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ABQ charter school still in limbo

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An Albuquerque charter school is in limbo.

After Albuquerque Public Schools decided to withhold approval of La Resolana Leadership Academy’s contract earlier this year, the school appealed to Public Education Department Secretary-designate Christopher Ruszkowski. The appeal is pending and has kept the school up and running in the meantime.

Ruszkowski is now claiming APS “botched” the charter contract process and said it’s taken months to clarify the situation – and there’s still no formal decision made on whether the school will stay open.

But APS spokeswoman Monica Armenta said PED has not provided that feedback to the district and couldn’t comment until it did.

“NMPED is now managing a situation that was squarely the responsibility of the district as the local charter school’s authorizer, and is working towards a resolution that respects the students, families, and school faculty, holds APS responsible for its duties, and maintains accountability for a school that is not high-performing at present,” Ruszkowski wrote.

‘Business as normal’

Joseph Escobedo, the senior director of the APS Office of Innovation and School Choice, told the Journal the state statute on charter school contracts is unclear on this particular instance with La Resolana, adding he doesn’t believe the district has run into this situation before.

Escobedo cited a statute that shows what to do if the authorizer and school disagree on the terms of a contract. But he pointed out that La Resolana’s appeal isn’t a matter of disagreement on terms; it’s a matter of non-approval of the entire contract.

Ruszkowski still claimed the APS Board of Education disregarded “state statute, due process, and best practices in charter authorizing along the way.”

In the meantime, La Resolana, where 68 students are currently enrolled, will still be monitored by the district with monthly site visits at the school, which even without an approved contract is still implementing a corrective action plan.

“We are continuing business as normal,” Escobedo said about oversight.

Not compliant

APS has found the school is still in noncompliance with some state and federal law on how it’s running its special education program – the same problem highlighted earlier this year.

Escobedo told the school board at a committee meeting this month that a team reviewed five individual education plans, or IEPs, which are personalized accounts of progress, needs and goals for each student utilizing special education services. There was missing information in some and students weren’t present for all of the IEP meetings.

“The findings from the review demonstrate that IEP documents continue to be missing significant components and continue to be out of compliance with state and federal law,” he wrote in a memo to the school in August.

Escobedo also said the school still needs to hire a special education teacher for the program.

Since filing the appeal, La Resolana hired a new director, Pete Vallejo, who told the board he is fully committed to addressing the identified problems.

And while he said it’s a “daunting task,” Vallejo said he is working to implement the corrective action plan so the school can move forward.

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