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December 20, 2014

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Closed charter schools must return money to state

The state Board of Education approved new regulations Saturday for the closure of charter schools, including requiring the organizations to return any remaining per-pupil dollars.

"We need to have provisions in place for a variety of scenarios," said Bill Arensdorf, director of fiscal accountability for the Nevada Department of Education.

Charter schools are organized by members of the community and must be sponsored by a local school district or the state Board of Education. The schools receive the same amount of per-pupil funding as traditional public schools but are given more freedom in curriculum and instructional methods.

Equipment or supplies purchased with funds from the state, local sponsoring school district or through a federal grant must stay on the premises of the charter school until an inspection is completed, Arensdorf said. That's to ensure that assets are used appropriately to satisfy any outstanding debts, Arensdorf said.

Charter schools are also required to notify the state, the sponsoring school district -- as well as students, parents and employees -- in writing of the closure. The governing body of a charter school must also ensure that a permanent record of each student enrolled in the school is kept in a separate file in a safe location.

Under the new regulation, if a teacher serving on a charter school's governing body fails to comply with the statute, that teacher's license could be suspended or revoked.

"This regulation simply brings some order to this (school closure) process, so they don't just close up shop one day and the kids have no idea where to go," said Craig Kadlub, the charter schools liaison for the Clark County School District.

The new rules, he said, were not prompted by any recent events but were "prudent forethought to ensure that in the event a school elects to close its doors the transition of students and resources occurs smoothly."

Saturday's vote marks the latest move by state education officials to strengthen their oversight of Nevada's charter schools. Last month the state board approved a bill draft request to ask the Legislature for the authority to deny a charter school application even if all of the statutory requirements have been met.

The state education department also plans to ask lawmakers to approve funding for additional staff to handle charter school-related issues, including applications, grant allocations, technical assistance and audits of curriculum and finances.

Tom McCormack, a consultant with the education department, is responsible for all 14 of the state's charter schools.

"It's too much work for one person, as good as that person may be," Arensdorff said.

When Gateways charter school in Fallon decided to close its doors earlier this year the governing board came to the state education department for help, Arensdorf said.

"They asked us what they were supposed to do and we realized we needed to develop a check list of sorts for a school to follow," Arensdorf said. "We started out looking only at voluntary closures but it then it made sense to include regulations for involuntary closures as well."

Some of the regulations grew out of the education department's own experiences, Arensdorf said.

In 2000, when TechWorld Academy charter school closed after just nine weeks of operation in Clark County, families and staff were not properly notified, Arensdorf said.

"TechWorld closed on a Friday and on Monday the kids showed up and the door as locked," Arensdorf said. "We had to help the Clark County School District locate all the records in order to get those students into other public schools."

Since the state first began allowing charter schools in 1997 there have been three charter schools that have closed -- TechWorld, Gateways and Nevada Leadership Academy in 2003, a Washoe County charter school backed by state Sen. Maurice Washington, R-Sparks.

The state Board of Education is poised to become the sponsor of four new charter schools when the 2004-05 academic year begins in August, making the need for additional staff even more pressing, Arensdorf said.

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