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RRPS appeals court ruling on charter school

After losing in District Court, Rio Rancho Public Schools has filed an appeal to stop the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science from opening a location at the University of New Mexico West, but the charter school’s leaders have vowed to continue fighting.

At the end of May, the district’s Board of Education petitioned for a review of the 1st Judicial District Court’s decision. The Court of Appeals agreed on July 26.

AIMS director Kathy Sandoval contends that the appeal wastes valuable taxpayer money during a tight budget time.

“While school systems protest even the smallest reduction in the education budget, it’s unfortunate RRPS spends that hard fought budget on lawyers rather than improving the education of our children!” she said in a statement.

But district administrators say they are standing up for proper protocol.

In 2014, RRPS sued the New Mexico Public Education Department over a waiver PED granted AIMS, a top-rated charter school housed on the UNM South campus.

The waiver gave AIMS permission to open a second location at UNM West – within Rio Rancho’s boundaries – without applying for a new charter. Typically, charter schools must be reauthorized if they expand outside their original district.

“The RRPS board and district do not believe it is a waste of money, even in tight budget times, to seek court review of actions which violate the laws that have set out specific requirements for the opening of any charter school,” Rio Rancho Public Schools spokeswoman Kim Vesely said in a statement.

Sandoval has said she believes the lawsuit is really “all about turf.”

To date, the district has spent about $18,000 on the case, according to Vesely, though AIMS believes the figure is actually much higher.

Marty Esquivel, an attorney representing AIMS, also questioned whether the school board followed open meetings law when the lawsuit was filed in 2014. He said he could not find any record that the board publicly discussed the lawsuit and voted to pursue it.

“How was the decision made to file this lawsuit?” Esquivel said. “Was it a decision by the administration outside of the school board?”

Vesely said the district believes the board is not required to publicly discuss threatened or pending litigation, under open meetings law.

She also noted that RRPS did not oppose two other state charter schools that followed “appropriate statutory processes” – ASK Academy and the Sandoval Academy for Bilingual Education.

The New Mexico School Superintendent’s Association and the New Mexico School Boards Association both support the district’s position on AIMS’ attempt to locate in Rio Rancho.

Sandoval said RRPS’ “heavy hand” is denying families access to a “proven, flexible and accountable education system.”

The Washington Post recently rated AIMS the best school in New Mexico and 43rd in the nation. AIMS, which currently has about 350 students grades six through 12, is chartered by the state Public Education Commission.

Sandoval vowed to keep pushing to open the UNM West location.

Originally, the Rio Rancho AIMS site was slated to launch in fall 2014 with 40 sixth-graders, adding a new grade each year until the school enrolled about 350 students.

UNM West had given AIMS two classrooms, and Sandoval said some of her teachers had moved to Rio Rancho.

“Rio Rancho parents and students have told us they want our type of education,” Sandoval said. “The Rio Rancho City Council has embraced us. There is obviously a need and a strong desire for our school.”