Jim Clark: Charter schools and my opinion columns | SierraSun.com

Jim Clark: Charter schools and my opinion columns

I received the following inquiry from the Bonanza’s editor: “I’ve had a reader question me about your relationship with the Mariposa Academy, the building/property where it’s located … and whether or not you stand to gain anything financially from your previous promotion of a charter school in Incline Village and … if there’s a perceived conflict of interest in your columns over the years that have spoken highly of charter schools.” I’m happy to respond.

Having grown up in Southern California and spent my working career there I developed an admiration for Latinos. I learned to appreciate their culture, work ethic, devotion to family and many other characteristics.

In school many of my friends were Latinos. Later I worked for a bank that made a lot of real estate loans in East Los Angeles and I was impressed with the absence of delinquencies in that portfolio. Regardless of the economy it seems our Hispanic mortgagors would make any sacrifice to meet their contractual obligations.

I retired in Incline Village and in 1995 joined the Washoe County GOP volunteering as minority outreach chair. As such, in 1999, I attended the Northern Nevada Hispanic Chamber of Commerce installation of officers (incidentally then Assemblyman Brian Sandoval was keynote speaker).

At that meeting a young lady named Estela Levario announced her intent to run for county school board. Estela had won a Jefferson Award and other civic honors and exemplified my favorable impression of Hispanics. I introduced myself and offered to help her get Republican support.

She ran against incumbent Anne Loring in the 2000 election and conducted a spirited campaign but came in second. Estela then married Jesse Gutierrez, Executive Director of Nevada Hispanic Services and the two shared a dream of starting a charter school in which lessons would be taught in both English and Spanish so that language would not be a barrier to learning science and math.

The three of us decided to form Mariposa School. I bought land on Neil Road, across from Miguel Ribera Park, on which to locate the school. The application was approved in 2002, but as prospective landlord I had to resign from the board as a condition of approval. Mariposa Academy of Language and Learning is now 11 years old and I remain their landlord.

The school was recently awarded three stars by the State of Nevada, not bad for a student body of English learners in a high poverty area. Estela subsequently won a seat on the Washoe County School Board where she serves today.

Last year, Incline’s eLearning Café filed an application for a local charter school. Administrator Kathryn Kelly had in mind a center modeled after the eLearning Café where instruction would be “blended” between on-site instructors and the best e-curricula available.

Having had some experience with Mariposa, I volunteered to help along with IHS Principal Stacey Cooper, Georgette Porter and others. At the first formal meeting with the Nevada Charter School Authority we were told that under the present law a charter school has to be either a traditional school with student “seat time” or a virtual school where students’ academic progress is the only criteria.

In short, Kathryn’s plan could not fit into the Silver State’s mold. She therefore abandoned the application and expanded the eLearning Café into Reno.

In response to the conflict of interest question, charter schools are nonprofits so there is no ownership; board members do not receive compensation and every dollar of state money must be accounted for in an annual audit. There is no prospect of financial gain by charter school committees. Mariposa pays rent (most of which goes for loan payments), but I have never been on that school’s board.

My political opinion columns have supported all aspects of parent/student choice, including charter schools, home schooling and in some cases vouchers. Not all charters are academically excellent but the opportunity is there for a determined board and faculty. Reno’s Coral Academy consistently wins top honors.

Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates, and has served on the Washoe County and Nevada state GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at tahoesbjc@aol.com.

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