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Pandemic, real estate prices are forcing charter schools to delay openings

Five new Las Vegas charter schools were scheduled to open in August. Now only two will.

The other three – Sage Collegiate Public Charter School, Eagle Charter Schools of Nevada, and Las Vegas Collegiate Charter School – have delayed their openings until fall 2022.

Schools, all of which plan to serve students throughout the Las Vegas Valley, struggle to find a facility or land within their budget in a competitive real estate market.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also significantly affected several schools that initially planned to open for the next school year, said Rebecca Feiden, executive director of the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority.

“It includes everything from community outreach to supply chains and facilities,” she said via email. “SPCSA looks forward to working with the governing bodies and principals of these approved schools to ensure a successful launch in fall 2022.”

Sage Collegiate received state approval in June to extend its opening date to August 2022 due to low enrollment numbers and a delay in securing a first-year facility.

Sandra Kinne, senior founder and executive director of the small independent school, said postponing the opening date was the most prudent and financially sound decision.

“We thought it was better to postpone to really focus on finalizing a really solid setup for the opening rather than trying to scramble to meet even the minimum sign-up goals,” Kinne said. . “It was not an easy decision.”

It “really stinks” for families who were excited about school and planned for their kids to start in August, she admitted.

Long waiting lists

With three schools no longer opening this year, two new ones remain: TEACH Las Vegas and CIVICA Nevada Career & Collegiate Academy.

The state legislature authorized the creation of public charter schools in 1997. Since then, the number of campuses has grown rapidly and many schools have long waiting lists.

Today, the state’s charter authority oversees 67 school campuses – about 80% of which are in southern Nevada – and more than 53,000 students.

Over the past five years, the state has approved zero to five new charter schools per year. There is no limit on the number of new schools the charter board can approve, although legislation passed in 2019 is required to have a growth management plan.

New schools proposed must show how they meet an academic or demographic need. Many of the new applicants to the school, and those approved by the state, aim to serve areas of high poverty.

New schools are licensed to operate in one or more zip codes and must find a facility within those boundaries, unless they seek state permission to survey neighboring areas.

Finding land to build on or a facility to rent or buy that fits the budget of a start-up charter school can be a challenge.

Petra Latch, president of Commercial Alliance Las Vegas, the commercial arm of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, said it doesn’t surprise her that new charter schools are having problems building or finding a facility.

Latch said school officials would be better off working with local municipalities to see if they have any properties available for redevelopment.

Seeking to open a school without having already identified a site is putting the “cart before the horse,” said Latch, an assessor.

“The market in which you compete for land is not good for a school,” she said.

Charter schools often require a joint venture where schools need someone to build a facility and then lease it with an option to buy, Latch said.

“It’s the most common way to do these things,” she said, noting that schools are expensive to build and require a large initial investment.

New charter schools, however, have a choice of different types of buildings – such as old office buildings, churches, retail stores, and commercial areas – although some facilities may require a special use permit to be used. like schools.

Church buildings are a popular option, Latch said, because they tend to be easier to convert into schools as many already have classrooms and parking lots.

As for downtown and downtown Las Vegas in particular, there will be no vacant lots available unless it is a site demolished or assembled from smaller plots, Latch said. Plus, she said, the plots tend to be smaller and probably aren’t big enough for a school.

Construction costs are also on the rise and unpredictable, she said.

Here’s a look at the obstacles faced by three new Las Vegas charter schools that caused them to push back their opening dates:

Collegiate sage

Sage Collegiate applied to the state in 2019, but its application for a new school was denied. The charter authority expressed concerns about the academic, organizational and financial plans offered by the school, and the lack of evidence of local community engagement.

After submitting a revised application, the school was approved in November.

It plans to serve up to 168 kindergarten to grade two students in its first year and gradually expand through college.

With less than two months to go before school starts in August, however, Sage Collegiate was within 50 percent of its first-year enrollment goal.

Sage Collegiate’s board of directors approved a user agreement in May with the Lied Memorial Boys & Girls Club for the 2021-22 school year. But the school is now looking for another establishment since it will finally not open this fall.

The school was granted the building space just a month before a state enrollment audit, Kinne, the school’s executive director, told the Review-Journal. “One month was not enough to get us the enrollment numbers where they needed to be.

“We understand that families do not want to go to school without an address,” he added.

There were also not as many community events and opportunities to engage with potential families beyond social media, Kinne said.

Sage Collegiate executives are now considering a “different set of options” for its first school year, such as seeking state permission to open with more students and grade levels, Kinne said.

But first, “you absolutely have to find a facility,” she said. “It has become the number one priority”.

Securing land or a building is difficult because the school does not have a credit history or the capital to immediately build a new facility, Kinne said, and construction and renovation costs have increased during the pandemic.

Another challenge: Sage Collegiate doesn’t need as much building space in its first year as it does later, like sixth year.

Despite the hurdles, Sage Collegiate remains committed to serving students in its three approved zip codes – 89107, 89108 and 89146, Kinne said.

That’s because there’s a need, she said, noting that 60% of the existing campuses in those zip codes are one or two star schools. And there is only one other charter school in this region and it uses a hybrid model with in-person and online classes.

Las Vegas College

Las Vegas Collegiate is pushing back its opening date for the second time due to the pandemic and issues with facilities, Feiden told the charter authority’s board of directors in May, calling the situation unprecedented.

In December 2019, the board of trustees approved the new elementary school for Las Vegas’ Historic Westside. It was initially scheduled to open last August.

Last year, the school was granted a facility on West Bartlet Avenue, but is now back in search of premises after postponing its opening due to uncertainties surrounding the pandemic.

In January, the chartered authority’s board approved a request by the school to expand its search to less than 1.5 miles beyond its approved zip code. But it didn’t work.

The school’s founder and executive director, Bianté Gainous, told the chartered authority’s board in May that the school had exhausted all available options in its approved 89106 zip code or within a 1½ radius. miles in time to open this fall.

“Registration was certainly not a challenge for us,” said Gainous, noting that there were many families interested.

Gainous said the school wants to serve low-income communities and must expect challenges in finding a building in its approved area.

The school looked at options such as churches, old retail stores, a former pavilion, business and corporate centers, a school that has closed, and a boys and girls club.

Gainous said school leaders wanted to keep fighting to open the school. “Unfortunately, this is the time when we are in a rush.”

In June, the board approved another request from the school – this time, to allow it to search for a facility up to 4 miles from its approved zip code.

Las Vegas Collegiate officials did not respond to a request for comment from the Review-Journal.

Eagle Charter Schools

The charter authority’s board of directors voted in January to approve Eagle Charter Schools of Nevada, which originally planned to open a campus in August.

But in February, Nick Fleege, a member of the school’s training committee, told the board that the school intended to seek permission to extend its opening date to 2022.

“I think we have recognized the short track” between an approval in January and the need to have a fully ready school facility by August, he said.

In March, the board approved the school’s request to postpone its opening. The school plans to initially serve students from Kindergarten to Grade 5 and then expand through Grade 8.

Fleege said in an email that postponing the school was a “simple decision based primarily on when the charter is approved coupled with the amount of time it takes to secure a facility.”

“While Eagle is extremely eager and enthusiastic to serve students, the team recognizes that seizing the opportunity to defer to 2022 is the responsible and measured approach that will give us the opportunity to secure and improve a more secure facility. appropriate, ”he said.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. To pursue
@julieswootton on Twitter.



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