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September 17, 2014

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LOOKING IN ON: EDUCATION:

Governor to host backers of charter schools

Advocate calls for unity in face of state, big district moratoriums on applications

The State Board of Education may have put a temporary hold on new charter schools, but that isn’t stopping advocates from looking to the future.

The “Governor’s Summit on Charter Schools” will be held May 2 in Carson City, with discussion on the creation of a state association and policy development for the coming year.

The summit was organized by the State Charter School Leadership Team. Created by the governor’s office last year, the team includes educators, community leaders and lawmakers.

The daylong event will be held at the Plaza Hotel, followed by a reception at the Governor’s Mansion.

Nevada has had charter schools since 1999. So why isn’t there yet a statewide association?

“In the past getting schools going has been such a battle,” said Craig Butz, executive director of Odyssey Charter School in Las Vegas and a member of the state’s leadership team. “Everyone’s been busy looking out for their own things.”

But it’s never been more important for charter schools to find strength in numbers, Butz said. The state’s two largest school districts (Clark and Washoe) have moratoriums on new charter schools, and the State Board voted in November to follow suit, halting review of new applications.

“There are so many things lining up against us,” Butz said. “They can pay lip service to us all they want that they support charter schools, but their actions don’t show that.”

Clark County School Board and State Board members counter that the moratoriums do not reflect disenchantment with charter schools. Rather, given the limited resources and staff, it had become a costly burden to provide the proper level of support and oversight.

•••

Brother, can you spare a dime?

If the answer is yes, bring it to Dorothy Eisenberg Elementary School, 7770 Delhi Ave., Las Vegas, by Thursday. Students are collecting the coins for the American Cancer Society. About $100 worth of dimes fits in a 12-ounce soda can. The Eisenberg PTA and the Student Council hope to fill at least 30 cans, raising $3,000.

•••

When Clark County last saw Carlos Garcia in 2005, the former superintendent was speeding off in his new silver Audi coupe, the license plate “LIBRE” proclaiming his new freedom.

If proof were needed that Garcia has since settled happily into his job as San Francisco’s schools chief, how about this: The three-year lease is nearly up on the Audi, and he’s planning to trade it in for a Toyota Prius.

“Everyone’s pretty environmentally conscious here,” said Garcia, who is finishing his first year as San Francisco’s superintendent. “I gotta fit in.”

He still keeps tabs on what’s happening in Clark County, including the upcoming $9.5 billion bond measure. Garcia’s district is going to its own voters in the fall with a parcel tax proposal to increase teacher salaries.

Garcia has about 56,000 students to worry about, about a fifth as many as in his prior assignment. The biggest challenge may have been adjusting to San Francisco’s aging infrastructure, which is absolutely antiquated when compared with Clark County’s. The majority of the city’s schools are more than 50 years old, and most are not wired to support the latest educational technology. With the district facing declining enrollment and steep cuts in state funding, those fixes are going to be tough to make.

“I still tell people that Clark County is one of the top-notch school districts in the country,” Garcia said. “People don’t recognize how good they have it there.”

Though San Francisco has its challenges, some things are an improvement over Las Vegas.

During his five-year tenure in Clark County, Garcia said, there were “maybe 20” community organizations he worked with on a regular basis.

But now, “at last count, we were dealing with 300 of them,” Garcia said. “People here are more involved, and that’s to the credit of San Franciscans.”

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