Five new Las Vegas charter schools were due to open in August. Now there will be only two.
The other three are Sage Collegiate Public Charter School, Eagle Charter Schools in Nevada and Collegiate Charter School in Las Vegas – postponed opening until fall 2022.
Schools, which all plan to serve students across the Las Vegas Valley, are struggling to find property or land within their budgets in the competitive real estate market.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also significantly impacted several schools that were originally scheduled to open in the next school year, said Rebecca Feyden, executive director of the Nevada Public Charter Schools Office.
“This includes everything from community outreach to supply chains and equipment,” she said via email. “SPCSA looks forward to working with governing bodies and school leaders at these approved schools to ensure a successful launch in fall 2022.”
Sage Collegiate received government approval in June reschedule the opening date to August 2022 due to low enrollment and delays in the provision of services in the first year of study.
Sandra Kinne, lead founder and CEO of a small, independent school, said the opening date was the smartest and most financially sound decision ever.
“We thought it’s better to postpone so that we can really focus on completing a really powerful object to discover, rather than trying to reach even the smallest enrollment goals,” Kinne said. “It was not an easy decision.”
She admitted that it was “really frustrating” for families who were excited about school and planned for their children to start school in August.
Long waiting lists
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.
The state currently operates 67 school campuses, about 80 percent of which are in Southern Nevada, and more than 53,000 students.
Over the past five years, the state approved zero to five new charter schools annually. There is no limit on how many new schools the statutory body council can approve, although legislation passed in 2019 requires a growth management plan.
The proposed new schools should show how they meet academic or demographic needs. Many of those newly enrolled in school and approved by the state are striving to serve high-poverty areas.
New schools are allowed to operate in one or more zip codes, and must find an object within those boundaries, unless they ask the state for permission to inspect the surrounding areas.
Finding land to build or a property to rent or buy that fits within the budget of a startup charter school can be a challenge.
Petra Lach, president of the Commercial Alliance Las Vegas, the commercial arm of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors, said she was not surprised to find new charter schools running into problems building or finding a property.
Lach said school officials would be better off working with local municipalities to see if they own properties available for renovation.
The urge to open a school before locating is putting the “cart before the horse,” said the appraiser Lach.
“The land market in which you compete for land is not conducive to the development of the school,” she said.
Charter schools often require a joint venture in which schools need someone to build a facility and then rent it out with a purchase option, Lach said.
“This is the more typical way this is all done,” she said, noting that schools are expensive to build and require a large initial investment.
However, new charter schools have a wide variety of building types to choose from – such as old office buildings, churches, retail stores, and commercial areas – although some facilities may require special permission to be used as schools.
Church buildings are very popular, Lach said, as they tend to be easier to convert into schools because many already have classrooms and parking lots.
As for downtown and downtown Las Vegas, in particular, there won’t be any vacant lots, unless it’s a lot that has been torn down or reassembled from small lots, Lach said. In addition, parcels tend to be smaller and probably not large enough for the school, she said.
Construction costs are also rising and unpredictable, she said.
Here’s a quick overview of the hurdles faced by three new charter schools in Las Vegas that have caused them to push back their opening dates:
Sage Collegiate applied to the state in 2019, but her new application to the school was rejected. The statutory body expressed concern about the proposed curriculum, organizational and financial plans for the school, as well as the lack of evidence of community involvement.
After submitting an edited application, the school was approved in November.
It plans to serve up to 168 kindergarten to second grade students in its first year and expand gradually through high school.
However, with less than two months left before school starts in August, Sage Collegiate’s enrollment rate was less than 50 percent of its first year’s enrollment target.
In May, the Sage Collegiate board of directors approved a use agreement with the Lied Memorial Boys & Girls Club for the 2021-22 school year. But now the school is looking for another institution, because in the fall it still won’t open.
Kinne, the school’s chief executive, told the Review-Journal that the school secured space in the building just a month before the government audit. “It wasn’t enough for us to get the student numbers to the right place in a month.”
“It is clear that families do not want to come to school without an address,” he added.
There weren’t many social events and opportunities to connect with future families other than social media, Kinne said.
Sage Collegiate executives are now considering “many different options” for their first academic year, Kinne said, such as getting state approval to open with more students and classes.
But first, “We absolutely need to find the object,” she said. “This has become the # 1 priority.”
It is difficult to secure land or a building, Kinne said, because the school does not have the credit history or capital needed to build a new facility immediately, and construction and renovation costs have increased during the pandemic.
Another problem: Sage Collegiate does not need as much building space during the first year as later, for example, the sixth year.
Despite obstacles, Sage Collegiate continues to serve students across three approved zip codes – 89107, 89108 and 89146, Kinn said.
That’s because there is a need, she said, noting that 60 percent of existing campuses with these zip codes are one or two-star schools. There is only one charter school in the area using a hybrid model with personal and online instructions.
University of Las Vegas
The University of Las Vegas is postponing its opening date for the second time due to the pandemic and equipment problems, Faiden told the statutory board in May, calling the situation unprecedented.
In December 2019, the Council of Authorities approved a new elementary school at the historic Westside of Las Vegas. It was originally planned to open in August last year.
The school received a West Bartlett Avenue facility last year, but is now looking again for building space after delaying its reopening due to uncertainty over the pandemic.
In January, the charter authority’s board approved the school’s request to expand the search scope within 1.5 miles of the approved zip code. But it didn’t work.
School founder and CEO Biante Gainous told the board of the statutory body in May, when the school ran out of all available options within the approved zip code 89106 or within half a mile to open this fall.
“Enrollment was definitely not a problem for us,” Gainous said, noting that there were many interested families.
Gainous said the school wants to serve low-income communities and will have to expect difficulty finding a building in its approved area.
The school considered options such as churches, former retail stores, former homes, business and corporate centers, a school that has closed, and the location of a boys and girls club.
Gainous said school leaders want to keep fighting to open the school. “Unfortunately, this is where we run into difficulties.”
In June, Council approved another request from the school – this time to allow searches for an item up to 4 miles from the approved zip code.
Las Vegas Collegiate officials did not respond to the Review-Journal’s request for comment.
Eagle Charter Schools
The statutory body’s board voted in January to approve the Eagle Charter schools in Nevada, which originally planned to open the campus in August.
But in February, Nick Fleige, a member of the school’s formation committee, told the board that the school intends to get permission to move the opening date to 2022.
“I think we have recognized a short runway” between January approval and the need to fully prepare the school building by August, he said.
In March, the board of authorities approved the school’s request to postpone its opening. The school plans to first serve children from kindergarten to fifth grade and then expand to eighth grade.
Flidge said in an email that the postponement of the school was “a direct decision based primarily on the timing of bylaws approval combined with the time needed to keep the site safe.”
“While Eagle is very keen and excited to serve students, the team recognizes that seizing the opportunity to defer to 2022 is a responsible and measured approach that will enable us to provide and improve a more suitable institution,” he said.