Imagine School in the Valle

LAS VEGAS -- With budget battles brewing over schools and how much should be spent on them, many parents are turning to charter schools as another option. A charter school is a school that is publicly-funded by the state, but run privately by its own governing board.

Often, those schools will get help from an Education Management Organization to handle things like book-keeping and setting the curriculum. But what happens when the school decides it doesn't need the management anymore?

The Imagine School in the Valle opened in 2008, using just a few rooms at a YMCA. They had help from an EMO called Imagine that took care of hiring and accounting, and even found the school a building in Centennial Hills.

Three years later, the school's enrollment is in the hundreds and they are looking to get rid of Imagine.

"Imagine has tried to usurp our authority on many occasions, but this is the board's charter school," said school treasurer Ann Barnes...

"Imagine Schools took the financial risk, the financial up-front risk to secure that building long-term. The board is not at risk for that long term lease," said Imagine Schools co-founder Eileen Bakke...

At this point, there is no agreement between the two sides. Imagine is looking for a new school board and new kids to pay the rent on the building. The board has two years to re-up with Imagine or get out -- an option Anne Barnes says is fine with her.

"I feel relieved. I don't have to worry about the blood battles. We've had some real tough negotiations with Imagine and I'm relieved we don't have to go through that in the future," she said.

The state Board of Education says the Valle board is completely within its rights to operate the school without the management company, but they really do need a building. The possibility exists if they can't find one in two years, the school may have to dissolve, and neither side wants that.

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Nevada Education Department officials do not want an out-of-state company opening a second charter school in the Las Vegas Valley this fall, but they can’t prevent it...

At issue is Imagine School in the Valle...

In the past few months, state education officials have become increasingly concerned about Imagine Schools’ management of the North Las Vegas campus, citing a lack of qualified teachers, poor student performance and shoddy bookkeeping.

Charter schools receive the same per-pupil state funding as traditional public campuses, and officials say there have been enough problems at 100 Academy to convince them that spending taxpayer money on another Imagine school is a bad idea.

But in October 2006, when 100 Academy was just a month old, the state Education Board approved sponsorship of Imagine School in the Valle. So far, no one’s found an escape hatch that would allow the state to cancel the sponsorship. Education officials say the situation highlights yet another problem with the way the charter school approval process works.

“There are so many holes in the system to be patched,” said State Board of Education member Cindy Reid, chairwoman of the charter schools subcommittee. “Right now, it seems we are locked into sponsorship, despite new information that’s come to us after the fact.”...

...Imagine Schools has applications pending to open two additional campuses in the Las Vegas Valley.
The Nevada Education Department is recommending rejection of both applications, citing “serious deficiencies,” including Imagine’s shaky track record both locally and in other states. The charter schools subcommittee meets today, with a full board vote set for Saturday.

In October, the Clark County School Board considered revoking 100 Academy’s charter, but backed off when Imagine Schools forgave $285,000 in debt the school owed for its management. School Board members said they weren’t pleased that 100 Academy was spending 25 percent of its per-pupil funding — $1.2 million — on rent. The landlord is School House Finance LLC, an affiliate of Imagine Schools. Board members also wanted 100 Academy’s principal to report to the governing body, rather than be an Imagine Schools employee...

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