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ABQ charter is denied enrollment cap increase

Students take a test during class at Mission Achievement and Success Charter School. The school requested an enrollment cap increase from its authorizer, but the Public Education Commission denied that request in May. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A high-performing charter school in Albuquerque was blocked from taking on more students, and it wasn’t given the chance to have the issue readdressed by its authorizer in time for the coming school year.

Mission Achievement and Success Charter School asked its authorizer, the Public Education Commission, to increase its enrollment cap from 1,140 to 1,560 at each of its two campuses, but that request was halted, largely due to traffic concerns.

For the campus at Yale and Ross SE, the enrollment increase would have occurred over three years, with an increase of up to 100 students in the first year.

The other campus is still launching and would reach a cap of 1,560 in six years, according to MAS founder and principal JoAnn Mitchell.

But the PEC decided to reject the expansion request after a lengthy public meeting.

A transcript of the May 22 meeting shows that opponents mainly cited traffic and parking concerns near the Yale campus, while school community members rallied behind MAS, which touts reading and math scores above the state average.

Patricia Gipson, PEC chairwoman, said she voted against the expansion partly because she was leery about adding students into MAS amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gipson and the other commissioners who voted against it also pointed to the traffic and safety concerns.

The PEC chairwoman said she believes this is the first time a charter school was denied an enrollment increase related to traffic worries. And she said state statute doesn’t outline criteria that should be considered when a school requests an enrollment cap increase.

Mitchell said that the state Public Education Department and other entities have assessed safety at the Yale campus and that she left the May meeting not knowing what else she could do.

According to the transcript, some commissioners suggested a traffic study be conducted.

Mission Achievement and Success Charter School students work on a chemistry assignment in February 2019. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Mitchell said she is looking into appealing the PEC decision, especially after being denied the chance to resubmit the request for higher enrollment in time for the 2020-21 school year.

Gipson said that the school could bring up the request again but that for the enrollment increase to be in effect for the coming school year it would have to be approved before July.

“Despite what the (meeting) transcript indicates, we were told that we couldn’t bring this up in June,” Mitchell said.

Gipson told the Journal that there wasn’t a guarantee the school could come back in June. She said the executive committee of the commission determined that the enrollment cap request had already been heard, decided on and wouldn’t be heard again at the June meeting.

“They made the request to come back a week and a half after we had already voted. … So the determination was, ‘No, we have just heard that and made a determination on that,’ ” she said.

However, Gipson said there isn’t a specified amount of time that has to pass before a request like MAS’s is heard again.

Mitchell said the goal was to enroll more younger students.

“Throughout the 2019-2020 school year, our wait list has been just below 1,000 students for all grade levels combined,” MAS officials wrote in their request.

The PEC’s decision garnered some national attention with a recent column in Forbes written by an education reform advocate condemning the move.

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