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2 city councilors back AIMS expansion; school board doesn’t

Two Rio Rancho city councilors are supporting a science- and math-focused charter school moving onto the UNM West campus.

At the governing body meeting Wednesday night at City Hall, councilors Chuck Wilkins and Cheryl Everett spoke about the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science (AIMS), as did several members of the public. There was no action on the matter.

In March, a debate began over plans of AIMS leaders to expand the charter school from one campus on University of New Mexico property to have a second campus at UNM West. The controversy centers on whether the school would benefit Rio Rancho residents, or whether housing AIMS at UNM West is an improper use of the campus and inappropriate for sixth- through 12th-graders and would hurt Rio Rancho Public Schools.

“I think it’s important that we let the people know that the governing body doesn’t decide if the charter gets to come or it doesn’t get to come,” Wilkins said.

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Municipal Higher Education Facilities Gross Receipts Tax money helped construct the current UNM West building as per a contract between UNM and the city. Wilkins said he would support another such contract, as long as the new facility would be for UNM, not public schools or Central New Mexico Community College.

“But if it’s for labs and it’s for more UNM, I will vote yes, and if you do the charter, I will not hold that over your head or try to keep you from getting more money because you’re bringing in a charter that I think gives people an option,” he said.

RRPS Board of Education Vice President Don Schlichte spoke on behalf of that board.

“The voters did not vote for a multi-purpose facility that competes with Rio Rancho Public Schools, but for a full-functioning, four-year university,” he said.

Schlichte said RRPS wasn’t afraid to compete with other schools because it was already competing at a disadvantage. He said the district is one of the lowest-funded but highest-performing in the state.

The school board is concerned that with the state giving charter schools twice as much money per student as regular public schools, regular schools will “bleed down” financially and the quality of their education will suffer. Schlichte said the board believes the entrance of AIMS will cause more “financial bleeding” for RRPS.

During councilor comments, Everett said she didn’t see how Rio Rancho could have too many science and math schools when the city was trying to attract high-tech businesses.

“I would hate to see a turf war fought out in the media get in the way of something that could be really good for our children,” she said.

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Three parents and two children spoke in support of AIMS.

One of the children, Henry Morris, said he thought AIMS was a nice place to learn and should come to Rio Rancho because it’s closer to people’s homes. Henry said he didn’t see what the big deal was about AIMS expanding to the city.

“They already have another school,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world.”

Mother Rachel Canales said she had two exceptional children, and AIMS would give them more opportunity to use their abilities than a regular school could.

“I want what’s best for my children, and I know not every child fits every mold,” she said.

Without AIMS, she said, she’ll have to enroll her children at Albuquerque Academy and spend $350,000 for the two of them.

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