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Education group protests SF contract

SANTA FE – The National Education Association New Mexico and its Santa Fe chapter are protesting Santa Fe Public Schools’ new program designed to get dropouts back on track for a diploma.

The NEA says SFPS’s plan to hire a company to run the program makes it a private school and therefore an improper use of taxpayer dollars under the New Mexico Constitution.

The Santa Fe school board earlier this month approved a contract with Atlantic Education Partners, a Florida-based company, to implement the “Engage Santa Fe” program. Superintendent Joel Boyd announced that he had appointed himself as principal.

Taxpayers dollars coming to SFPS through the state school funding formula would fund Engage Santa Fe. Ninety percent is to go to Atlantic Education Partners and the rest would be kept by the district to cover operational costs. And while teachers to run the program will be hired locally, the union says they will be Atlantic Education Partners employees.

NEA Santa Fe President Bernice García Baca, in a Monday email to Boyd and members of the school board, urged the board to withdraw the plan and re-configure it so it doesn’t violate the state Constitution.

She cites an article of the Constitution covering educational institutions and use of proceeds from state land and other educational funds. It states that public schools, colleges, universities and other public educational institutions “shall forever remain under the exclusive control of the state,” and that no part of the funds “shall be used for the support of any sectarian, denominational or private school, college or university.”

“This section makes clear that no funds appropriated for public schools may be used to fund private education,” García Baca wrote.

She added that since students in Engage Santa Fe would be “supported with funding intended for students in public schools and there is a principal, this center is a school under the definition in the New Mexico Constitution. … Providing this funding to ‘Atlantic Education Partners’ is providing them to a private school.”

She added that there are many current SFPS teachers who might be eager to participate in the program.

NEA-NM Executive Director Charles Bowyer said the union has been looking into the legality of the school board’s agreement with Atlantic since it was approved at a March 4 board meeting. “The program described might well be a good one, but we believe once (the students) are back in the school and funded by taxpayers dollars, it violates the Constitution,” he said.

Superintendent Boyd said Monday the Atlantic contract had been vetted by attorneys and that the union seems to misunderstand the contract.

“The company is providing services to the school district – most school districts use outside service providers in order to meet various needs. This is not a private education,” he wrote in an email to the Journal.

Boyd added that he would have the district’s general counsel contact García Baca to clarify the misunderstanding.