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Charter school appeals PED’s revocation plan

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Santa Fe-based charter school is pushing back again.

New Mexico Connections Academy filed a notice of appeal on Monday against the New Mexico Public Education Department after its decision to move forward with the revocation of the school’s charter.

NMCA’s attorney Susan Fox confirmed to the Journal on Tuesday that the school filed the administrative appeal, and said both parties will state their cases and have a chance to address the other’s claims before a judge makes a final decision.

Founding board president Mark Boitano said he feels the school has met its charter agreement and deserves to stay open.

“We want you to know we take the PED report extremely seriously and appreciate their sense of urgency. Some may be aware, I served in the state senate for 16 years and helped write the charter school act and was the primary sponsor,” he told the Public Education Commission at a renewal hearing. “From the onset, accountability was a prime concern. From day one, I’ve been on record that under-performing schools should not be renewed. I told our board and staff months ago that in order for us to be renewed, first I needed to be convinced our renewal was justified. For what it’s worth, I’m convinced.”

The Public Education Commission held a charter renewal hearing in December, voting 6-3 not to renew the school.

The charter school then appealed to the PED Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski at a formal appeal hearing held last month. But Ruszkowski ultimately affirmed the revocation decision.

“The PEC outlined substantial evidence that the school has failed to meet standards in its December decision,” PED wrote in a statement.

The state agency noted the five-year-old school has received two consecutive F grades.

But Boitano said before that, the school was on an upward trend, moving from a D in the 2013-14 school year to a C in the 2014-15 school year.

“It’s critically important to remember that our contract with the PEC makes the school’s letter grade just one part of an equally weighted, eight-part performance analysis,” he told PEC.

The founding board president said testing requirements have been a big hurdle for the school and are a contributor to the failing school grade.

He pointed to the school’s first year, saying NMCA would have scored a C grade, but it didn’t meet the requirement of 95 percent participation in state assessment, bringing it to a D.

And he told the board the school has met 75 percent of its charter-specific goals from its contract over four years.

NMCA is the state’s largest online charter school, with nearly 2,000 students across the state.

If a judge decides not to renew the charter, those thousands of kids will be on the hunt for a new school. Boitano said that would particularly impact students in rural areas who would have an hourlong bus ride to get to school.

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