Charter school sparks debate - Albuquerque Journal

Charter school sparks debate

A plan to relocate a charter school to the North Valley cleared another hurdle this week as the Bernalillo County Commission rejected a pair of neighborhood appeals – a decision rendered after an especially testy public hearing in front of a crowd of deaf students and their families.

Some neighbors are fighting the county’s plan to lease a portion of the county-owned “Sandia Ranch” property on Edith, near Osuna, to the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy. The charter school serves hearing and deaf students in what it calls “an inclusive environment” and is currently operating in Downtown space also leased from the county.

Neighbors specifically appealed the conditional use zoning approval the county secured that allows for putting a school on the North Valley parcel.

During Tuesday’s appeal hearing – which drew a few dozen ASL Academy supporters and featured live sign language interpretation – one of those neighbors, Linda Dietz, accused county commissioners of supporting the school and therefore being too biased to make a fair decision in the zoning case. Commissioners flatly denied the allegation.

But she directed her most pointed criticism at Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, who represents the North Valley, alleging that O’Malley is a longtime ASL Academy supporter who once told community members, “The school is going on the property; get over it.”

“Other people were at the meeting,” Dietz said. “They were shocked that you said it.”

O’Malley vehemently denied making such a comment, and the two proceeded to have a fiery exchange, speaking over each other in raised voices.

“This is getting out of hand,” O’Malley finally said. “I know you’re a trial lawyer, I guess, but I’m not on the witness stand. I’m not, Linda.”

Commission Chairwoman Adriann Barboa ultimately curbed the argument, asking Dietz to limit her comments to the issues at play in the hearing. Dietz reiterated her concern that O’Malley is partial to the school and therefore should not vote in the zoning case.

O’Malley did not recuse herself, though her vote did not shift the final outcome. The commission denied both appeals on 5-0 votes.

Before the voting, Commissioner Walt Benson said he wanted to “clarify any ideas of conflict,” saying the commissioners are each members of the community and that claiming they’re partial did not make sense in this case.

“All of us have gone to school – that doesn’t mean we’ve got a conflict of interest. My mom was a speech language pathologist at (Albuquerque Public Schools); she taught hearing-impaired children. She taught me sign language. … I have friends who are deaf,” he said. “That has no bearing on the zoning decision here. Whether it’s this school or another school who applied for this, we’re looking at the zoning issue here, not which school is coming in.”

NETTING ZERO: Though New Mexico United has now kicked off its 2022 season, the city of Albuquerque is still trying to collect a past-due payment the team owes for its 2021 campaign.

The professional soccer club has not paid the nearly $71,000 invoice covering the city’s costs last year for removing the safety netting at the city-owned Isotopes Park before soccer games and reinstalling it before baseball games, according to the city.

“They haven’t paid the first invoice and we sent them a second one,” Mark Motsko with the city’s Department of Municipal Development said Wednesday.

The regular up-and-down movement has a backstory.

United and its fans objected vociferously in 2020 as the city prepared to extend baseball-required protective netting along the left- and right-field lines at Isotopes Park, a venue United shares with the namesake baseball team. They complained that the new nets would inhibit soccer fans’ experience and implored the city to install retractable netting. Mayor Tim Keller subsequently announced that the city had worked with both teams on a solution – essentially removing the nets before soccer games and then rehanging them before the next baseball game. Keller’s office at the time said United would cover the related costs.

It was not an issue in 2020, as New Mexico’s COVID-19 public health orders prevented United from playing any home games.

But the costs began accruing when the team returned to home games in 2021. The city in January issued the team a $70,878 invoice for the “Isotopes netting drops.” The invoice – provided in response to a Journal public records request – had a due date of Feb. 19.

Motsko said Wednesday the city recently sent the team a second invoice.

Jessica Dyer:


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