as a homeschooling program with “ learning coaches,” or parents or legal guardians who would be paid $225 per month per student.

“Learning coaches not only contribute to the educational one-on-one hands-on enrichment element, but also add to the social interaction and shared learning experience which is so important for the student,” Engelstein said in the proposal.

She added that the school would be able to accommodate parents who want a different school schedule “to meet their needs such as out of state travel and religious services.”

Engelstein is one of three potential founding members of the charter. Century City attorney Daniel Katz and Los Angeles Unified School District special education teacher Miriam Rosenbluth are also named in the petition.

According to the group’s mission statement, the school wants up to 262 students enrolled in the charter within five years.

“K12 Preparatory Academy will embrace the best practices of education and, through a series of proven approaches, provide students a sense of belonging, inner confidence and every (tool) necessary to succeed to adult life,” the group wrote in the petition.

Las Virgenes Unified School District Superintentndent Donald Zimring said in a subsequent interview with The Acorn that he assumes the charter application was made as a “commercial venture.” He said Engelstein intends to be the director of the school “and draw a substantial salary along with seeking state funds to cover her start- up costs.”

“To our knowledge, no one in our district has indicated they wished to participate in her program,” Zimring said.

According to Melenie Petersen, an attorney with Fagen, Friedman, and Fulfrost, a California law firm that specializes in education, charter schools can be operated by for-profit organizations as long as a budget is attached. The applicants outlined a five-year budget plan in the proposal, starting with the 2011/2012 school year at a cost of more than $836,000

The school district would be responsible for the supervision and oversight of the charter. Engelstein said the charter would reimburse the district up to 2 percent of their operating cost for these services. Petersen said in her experience, school districts spend far more than that in employee time providing oversight and services.

Craig Hochhaus, co-president of the Las Virgenes Educational Association, the teacher’s union, spoke against the proposed charter at the meeting.

“I have been on the Cyber Subcommittee for our district’s Curriculum Council for the past year, and a lot of progress has been made towards bringing online course options to students,” Hochhaus said. “We’re concerned that this charter proposal will address needs that we’re already close to satisfying. In fact, our district’s plan is to provide tailored curricular needs for students.”

Hochhaus had many questions about the proposed charter, including whether the group would extract full funding for a student who only wanted to take one online course during a school year, and whether the charter would meet prerequisites for future Las Virgenes courses.

Sandra Pope, co-president of LVEA, said independent study already gives parents flexibility in scheduling.

“We have met the needs for parents who need to be out of town,” she said.

“A charter can be denied if the board determines that it is not providing a new or improved level of service or meeting a need currently not met by the district,” Zimring said.

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