“UNM scrambled to identify additional classroom space near the main AIMS campus that will allow us to serve our Rio Rancho parents and children for the time being as we continue to charter our course to the UNM West campus,” said AIMS Director Kathy Sandoval-Snider in an email.
UNM has made available five classrooms, containing almost 4,000 square feet, in the Manufacturing Technology and Training Center on the UNM South Campus, according to Dianne Anderson, communication director at UNM.
“Parents are definitely not being told they have to go to the south campus. Rather, they are told we (AIMS and UNM) have made room for them there and they are welcome if they choose. So far, that seems to be the choice they are making,” Sandoval-Snider said.
AIMS used a couple of rooms at the center last year, Anderson said in an email, and will now have access to three larger classrooms and two smaller ones. AIMS holds most of its classes in a building across the parking lot, or about 300 feet, from the center.
“With the start of fall classes less than two months away, we felt it was time for us to make a firm commitment about the facilities we could offer,” UNM President Bob Frank said in a news release. “It’s important for their students and ours.”
The nationally ranked charter school, which serves grades six through 12, plans to enroll 400 students in the fall, after having a student body of about 340 last year. It originally planned to instruct 40 sixth-graders in two classrooms at the UNM West campus in Rio Rancho.
UNM regents previously voted to allow AIMS to expand into space on the UNM West campus or the UNM South Campus, based on the resolution of legal matters. They directed Frank to consult with the school and offered no guarantee that AIMS could use the UNM West campus.
UNM West CEO Wynn Goering said in an email his campus is no longer reserving two classrooms for AIMS this fall. Nearly 500 students have registered for fall classes at UNM West, according to online registration statistics, after a headcount of 203 in fall 2013.
Earlier this month, Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent Sue Cleveland said the district believes its students and graduates will “benefit from a focus on the use of the UNM West facility for college classes.”
After holding classes in the UNM West building for one year, Sandoval-Snider said in April, the school planned to use its savings to construct a building next to UNM West. AIMS later examined other temporary locations in Rio Rancho, such as leasing space at the Hewlett-Packard building.
“I want to make this really clear, even with as difficult as this process has been, we remain more committed than ever to bring AIMS to UNM West. We are exhausting every avenue that would allow this to happen, and we will continue to do so as we go forward,” Sandoval-Snider said last week.
AIMS sought and obtained a waiver last month from Hanna Skandera, director of the New Mexico Public Education Department, which exempted AIMS from a state law that might prevent a charter school from offering classes in more than one district.
The state Public Education Commission, which oversees state-authorized charter schools such as AIMS, gave the charter school preliminary approval for expansion in February 2013.
The charter amendment approved by the PEC at that meeting contained three locations where AIMS said it might expand. During a March 2014 meeting, the PEC said AIMS needed to submit two charter amendments: one for permission to move and another with the specific address.
Earlier this month, the PEC said AIMS had not yet submitted its second charter amendment and described the waiver request AIMS submitted to Skandera as inadequate.
RRPS that assessment when it asked a state district court in Santa Fe to review the legality of the waiver and whether Skandera overstepped her authority.
The district has also argued AIMS didn’t give timely notice or hold a hearing on the plan in Rio Rancho as the state requires for new charter schools.
“We believe everyone should play by the rules and follow the appropriate processes in law and regulation, so it is good to know that a solution has been reached that will permit AIMS to expand in a manner consistent with state law as established by the Legislature,” RRPS spokeswoman Kim Vesely told the Albuquerque Journal.
The PEC will add AIMS to the agenda for one of its future meetings once the school submits another charter amendment for its proposed expansion, according to Abby Lewis, legal counsel for the PEC.
PEC Chairwoman Carolyn Shearman said, in a previous meeting, that charter amendment needs to include the specific address where AIMS will hold classes.
The Public School Financing Authority initially determined UNM West did not have the correct occupancy rating for K-12 students. The Construction Industries Division later said the building would qualify for mixed-use occupancy. On June 18, the PSFA approved the use of UNM West by AIMS.
The PSFA did not respond last week when asked if AIMS has requested the agency to inspect any other facilities in Rio Rancho. It also did not indicate whether it had received any requests to inspect the Manufacturing Technology and Training Center.
State law requires charter schools to hold their classes in public buildings.
AIMS and UNM have a memorandum of understanding that says the school must maintain a physical presence with the university, but that condition is not exclusive. Some classes can and do occur off the UNM campus.
“All regulatory requirements will be observed for the current main campus,” Sandoval-Snider said.
Neither the PED nor the PEC, defendant in the court case, have submitted responses to the petition RRPS filed on Monday, and the judge has not yet scheduled a hearing, according to the New Mexico Courts Case Lookup website.
When asked whether AIMS might become an intervener in the RRPS appeal of the waiver, AIMS attorney Daniel Ivey-Soto said “we are still weighing our options.”