School board set to make decision on proposed charter school

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

After a grueling public hearing Monday during its regular board meeting, Portales Municipal Schools board members are set to make a decision on a proposed charter school in Portales at a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

“I want to encourage you to vote for the charter school,” Cathy Duran said as she addressed the board. “It will help keep the brightest kids in the district instead of at Dora or Floyd.”

After hearing public comment from four individuals, all in support of the school’s application to the board, and no comment against the school proposal, board members and administration staff took the opportunity to question the school’s organizers extensively on the proposal and the details of how the school would operate.

As the hearing drew to a close, the school’s spokesperson, Joan Brown, who was at the podium for more than an hour addressing questions, showed her appreciation for the issues brought forward.

“There are a lot of things we can’t address specifically because there are a lot of variables,” Brown said. “We do appreciate your input because you know a lot more about running a school district than we do.”

After the hearing concluded, Brown told the PNT that she thought the board had asked some great questions. She said it was obvious that board members and staff had studied their proposal carefully.

“I thought they were well prepared,” Portales Superintendent of Schools Randy Fowler said. “There’s still some other concerns I have personally, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that I’ve never dealt with a charter school before.”

Fowler said the proposal had received careful external and internal reviews, with questions sent to the organizers with time for them to respond. The superintendent said he felt there was enough information on the table now for board members to make a decision. He said with little wiggle room left on the 60-day time frame for acting on the request, the board would likely make a decision Wednesday.

Board members David Brooks and Alan Garrett said after the meeting that the group had done a good job answering questions.

“I think they did well,” said Garrett. “They faced a lot of tough questions for specific areas. We can go study some more now.”

The proposed Horace Mann Charter School is expected to open in fall of 2007 and operate on leased property with portable classrooms to begin. It would start with grades six through nine, and eventually accommodate grades six through 12, according to an informational brochure provided by the organizers. The organizers anticipate a maximum school enrollment of 140 with no more than 20 students per grade.

The school would primarily be a college preparatory institution with an emphasis on math, science and technology.

If the school organizes under the umbrella of the Portales school board, it would contract services such as budget office, food and other services back to the Portales Municipal Schools.