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Lawsuit adds to uncertainties at popular Las Vegas charter school

Updated July 10, 2020 - 4:33 pm

A popular Las Vegas charter school is embroiled in a legal battle with its parent company, adding to the uncertainties facing the school’s more than 2,000 students and families heading into the new school year.

After breaking ties with its management organization, American Preparatory Academy Las Vegas is being sued. American Preparatory Schools, a for-profit Utah corporation, filed the lawsuit June 24 in U.S. District Court in Nevada seeking to prevent the school from terminating the management agreement without cause, according to court documents.

APA Las Vegas’ board voted unanimously June 11 not to renew its contract with American Preparatory Schools, effective July 31. And the Nevada State Public Charter School Authority’s board voted June 26 to authorize the separation.

That leaves APA Las Vegas in a transitional period toward becoming a stand-alone charter school as it works to complete a reopening plan for the school year beginning next month. It also faces construction delays on a second campus that is supposed to open this fall.

The charter authority is closely monitoring the situation, Executive Director Rebecca Feiden said at a June 26 board meeting.

“I do believe that moving forward today will allow them to effectuate this change and allow them to move forward with that planning process,” Feiden told the board. “I want to be clear that staff does have a number of concerns about the content of those changes.”

Among the challenges facing the charter school is filling the holes where the parent organization was providing services that will now have to be done in-house, Feiden said.

$1.6 million a year ‘for essentially nothing’

Rachelle Hulet, who was previously the APA Las Vegas administrator, was named interim managing director for the school early this summer. The school also formed a transition task force — which includes employees, parents and a school board liaison — and hired Brian Carpenter, a national charter school expert, as a consultant.

Hulet told the charter authority board on June 26 that the support and services APA Las Vegas received from American Preparatory Schools declined over time to an extent that she believes it was harming students. The school’s students will be far better served by APA Las Vegas becoming a self-managed school, she said.

APA Las Vegas attorney Jason Guinasso and board Chairman Lee Iglody both told the charter board that the school paid the parent company $997 per student, or about $1.6 million per year. But thanks to American Preparatory Schools’ “epic mismanagement,” that money paid “for essentially nothing,” Iglody said.

Neither officials at APA Las Vegas and American Preparatory Schools nor their attorneys responded to multiple Review-Journal requests for comment over a weeklong period.

The legal dispute is something of a family affair. Hulet’s aunt, Carolyn Sharette, is a co-founder and executive director of American Preparatory Schools. Sharette’s sister, Laura Campbell, is also a co-founder.

In its lawsuit, American Preparatory Schools alleges “a deterioration in the relationship” between Hulet and APS over the past two years, “as well as some other troubling developments” at the school.

In July 2019, Hulet communicated with Sharette “that she desired to have her own management company that would take over the APA-LV contract from APS,” according to the complaint. “She suggested that Ms. Sharette could serve as a consultant for this effort.”

The proposal was shocking to Sharette, who “clearly communicated that she had no intention to relinquish her company to Ms. Hulet, especially since, during Ms. Hulet’s tenure as administrator, the school had just fallen from a 5-star rating to a 2-star rating, and because Mrs. Hulet lacked the credentials for a position she sought,” according to the complaint.

The company, which offers a classical model of education that includes cursive writing and Latin, as well as character development and a social dance class, also took a swipe at APA-LV in a post on its website.

American Preparatory’s model “may no longer be available at the existing Las Vegas campuses,” according to the post. “The governing board may try to continue the same academic rigor and culture; however, they will be departing from much of the proven American Prep curriculum, models and methods.”

Second campus behind schedule

APA Las Vegas has nearly 1,700 students in kindergarten through 12th grades on its campus on Patrick Lane in southwest Las Vegas and more than 2,500 others on a waiting list.

The second campus, also on Patrick Lane, will accommodate up to 650 elementary school students. But when it will open remains unclear.

The project is $500,000 to $750,000 over budget, Iglody told the charter board, adding the management organization “tried to conceal that from us.”

Construction is behind schedule partly because of utility issues, and substantial completion is now expected the week of Sept. 21-28. That could mean having to push back the school start date.

APA Las Vegas originally was planning to start school Aug. 19, but a note on its website states that is subject to change because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feiden said she has been in touch with APA Las Vegas about construction delays and isn’t comfortable with school starting in late September. “Frankly, kids will leave if school starts at the end of September,” she said.

She said charter authority staff will work with the school on “an appropriate start date.”

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

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