In Other News
As negotiations between Desert Star Community School and Church of the Nazarene continue, school leaders launched plans to raise $700,000 for land and new classrooms.
By Greg Ruland
Larson Newspapers

As negotiations between Desert Star Community School and Church of the Nazarene continue, school leaders launched plans to raise $700,000 for land and new classrooms.

With $30,000 in the bank donated by parents, DSCS Board President Bridget Van Block said she believes the school will raise enough money to buy land and modular, temporary classrooms by the end of the 2006-07 school year.

“Everybody has incredible faith it’s going to work,” Van Block says. “It can’t not work. It just feels so right.”

Located near the intersection of Page Springs Road and Frey Ranch Road, the property Van Block wants is large enough to house three 1,700-square-foot modular classrooms, playgrounds, walkways and, eventually, environmentally advanced wastewater reclamation systems.

The property already includes a large house that will be used as offices in the initial phase of operation and a barn that will be remodeled for multiple uses, Van Block said.

A carefully planned budget demonstrates how DSCS can afford the initial down payment and first-phase improvements, plus service on long-term debt on the land, Van Block said.

“We have several Realtors, architects, engineers and a land surveyor on our development team,” Van Block said. “For over two years, we have done a thorough search of available properties.”

In the meantime, school officials continue to negotiate the terms and conditions under which Church of the Nazarene Pastor Jeff Branaman would allow the school to continue operations in the basement of the Village of Oak Creek church.

Branaman declined to comment.

“Despite the stress, peace and harmony continue in the classroom,” she said.

Not a single parent has pulled a child out of Desert Star Community School as a result of the controversy, she said.

Van Block said she is hopeful both sides could come to terms before a temporary restraining order that stopped the church from evicting the school expires Wednesday, Feb. 28.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Timothy J. Ryan extended a temporary restraining order in January to allow the Arizona Attorney General’s Office time to complete an investigation of discrimination by the church.

The attorney general moved to stop the eviction on behalf of Desert Star after launching an investigation to determine whether the church was discriminating against the school for religious reasons, a possible violation of the Arizona Civil Rights Act.

The attorney general is authorized to act on behalf of all state agencies, including state-approved charter schools like Desert Star.

Desert Star alleged the church discriminated illegally when it moved to evict the school on 30-days notice in October.

According to sworn statements filed with the court, Branaman allegedly objects to the school teaching Greek mythology.

Branaman allegedly told a witness he found “false gods and idols” in the school’s classrooms, according to court documents.

Branaman testified that the church’s board of directors was “blind” to the school’s teaching philosophies when it agreed to lease space in June 2006.

Branaman told the court he would not voluntarily participate in the Arizona attorney general’s investigation of discrimination by the church.

A lease between the church and the school allows either party to end the relationship on 30 days notice.

On Oct. 25, the church notified the school it had 30 days to leave but extended the period to Dec. 21. Before the notice ran out, the court intervened to stop the eviction temporarily.

By leasing church rooms and offices to Desert Star, Church of the Nazarene offered accommodations to the general public, the attorney general argued in papers filed with the court.

A church cannot discriminate on religious grounds under those circumstances, according to the attorney general.

Ryan ordered the school would stay until he makes a final decision.

Van Block said the school has a viable backup plan to stay open should the judge allow the church to pursue the eviction after the Feb. 28 extension expires.

Van Block declined to discuss the details of the plan.


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