The Einstein Group, a charter network that operates four schools in New Orleans East, announced Monday that it will cut its ties with Scholars First, a school bus company accused by state officials of submitting fake insurance documents.
Einstein is one of five charter school organizations in the city that contracted for bus service with Scholars First, which has come under scrutiny after a series of stories by WWL-TV alleged that the company lacked insurance on its buses and falsified insurance documents.
Einstein Group CEO Michael McKenzie said the network's board would vote on switching companies at a meeting Tuesday. If the board approves, the schools will use another company, A&S Transportation, starting April 17.
In addition to Einstein's four schools, Scholars First currently brings children to schools operated by New Beginnings Schools Foundation, Foundation Preparatory, Rooted School and Success Preparatory Academy.
The Orleans Parish School Board said last week that all of those charter schools verified that they have active, valid insurance for their Scholars First buses.
The decision by Einstein to cut ties with Scholars follows a move from Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon last week to serve cease and desist orders to officials with the bus company. The orders prevented the company from using false insurance documents but didn't bar it from operating.
The bus companies must provide proof of insurance coverage when signing contracts with New Orleans charter organizations.
"The recklessness of this action by parties who are charged with the care of children is inexcusable, and the (Department of Insurance) stands ready to support our law enforcement partners as this investigation moves forward," Donelon said of the allegedly falsified documents.
Donelon told WWL-TV that he passed his findings on to criminal investigators from the Louisiana Insurance Fraud Task Force, a partnership between the State Police, Attorney General's Office and Insurance Department.
State law says that anyone found guilty of forging insurance documents can face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, while anyone knowingly possessing them can face up to six months in prison and a $500 fine.
The TV station found that Scholars First issued fraudulent insurance documents to New Beginnings, Einstein Charter Schools and Success Prep.
At New Beginnings, which operates Kennedy High, Pierre Capdau and Medard Nelson schools, documents related to a bus contract with Scholars First became part of a broader controversy when the organization's CEO, Michelle Blouin-Williams, was suspended with pay after being accused of falsifying public records.
The board has hired the law firm Adams and Reese to look into allegations that Blouin-Williams altered minutes of public meetings to make it appear that the board approved the million-dollar contract in 2017 even though at least one former member said she didn't see it, according to WWL-TV. The issue also did not appear on the original meeting agenda.
The board is supposed to approve any contract worth more than $75,000 before it takes effect.
Separately, the charter school leader was accused of grade-fixing.
In addition to the New Beginnings schools, students at several other schools were riding on buses that officials say weren't property insured. Those include Einstein Charter’s Einstein High and Einstein Middle, Einstein Charter Sherwood Forest and Einstein Charter Village de l’Est schools, as well as Success Prep’s single school, Success Prep Academy at Thurgood Marshall.
On Monday, Foundation Preparatory and Success Prep said they will be keeping their contracts with Scholars First, at least for now.
"At this time, we continue to use Scholars First for bus transportation," Foundation Prep's leader, Myrialis King, said in an email. "The insurance documents they provided us were verified and found to be current."
Adam Meinig, the executive director of Success Prep, said the school is "actively monitoring the situation" with Scholars First while "exploring all options with students' safety being our number one priority."
New Beginnings Schools Foundation and Rooted School, which also contract with Scholars First, didn't respond to requests for comment.