First commercial area charter school approved

Somerset Academy will become the first charter school in North Las Vegas located inside a vacant commercial property.

At its May 18 meeting, the North Las Vegas City Council voted 4-1 to approve the special use permit application submitted by Florida-based Academica Schools for the empty 20-acre commercial property at 405 W. Centennial Parkway.

Councilwoman Anita Wood was the dissenting vote, citing concerns over safety issues. Officials with the Clark County School District Police Department have expressed similar worries — pointing out neighboring fast-food restaurants and a gas station that could pose a slight threat to public safety because of the increase in foot and vehicular traffic.

“I’m just truly very, very concerned about children being in this commercial area,” Wood said.

The K-8 school is expected to open this fall. There’s a waiting list to get into the school. Enrollment was scheduled to begin in May. A handful of parents at the meeting voiced support for the school, citing the desire to keep their children close to home, the ability to fill an empty building with something sustainable and to have options when deciding where to send their children for schooling.

“For a school like this to be able to come into an area that is vacant, I think, is a blessing in the downturn of the economy,” said Mayor Shari Buck.

Last month, the city’s planning commission unanimously approved the application. North Las Vegas now joins Clark County and the cities of Las Vegas and Henderson in allowing charter schools in commercial areas.

The City Council also approved waiving the city’s current hiring freeze to fill seven vacant positions in the utilities department by recalling, reassigning or redeploying city personnel.

The decision came to shuffle these positions — which include two customer service specialists, two field customer service representatives, one utilities field service technician, one utilities field service crew leader and one office assistant — the day after council members said they had no choice but to adopt a budget that includes the slashing of 258 jobs across city departments. That includes 40 firefighters and 15 police officers. The city must close a $30.3 million shortfall in its 2011-12 budget. Mayor Pro Tem William Robinson said the proposal didn’t “pass the smell test” and refused to support the plan because he “wanted to sleep at night” considering the layoffs. Acting City Manager Maryann Ustick explained that the proposal was scheduled to fall after the city’s decision to cut more jobs because it could defray a small handful of those layoffs. The positions are funded by the utilities department and have no impact on the city’s general fund.

The proposal passed with a 4-1 vote, with Robinson the lone dissenter. The next North Las Vegas City Council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 1. For more information, visit cityofnorthlasvegas.com.

Contact Downtown and North Las Vegas View reporter Kristi Jourdan at kjourdan@viewnews.com or 383-0492.

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