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Court intervention sought on AIMS

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Rio Rancho school district is asking a judge to intervene in its battle with the Albuquerque Institute for Mathematics and Science charter school.

The Albuquerque school wants to open a second location in two classrooms at the University of New Mexico West campus in Rio Rancho. Officials with the Rio Rancho Public Schools district have vehemently opposed the move, saying the school never informed them of their plans and that its proposal could harm the district by taking away funding.

Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland, who is on the UNM West Advisory Council, also has questioned whether the AIMS school would be the best use of space on the UNM campus after Rio Rancho residents voted to continue a tax that was specifically for higher education.

Last month, Public Education Secretary head Hanna Skandera granted a waiver to the school that would allow it to set up within the Rio Rancho school district. Normally, a charter school must submit an entirely new charter before crossing district lines. AIMS is currently within the Albuquerque Public Schools district.

Rio Rancho has challenged the waiver by filing an appeal with the 1st Judicial District court in Santa Fe, asking a judge to intervene. The appeal claims that Skandera’s decision is “arbitrary and capricious and not supported by the facts of law.” It says she overreached her authority because she did not consult with the Public Education Commission, which governs charter schools.

The PEC, which is also named in the court filing, voted Friday to not support the waiver. Commission Chair Carolyn Shearman read a statement saying any waiver request must be accompanied by support from the applicant’s local school board and that AIMS had not provided any evidence that APS supported its expansion.

Larry Behrens, spokesman for the Public Education Department, said, “We believe in putting students and parents first by not disrupting effective options for education. It’s unfortunate some do not feel the same. Our decision has bipartisan support from members of the Legislature and even more support from the Rio Rancho City Council.”

Kathy Sandoval-Snider AIMS director, said the school is state-chartered and has no relationship with APS. She said the secretary was within her authority to grant the waiver, and the PEC’s ruling was merely an opinion and not a “point of law.” The school will continue moving forward with preparations to open its Rio Rancho campus. “I can’t wrap my head around this appeal,” she said. “That they (RRPS) would spend children’s money to keep parents from having a choice is unbelievable.”