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State: AIMS lacks final OK to expand

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Albuquerque Institute for Math and Science does not yet have approval to expand into Rio Rancho, according to the state body that governs charter schools.

The charter school wants to set up two sixth-grade classes this fall at the University New Mexico West campus in Rio Rancho.

On Friday, the Public Education Commission tried to offer clarification on the contentious issue. Commission Chairwoman Carolyn Shearman said, in a prepared statement she read during the meeting, that the school does not have final approval from the commission to make the move.

AIMS director Kathy Sandoval-Snider, who could not be reached for comment Friday, has said an amendment approved by the commission in February 2013 already gave the school authority to expand into Rio Rancho.

AIMS charter requires it to be located on a UNM campus. Currently, it has a school on the UNM south campus.

Four members of the UNM West Advisory Council, including Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland, wrote a letter to the UNM Board of Regents earlier this year expressing their opposition.

Cleveland and the RRPS board president have also spoken out publicly against the idea. Cleveland was at the PEC meeting Friday but did not comment.

“I think the statement speaks for itself,” she said. “We’ve been asking for clarification and the statement did that.”

Cleveland came before the commission recently and argued that the school did not follow the proper procedure and therefore could not legally move into Rio Rancho. She said the school cannot cross school district lines without a new charter and that it had to seek another amendment that includes the specific address for the UNM West campus.

The amendment approved by the commission in February 2013 said the school could open a second campus on another UNM campus but did not specify which campus.

Shearman read a statement saying that when a charter school wants to move “within the same district,” there is a two-step process. First, the school must come before the PEC and alert the commission it intends to move. She said school officials must then come back a second time requesting an amendment with the specific physical address of the new campus.

“AIMS has yet to return and request approval for an amendment with a specific address,” she said. “It is our belief they cannot move until approval (of the specific address) is granted.” Shearman did not discuss whether a charter school can move into another district without a new charter. AIMS officials say the law only applies to district-approved charter schools and it’s a state-approved school.

The Rio Rancho City Council passed a resolution last month supporting the school’s efforts to move into Rio Rancho.

In a related development Friday, despite protests from its UNM West Advisory Council, the UNM Board of Regents passed a motion allowing AIMS to expand on either UNM West or UNM south campus.

The board had previously given preliminary approval. The approval came on the condition that the school would consult with UNM President Bob Frank and resolve any other legal matters that have been raised. The board will revisit the issue in a year because there was concern that after that time, the UNM West campus would not have room.

Journal staff writer Mike Bush contributed to this report.