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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.

5 Responses to Charter & Church: Too Close?

  1. March 23, 2012 at 1:06 pm Kevin Yost responds:

    There should be no conflict. The Founding Fathers did not want a separation of church and state, just not an established state church.

  2. March 23, 2012 at 2:16 pm Brian Boucheron responds:

    “The Founding Fathers did not want a separation of church and state, just not an established state church.”

    Thankfully, our governance is not static, and 200 years of court decisions have interpreted the first amendment to mean more than just “no state church”.

    That said, I see no problem with this school… sounds great to me. Is there actually any controversy surrounding this?

    • March 23, 2012 at 2:17 pm Rachel responds:

      Brian, I don’t think people know about it yet. A parent blog is raising questions, which is how I found out about it.

  3. “The Founding Fathers did not want a separation of church and state, just not an established state church.”

    The Founding Fathers were not a monolithic body that had a single position about almost any important issue including the role of religion in government. That’s why there were so many fierce debates and both sides of just about any issue can produce quotes from a founder to support their view. Despite the Christian Nationalist arguments that are being relentlessly pushed by the Tea Party and movement conservatives that the Founding Fathers had no intention of a secular government and just wanted to avoid the establishment of a state church to protect Christians of other denominations from persecution there is plenty of evidence that there were Founders who intended a separation of church and state. For instance Madison. Or Jefferson. Who did after all coin the phase “wall of separation between church and state.”

  4. March 23, 2012 at 8:37 pm Lynn E responds:

    Any charter is a rip off and yes there is conflict. The Church of Scientology is even running charter schools in some areas using “learning methods” they use in the church which aren’t religious in their opinion. Charter schools are meant to rip off tax money and using schools and America’s children for profit. Even non-profit schools are suspect and questionable. They are corporatizing education and not about quality education, serving a board of directors or stockholders come first. The whole educational system with the idea that schools were failing and that standardization was needed to improve them is a sham.

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