The longtime pastor of a Rochester church wants to open a charter school in a building owned by his church. This arrangement raises questions about the separation of the entities. Charter schools are independent, publicly-funded schools.
The school would be called the Mary L. Wright Preparatory Charter School for Health and Legal Services. The school’s namesake is the late wife of Rev. James R. Wright, pastor of New Progressive Church on Chili Ave. She was a vice-principal at East High School with a background in math and science. The school would be located a stone’s throw from the church.
“We would just simply be leasing the space to the school,” Rev. Wright said. “There would be a big separation. The charter school would be a its own entity. It’s not a church school at all. As a matter of fact, many of the people on the board are not affiliated with our church. We are just providing the motivation of getting the program going.”
The group’s application to the state discloses the potential conflict of interest:
The only potential conflict of interest in the lease arrangement for Wright Prep is the involvement of the school’s board chairman, Rev. James Wright, with the church that currently owns the facility. While the expected lease costs to the school are expected to fall far below market value, the school intends to have an independent valuation performed in order to ensure fairness and transparency. Likewise, Bishop Wright intends to abstain from any Wright Prep Board actions or votes related to the facility at 410 Chili Ave.
This would certainly not be the first time a charter school founded by a pastor and located in a church building has opened in New York State. In New York City, there have been debates about converting Catholic schools into charter schools. Hebrew and Arab language charter schools have also raised questioned.
Rev. Wright hopes the school opens in the fall of 2013. The school would have 150 students in 7th and 8th grade the first year. It would eventually go to grade 12. There would be an extended day and year. The application promises a rigorous curriculum and high standards for students.
The application has some high profile support. There are very recent letters from Mayor Tom Richards, State Senator Joseph Robach, City Council members Lovely Warren and Adam McFadden, Assemblyman David Gantt and the head of the Monroe County Medical Society.
Rev. Wright said the state has asked for more information and the application is on hold. He said the issue of separation of the church and school has not be a state concern. Rev. Wright is still hopeful the school can open next year.
“We really want to improve the educational performance of students,” he said.