ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A sharply divided APS Board of Education voted 4-3 to pull Bataan Military Academy’s charter Wednesday night, forcing the school to close by the end of June.
Albuquerque Public Schools board members argued over whether it would be possible to save the 10-year-old ROTC-focused academy, which needs more than $200,000 to fund necessities such as rent, utilities and insurance.
The school supporters – Steven Michael Quezada, Peggy Muller-Aragón and Analee Maestas – pushed to explore ways to transform Bataan into a district magnet school in the next four to five weeks.
“Sometimes you have to figure out what’s best for children, despite whatever rules and regulations,” Quezada said. “Albuquerque Public Schools is an entity that is for the service of our children.”
But Superintendent Raquel Reedy and interim chief finance officer Tami Coleman said launching a new magnet this summer is simply impossible. The district would need at least a year to get everything organized for the school and find roughly $750,000 to run it.
“It is a very complicated process,” Reedy said. “If we had that year, we would work night and day to try and get that going. We need that timeframe to work out the logistics.”
The four opposing board members – Lorenzo Garcia, Barbara Petersen, Don Duran and David Peercy – agreed that the tight turnaround was not doable.
“I don’t see how this can happen between now and Aug. 5 when every school opens up,” Petersen said. “I am deeply sorry for the students, but it is something we have to deal with.”
APS has never switched a charter school to a magnet school since charters became an option 17 years ago. Charters are sanctioned by the district but run their own day-to-day operations, including budgeting.
Garcia and Duran chided Bataan administrators for not meeting those financial obligations.
“What happened was the charter school leadership were not responsible,” Garcia said. “The governing board did not keep their commitment to the charter school. That’s what happened.”
He mentioned Bataan’s claims this spring that it was going to be able to raise $160,000 in donations from the community. That brighter financial picture played a role in the board’s decision in March to allow Bataan to operate for another year and explore ways to become a magnet school.
But, in the end, less than half of the pledges actually materialized, according to Bataan Principal Jan Zink.
She and a handful of students and administrators addressed the board Wednesday, saying the budget does not look good, but the school is worth saving because it changes kids’ lives.
Several Bataan students described the academy is a big family that they are sad to lose.
Zink told the Journal that school leaders accomplish a lot with a small budget and also have been turning around the enrollment decline that caused the financial problems.
“We have had more interest from students than we have had in three years I have been here,” Zink said.
Currently, Bataan has around 60 cadets, but that number was going to rise to 90 for the 2016-2017 academic year if the school had stayed open.
Board President Peercy said that though Bataan will cease to operate, the district will continue to look for new ways to provide ROTC-intensive programs.