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August 1, 2014

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School Board rejects bid for charter sponsorship

For the second time in as many weeks, the Clark County School Board voted Thursday to reject a request for charter school sponsorship on the grounds that a private, out-of-state company appeared to be the driving force behind the application.

Clark Nevada Charter School supporters say they want to open an elementary school to serve minority students in an economically depressed area of western Las Vegas, employing Imagine Schools Inc., a Florida-based company, to operate the program. Imagine Schools, a private, for-profit education management company, has charter schools operating in nine states.

Nevada statute requires that local community members make up the governing body of charter schools and be directly involved in the application process. Charter schools may contract with outside companies, both for-profit and non-profit, for services, but must retain overall control.

In a 6-1 vote, with member Shirley Barber dissenting, the School Board accepted the recommendation of district staff members to reject the application.

Members of the district's charter school review team raised several concerns in a memo including that "Information, responses to questions and revisions to the application were provided solely by the contact person from the education management organization (Imagine Schools)."

On the company's Web site, Imagine Schools describes its programs as offering "strong moral development in a nuturing and orderly learning environment."

Mel Davis, a blackjack dealer at Harrah's and member of 100 Black Men, said his group began discussing the idea of starting a charter school after tutoring students at three elementary schools in a predominantly black area near Bonanza Road and Martin Luther King Boulevard.

"They (Imagine Schools) were introduced to us and we felt it would be a good fit," Davis said. "They would meet our kids' needs and challenge them in the way they need to be challenged."

The proposed arrangement between the community group and Imagine Schools appears to violate state statute, which prohibits automatic renewals in contracts between charter school governing bodies and management companies. District officials said their repeated requests that the clause be removed from the contract were not followed.

"The governing body needs to retain the authority to fire the education management organization anytime they want to," said Tom McCormack, charter schools consultant for the Nevada Department of Education.

At their March 31 meeting, School Board members rejected an application from the Nevada Strict Discipline Academy for charter school sponsorship, citing concerns about the involvement of a Michigan-based education management organization.

Organizers of the the academy said their charter school plans were not contingent on the involvement of the Michigan organization and they would likely re-work and re-submit their application.

Vickie Frazier-Williams, vice president of business development for Imagine Schools, addressed the School Board at Thursday's meeting. Following the vote Frazier-Williams and Davis both said they planned to reapply to the district for sponsorship within 30 days.

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