District Stepping Up Oversight Of Charter Schools

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The Washoe County School District is stepping up oversight of its eight charter schools after its experiences with a Sparks charter school that was shut down last week, officials said.

District officials wanted charter schools to succeed and were more lenient when they were permitted to open in 1998, district spokesman Steve Mulvenon said.

But he said the school board's attitude began to change after problems with the Nevada Leadership Academy. Board members voted last week to close the school for not complying with accounting and budget guidelines.

The district now is demanding tougher accountability of charter schools and putting more pressure on staff to better enforce state laws governing the schools.

"We weren't doing anybody favors by trusting verbal assurances,"Mulvenon told the Reno Gazette-Journal."The mood became, `If these schools are going to succeed, we have to strictly enforce the laws and follow the law scrupulously.'"

Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack McLaughlin said state law on charter schools also has become more defined in recent years.

"The statutes have become clarified and give exact dates, timelines and requirements _ far more than a couple of years ago,"he said.

Jill Wells, principal of I Can Do Anything Charter High School in Reno, said she's noticed stricter procedures since her school opened five years ago as the state's first charter school. It now enrolls nearly 400 students.

"The district's expertise has improved and they're accepting that responsibility more and more,"Wells said."They're getting better at their jobs."

But Ben Karaduman, executive director of the Coral Academy of Science, said laws still are too vague and district officials seem to"keep coming up with different things"to find wrong.

He said the district alleged the school didn't make teacher books available, but nobody ever asked for the books.

"There are a lot of gray areas and contradiction of state law and charter law,"Karaduman said.

Charter schools are public schools funded by tax dollars. They are empowered to use innovative teaching methods, but must adhere to most of the same financial and education standards as public schools.

Under state law, the school district has the power to revoke the charter if standards are not met.