Board looks at handling of $50,000


A charter school applicant came under scrutiny Saturday as Nevada education officials questioned whether the school's administrators mishandled more than $50,000 in federal funds.

Imagine School at Mountain View got a $150,000 planning grant but spent a third of it after a June 30 deadline for using the money.

An additional $25,000 that was earmarked for library books was used for furniture, said Bill Arensdorf, who supervises charter schools for the Nevada Department of Education.

"This we cannot allow, so we have a problem with that," Arensdorf said during a state Board of Education meeting.

Kimberly Rushton, a lawyer representing Imagine School at Mountain View, disputed Arensdorf's findings as "fallacies" and argued that they involved differences in interpretation regarding accounting issues.

But Rushton said the school's governing board was willing to postpone its request for a tentative charter until it resolved its budget issues with state officials.

At the same meeting, the Board of Education gave tentative charter approval to a different applicant, Imagine School at Las Vegas, as long as it fulfilled stipulations regarding its budget, insurance and some contingency planning.

Charter schools are a hybrid of public and private schools. They offer free tuition and receive the same per-pupil public funding based on enrollment as regular public schools, but they're overseen by private foundations or parent groups that typically contract with an educational management organization.

The two applicants' relationship with its intended contractor, Imagine Schools of Arlington, Va., was a source of controversy at Saturday's meeting.

Arensdorf cited a letter from Assemblyman Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, who asked that the two applications not be approved unless they obtained a different contractor or until Imagine resolved financial and management issues surrounding the 100 Academy of Excellence, a charter school at 2341 Comstock Drive.

That charter school is operating under a financial deficit partly because of the rent it pays to Imagine Schools, whose subsidiary built and owns its $10 million building, state education officials have said.

Education officials also suspect that Imagine fired Hugh Wallace, the former principal of 100 Academy, because he was raising too many questions about the school's finances, according to a Department of Education e-mail that the Review-Journal obtained last month.

In the case of 100 Academy, Arensdorf quoted Munford as believing that too much of its money is going to its contractor and not enough is being spent on its students, who come from poor backgrounds.

Theodore Watkins, a member of the board of directors for 100 Academy, said he was stung by the allegations.

"Guess what. Words really do hurt," Watkins said.

He urged Munford to get involved and stopped criticizing.

"It's easy to cast stones," Watkins said. "It's not easy to participate."

He also disputed that 100 Academy was in a deficit but acknowledged the school was under hard times because of the economy.

Shaundell Newsome, a member of 100 Black Men of Las Vegas, a charity that has helped coordinate the Imagine charter schools in Clark County, also defended their educational contractor.

"Imagine hasn't made a dime on 100 Academy," Newsome said.

Anthony Ruggiero, the vice president of the Board of Education, said he was impressed that 100 Academy's teachers, parents and students also turned out to support the school and the other Imagine charter school applicants. He said they showed a willingness to work out budget issues.

In a separate board item, the board revoked teachers' licenses for four people convicted of crimes. They were Don Smith, a Clark County music teacher who pleaded guilty to attempted lewdness with a child; Michael Gogerty, a Pahrump teacher who pleaded guilty to receipt of child pornography; Kevin Kegel, a Lyon County teacher who pleaded guilty to having sex with a student, and Kimberly Tamburello, a Reno special education teacher who pleaded guilty to trafficking a controlled substance.

Robert Jensen, who was convicted of attempted possession of child pornography in Washington state, also lost his Nevada teaching license. Although he never worked here, he obtained a teaching license while he was under investigation in Washington state, said state Superintendent Keith Rheault.

The board postponed revoking the teaching license for Brent Storsved, because the former Boulder City teacher is appealing his conviction on a charge of unlawful contact with a child. But Storsved still cannot teach because his license has been suspended.

Saturday's meeting was the last for outgoing board President Marcia Washington, who became emotional and apologized to the public for missing the last six meetings. She said she had to take care of her ailing mother.

Contact reporter James Haug at jhaug @reviewjournal.com or 702-799-2922.