Change may be coming quicker than expected for La Luz Elementary School students.
Albuquerque Public Schools is poised to change course on plans for the North Valley elementary school, which the district marked for repurposing earlier this year, bumping up the timeline to move students and changing how the property would be used over the coming years.
Originally, La Luz was among several school campuses the district planned to move students from and convert into an early childhood center, as part of APS’ right sizing effort. That plan, according to documents given to board members in January, would have been finalized in 2025.
But district officials told school board members on Monday that APS plans to move students to nearby MacArthur Elementary School this fall and lease the La Luz campus to The Albuquerque Sign Language Academy, a charter school without a real home that’s planning to build a new, roughly $31 million campus.
“It’s a good partnership for us,” Chief Operations Officer Gabriella Blakey told the Journal. “They’re across three different campuses … so it just made sense to be able to help them out in that way.”
While the La Luz principal was advised of the plan change, the community will be informed this week, Blakey said. The next step for the plan, she said, is to take MacArthur’s new school boundary to the board for approval. Then, the district will sit down with the charter school and start the leasing process.
The lease, Blakey told board members, should only be a short-term one and would buy time for the district to flesh out plans. After that, APS may go forward with its original plan to turn the property into an early childhood center.
“It’s … community feedback of ‘You have these facilities that are getting to be empty, and there’s not one single answer — it’s multiple answers,’ ” Blakey said in explaining the district’s deviation from its original plan. “So one could be leasing, one can be repurposing, so we’re hitting a variety of different purposes with the right sizing.”
APS has had a right-sizing plan in the works for some time. But pressure mounted last April, when the powerful state Legislative Finance Committee, citing a growing gap between funding and enrollment, explicitly called for the district to right the ship.
The sign language academy originally planned to finish its new campus in the fall of next year. But due to supply chains and worker shortages, Executive Director Raphael “Rafe” Martinez said the project may realistically be pushed out to two years.
The charter school has 127 students, Martinez said, and with a 350-student capacity at La Luz, the campus should be an almost-perfect fit for his community’s current needs.
“I’m just excited that APS is willing to work with us in regard with a facility because I think it does help us serve the kids of the city in lockstep with APS,” he said.
Not all applauded the district’s change of course.
In an interview, Albuquerque Teachers Federation President Ellen Bernstein said she’d rather see the district develop long-term plans that would continue to serve its children.
“I think APS property should be used for APS students,” she said. “I think that there are a lot of ways in which we could use the properties to make sure we continue to serve APS students. So I’m dismayed at the idea that we would take a property that belongs to APS and lease it.”
The change of plans, Bernstein said, was news to her, adding that the union will need to work with the district human resources department to figure out how the move to MacArthur will impact staff.
APS predicts MacArthur’s new enrollment to be 280 students. La Luz currently has about 130 students, and MacArthur around 180.
Blakey said she doesn’t expect much opposition to the new plan, given La Luz and MacArthur’s proximity — the campuses are about a mile apart — and the fact that many students already frequently transfer from the former to the latter.
“By combining them with MacArthur, we actually can give them more service than what they’re getting now with a small school,” she said. “We hope to work with the families to be able to find the right place for everyone.”