Troubled charter school under scrutiny again

La Resolana Leadership Academy. (Greg Sorber/Albuquerque Journal)

A local charter school that nearly closed because of about $200,000 in debt is under scrutiny again for how it’s running its special education program.

La Resolana Leadership Academy, an Albuquerque Public Schools-authorized charter middle school, has several areas of “unsatisfactory performance,” according to Director of Charter Schools Joseph Escobedo.

“During the 2018 site visit, there was several violations of federal and state law regarding special education compliance,” he wrote in a brief to the APS Board of Education.

Through site visits, Escobedo found several areas of concern, including a lack of data reporting. He also found the special education coordinator isn’t a certified special education teacher.

Robert Leming, president of the governing council at La Resolana, told the school board last week that the charter is working on hiring two special education teachers with at least Level 2 qualifications, which means the teachers have years of experience and a track record of successful evaluations.

“Special education staff and school administration lack basic knowledge of special education law, federal and state procedural safeguards required for evaluation, placement and for developing a proper educational program that addresses the individual needs of students in special education,” Escobedo wrote in a letter to the school.

Escobedo also said the fiscal year 2019 budget doesn’t include appropriate spending nor a proper amount of money set aside for teachers in the program. He also noted the school didn’t take care of findings from the previous school year’s site visit.

But Leming said the unsatisfactory performance doesn’t reflect the entire school.

Principal Justina Montoya said she is currently working on a corrective action plan to fix the problems.

Leming said the school also is working with a consulting firm to do a deep dive on strategic planning for the school.

Escobedo’s 10-page letter details where the special education program must improve.

He found the school wasn’t completely complying with procedures on individualized education programs, or IEPs, which are personalized accounts of progress, needs and goals for each student utilizing special education services. Also, a file reviewed by Escobedo didn’t have parental consent, which is needed to start an IEP.

In all the IEPs reviewed, the director of charter schools found areas out of compliance.

The board deferred a vote on La Resolana’s charter renewal until a later date, giving the board more time to analyze the situation and the school more time to put a plan together.

La Resolana had been on track to close last year after the board denied its request for a charter in December 2016, citing a roughly $200,000 debt. Last February, the board voted unanimously to allow district administrators to negotiate a one-year contract.

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