Charter school will stay open

Robert Gonzalez said he would stand on a street corner with a tin cup and collect money to keep Douglas County's only public charter school open.

"This school has done a great deal for my daughter," he said of Sierra Crest Academy in Minden, where his 15-year-old daughter Samantha is in 10th grade and on the student council. "It has brought up her esteem. It has given her confidence. She struggled at the regular schools."

Gonzalez was one of about 50 parents who met Wednesday night to discuss a recent letter saying the school could close at the end of the week due to Gov. Jim Gibbons' 4.5 percent budget cut for K-12 education.

"We are not closing the school. We are going to make it through the school year," Sierra Crest Principal David Brackett reassured parents. "Now, we need help with that."

On Monday, president of Sierra Crest Academy's governing board, Katherine Wakeman-Nelson, stated in a letter to parents that the proposed cuts would likely cause the closure of the school as soon as the end of the week. But Brackett met with Nevada Department of Education officials on Wednesday and said that's not going to happen.

"There are two probable ways the cuts are going to come about," Brackett said.

He said Sierra Crest receives money from the state through one account based on the number of students the school has, currently 70.

"Four and half percent off the top of that guaranteed assistance would impact us the most. That would turn into a budget cut of roughly $17,500 for us," he said.

Brackett said another way education officials might decide to cut money is by cutting innovation and technology grants, one-shot programs granted by the state.

"If they don't go 4.5 percent off the board, they're going to cut all the one-shot funding opportunities."

Brackett said that would include things like full-day kindergarten, technology grants and gifted and talented programs, cuts a lot easier to digest for charter schools.

"If they do cut those programs, we're going to have to cut somewhere around $5,000, a significant difference. Thinking of $17,000, that's not enough money to force the school to shut down. Our model is a community-based model. We do not have large purchasing power. We do not have deep pockets. We rely on parents, we rely on students, and we rely on community members to do things. Our budget as accepted this year included a significant amount of fundraising. That fundraising goal has not been met. We are not where we need to be, and without that money, it may not be possible for us to continue on in the future."

Brackett said the school will have its first graduating class next year and that parents need to come together, brainstorm, innovate and find ways to raise around $20,000 to ensure they make it through not only the end of the school year but have enough money to start up next year.

"We offer services and offer an education style that is not offered elsewhere in the county," he said.

Sierra Crest Academy became Douglas County's first public charter school in 2004. The school is geared towards seventh through 11th graders who've struggled at larger schools and need a smaller, more hands-on environment. The school is tuition-free, but, unlike other public schools, must pay for the lease of its building in Minden.

Donna Cloninger, who's son Christopher is in ninth grade and has attended the school since sixth grade, said she would volunteer her time and do whatever it takes to keep the school open.

"Before, I was worried Christopher wouldn't graduate," she said. "But now, not only does he plan on graduating, he wants to go on to college."

Parents discussed possible school fundraisers: selling Avon products, Innisbrook gift wrapping, and hosting penny drives, car washes and dinners.

"We need people to step up," said Brackett. "We have enough of a critical mass here to do this."

For more information on Sierra Crest Academy or to make donations, call the school at 783-9002 and ask for principal Brackett.

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